Profiles in Excellence

What's your client's story? 20 magic questions to ask

FEATURING

Andrew Hipple
Lane Hipple
Partner

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Key takeaways:

  • Strong understanding of clients can help advisors keep them on track during many kinds of market environments.
  • Non-financial questions and a personal delivery style can help advisors unlock clients’ motivations.
  • Advisors need to truly know clients’ goals to build successful plans.

The first time you meet with Andrew Hipple, you might be surprised at what he’ll tell you.

The partner at Lane Hipple, an RIA in Moorestown, N.J., with roughly $150 million in assets under management, begins each relationship with clients and prospects being honest and vulnerable about his own journey with money. He’s one of a family of four and talks of how he grew up with family financial challenges. He still recalls watching how money concerns can shape one’s life and goals. “I’m driven by having watched my parents work very hard and selflessly give to provide for me and my siblings,” he told Capital Group. “I saw the financial stress and the toll that can take on a family.”

“I like to share my story,” he says, “So the client relationship starts with honesty and transparency.”

Seeing how his own story altered his financial goals and even choice of occupation, Hipple appreciates how advisors can serve clients better by knowing their narrative, too. That’s why after telling his own story to new clients, he learns more about theirs. Getting at it can be difficult, as many people put up barriers. But since joining Lane Hipple in 2011, Hipple has developed 20 questions — many of which are not about money — to ask all clients that have helped him unlock the emotions behind their goals.
 

Clients’ stories create their goals.

Hipple is on the forefront of new thinking among advisors who see that knowing clients’ values is increasingly important to build meaningful plans. Focus is shifting toward successfully meeting goals, such as retirement or spending less time at work, and away from cookie-cutter portfolios to control for stock and bond market volatility.

Getting to understand clients’ stories not only drives Hipple’s passion as an RIA but also the way he interacts with clients. Hipple joins other RIAs and academics who are looking at building stronger relationships with clients by changing the kinds of questions they ask.
 

Hipple’s magic 20 questions

Through years of testing to see what clients react best to, Hipple has developed a questionnaire that helps him connect. He shared with Capital Group the questions he asks clients:

Background and values:

1.   Tell me a little about yourselves and your background. Where are you from?

2.   How did you get into your present career?

3.   When you are not working, how do you like to spend your time?

4.   As you look back on your life, what role has money played in it?

5.   What are some of the important things that have happened in your life that will help me put together a better plan for you?

6.   What are some of the best financial decisions you have made?

7.   What are some of the worst?

8.   Have you worked with a financial advisor in the past, and if so what kind of experience did you have?

Vision:

9.   What does financial independence mean to you?

10.  If money were not an issue, what would your ideal lifestyle be? Where would you live? Who would you surround yourself with?

11.  What is something you are excited about right now?

12.  On a scale of 1 to 10, do you feel you’re living your best life?

13.  Are there areas of your life you would like to improve (check all that apply)?

  • Time with people you care about
  • Charity and commitment to giving
  • Social engagements
  • Knowledge and learning
  • Career job satisfaction
  • Providing security
  • Financial concerns
  • Personal health

Objective:

14.  What’s the number-one issue you’d like help with right now?

15.  Are you more concerned about growing your assets or protecting what you already have?

16.  How do you make financial decisions in your household?

17.  What needs to happen over the next few years in order for you to feel our relationship has been successful?

Summary:

Your three primary financial concerns today are:

18.

19.

20.

Download questionnaire

Going beyond the questionnaire

Asking your client well-thought-out questions, of course, isn’t the only way to connect with them. Hipple, in his years of working with clients, also gives the following guidance:

Honesty is the best policy. Advisors must be the guiding force of reality, which can be harder the better you know someone. Sometimes that means giving information the client may not agree with or want to hear. “I’m not going to always give them the answer they’re hoping for, but I provide them the honest truth,” Hipple says.

See people, not clients. Get to know clients, not just their portfolios. You’ll connect more with clients celebrating their positive life events and grieving their challenges more than anything you’ll do to a portfolio. “Life events happen for everybody, and when they do I want to be there in some form.”

For example, Hipple sends a piggy bank to any clients who welcome a new child to their family. Similarly, he sends gifts if clients buy homes or get promotions.

Hipple mails gift to clients on life events. Source: Andrew Hipple

“You can’t control life,” Hipple says. “So, whether it’s a new job opportunity, they want to start a business, they’re having a child or buying a home … it’s a strong relationship when they’re reaching out at any and all times to lean on me for guidance.”

Tailor your message. While building his practice and getting to know clients on a personal level, Hipple has built a specialty with physicians. He came to understand their unique personal and professional challenges, including “long training schedules, high debt loads, large asset protection and lawsuit risk,” he says. They also run into very complicated tax issues. Many physicians are looking for more integrated financial guidance since their jobs are so high pressure. “They last thing most (doctors) want to do after a stressful shift is analyze their investments and wealth plan,” Hipple says.

Hipple has customized his practice to serve doctors through their financial journey. Lane Hipple installed a digital scheduling and account management system on its website. That way all clients, including time-crunched doctors, can access accounts anytime or, more importantly, schedule a meeting anytime. So at 2 a.m. or between performing surgeries, a client can take steps to address their financial concerns and stress by scheduling an appointment.

Temperature check: Know you’re connecting. Hipple doesn’t just ask questions — he also listens for cues that he’s connecting. He always asks, “Have you found this valuable?” The answer is telling. If the client says, “This was informative,” he knows he still isn’t fully understanding the client. Instead, he listens for a more emotionally tinged response like, “This has been a relief,” “This was fun,” or “This is exciting.” He says, “Anything that provokes emotion means we’re going in the right direction.”

Above all, if you focus on serving your clients, the practice will build itself. “You need to care about the person sitting across from you … and understand whatever drove them to that seat is not the number on their financial statement,” he says. Instead, it’s emotion. “Whether that’s fear, or a goal or dream, something drove them to that seat and it’s important for me as the advisor to understand that.”


 


 

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