How do you figure out a client’s values?

Private bankers have to figure out what their clients want, perhaps even if the client doesn’t know it themselves. The way to give yourself an advantage to figure out their values. This is easier said than done. Patrick Brusnahan writes


BI speaks to RBC on this process, the typical values of the wealthy, and how these are discovered.

Annabel Bosman, head of relationship management, RBC Wealth Management 

Katherine Waller, head of new sales delivery, RBC Wealth Management

Katherine Waller, Sales and relationship Manager, RBC Wealth Management

Patrick Brusnahan: How is the spread of wealth now compared to the recent past?

Annabel Bosman, head of relationship management, RBC Wealth Management (AB): If I rewind to when I started out in wealth management, which was back in 1997, and the face of the wealth creator tended to traditionally be a middle-aged white male.

Fast forward to today and wealth creators look very different – in terms of background, gender, and indeed how they have made money. One of the challenges for the industry has been keeping pace with the fact that you're no longer catering to one type of client. You have to make sure that you're nimble enough, and that you've got a diversified sales force, to reflect the clients you serve. That has been something that the industry has wrestled with in the last few years and it is a positive for sure.

Katherine Waller, head of new sales delivery, RBC Wealth Management (KW): The number of parties in the relationship has increased over the past 12 months. You tend to have more interaction with the wider family because of the environment in which we find ourselves.

We're having far more open conversations with the family than had occurred previously – both in terms of investments and on the transfer of wealth. The landscape has changed with regards to how people are making money and, therefore, the age brackets and the types of individual, have also changed. For example, some individuals have made money very quickly in technology or pharma companies, and much earlier in their careers. So people are much more likely to have 2-4 careers, rather than just a one.

Is educating clients a difficulty considering the new entrants to wealth?

AB: it's an interesting one. Wealth managers have had to work to define their role and where they can add value in a world where clients can trade online and use fund supermarkets. I think that one of our key roles must be around education, because clients quite often come to a meeting with a lot of information that they've gleaned online. But quite frankly, that can often include a lot of misinformation as well.

Schroders’ Global Investor Study last year looked at millennials and the average returns that they were looking for from portfolios, which was something like 25%. For those of us who are long enough in the tooth to have seen various market cycles, we know that that is unlikely.

A big part of the education piece is to provide a reality check, and to bring up topics like wealth planning. Investments are an important part of the puzzle when you're thinking about your finances and planning for the future, but there is a whole heap of work that needs to go before that, which is wealth planning, and the structuring and making sure that you're holding things as effectively as you need to. This is something that has really come to the fore in the last few years and the conversations that we have with clients.

How do you figure out what a client’s values are?

KW: We spend a long time with our clients up front, really understanding what matters to them, because we want to ensure that we create more value for them.

The only way relationship managers do that is by asking deeper questions to further understand the meaning behind the answers. The pandemic and the use of video conference has refocused attention and further highlighted the need to listen diligently to the client’s needs. But it is also presenting opportunities to look and listen for the differences in tonality, body language, pace and gesticulation that people are using to really uncover these values much more than perhaps you did ever before.

Perhaps people are more willing to be authentic than they ever have because now we are all in the same boat. With a greater understanding of their family circumstances and explanations as to why they think the way they do, we’re learning far more about their values and priorities.

AB: We have spent a lot of time with our relationship managers, and coaching them to interpret the subtle nonverbal messaging that you can pick up when you're staring at someone on a screen.

Have values shifted over the past year?

AB: I don't know how much a person's values shift if you're really talking about their core values. They are much more ingrained than that. There has been a natural shift of priorities rather than values.