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From Factfinding to Discovery

Helping clients discover what they want for their financial future is the first step to a profitable relationship.

By Evan M. Levine, CLU, ChFC

Early on in my insurance selling career, I learned the importance of the factfinding meeting. This is when we spend time with our prospect to understand his goals so we can prepare our proposals and recommendations and set up a closing appointment when we will attempt to sell our products.

This concept applies to selling comprehensive financial plans as well, with a few modifications. First, I prefer to call this meeting a discovery meeting rather than a factfinding meeting. The word discovery better describes the objective of this meeting, which is to discover what this potential client family is all about. This family is not just about quantitative data (assets, liabilities, insurance, policies, etc.), but qualitative data as well (values, goals and dreams). This meeting is indeed the most important part of the planning process and will set the tone for the entire client relationship.

The second modification relates to the advisor’s experience during the meeting. When the advisor’s practice is transaction-oriented, he is often not fully available to really listen to the client on an emotional level. He may be listening to the client’s words, but it is often with a filter, which is processing only the information that supports the product he wants to sell. For example, an advisor who primarily sells life insurance owned by a trust to pay estate taxes most likely does not want to listen when a client or prospect tells him that he does not care if half of his estate goes to Uncle Sam. When conducting a discovery meeting as the first step in a comprehensive financial planning process, listening must take place without any filters or judgments.

The information that is gathered will form the foundation on which the comprehensive financial plan is built. While we need to maintain flexibility in allowing the client to go on tangents and take the meeting in a variety of directions, it is also important to maintain structure to keep the session on track. This will allow you to cover all the major points that are necessary to prepare the best possible plan for the entire family. This is best done by using a questionnaire that you have personally created.

The questionnaire
The questionnaire is not mailed to the client in advance of the meeting; it is used during the meeting as a guide for you to stay on track.

The questionnaire will evolve over time, and the questions can come from different sections of questionnaires you have been exposed to, or they can be your original questions. Ultimately, the questionnaire will be custom tailored to the style and personality of your presentation, and the questions, as well as the order they are in, will make you feel the most comfortable. This, in turn, will cause the client to feel comfortable in answering the questions honestly and accurately.

The most effective questions will lead to a discussion of things like career ambitions, pipe dreams and regrets.

The questionnaire is generally divided into two main categories: 1.) Facts and Figures 2.) Goals and Objectives. Facts and figures include information such as the client’s date of birth, his Social Security number and home address. The goals and objectives section requires your best listening skills. What you are trying to find out in this part is where the client is right now, where he wants to go and what the family is emotionally committed to.

Some advisors have found the following questions useful in eliciting this information:

  • What’s important about money to you?
  • If you had all the money you would ever need, how would your life be different from what it is now?
  • If you had 10 years to live, what would you do?
  • If you knew you only had 24 hours to live, is there anything you would regret not having done?

The key is to wait for the emotionally charged response, listen and let him speak for as long as he wants. Other useful but often overlooked information includes the age and health status of the client’s parents, whether he expects anyone other than family members to become financially dependent on him and if he anticipates future inheritances.

The most effective and useful types of questions will lead to a discussion of personal and private things like career ambitions, family relationships, personal objectives, pipe dreams and regrets. Some of this information may initially seem irrelevant to financial planning. But as we continue to march into the post Glass-Steagall era when all financial providers will provide all financial products, and even financial planning will become a commodity, offering advice that is centered on the achievement of life goals may be the only way to differentiate yourself from the pack and build a lasting advisor-client relationship.

Evan M. Levine, CLU, ChFC, is a financial planner and registered investment advisor with MML Investors Services, Inc. You may reach him at 212-536-6087 or


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