Brian Hill: Why advisers need to study body language
Regular readers of this blog don’t need telling, but a successful adviser-client relationship depends on the adviser getting to know the client inside out. It’s particularly important to start that process in the very first meeting; often one meeting is all advisers have. One problem advisers face, of course, is that clients don’t necessarily say what they’re really thinking. That’s why an understanding of body language is so valuable.
Brian Hill, a former British Army and police officer, is Managing Director of Jones Hill, an award winning financial planning practice in Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire. His life-long interest in non-verbal communications eventually led to him being invited by the Science of People in Portland, Oregon, to become a Certified Body Language Trainer.
Here Brian explains why financial planners need a better understanding of body language, and how he has used his own knowledge of the subject in his own work.
RP: Brian, you’ve developed a business, alongside your planning firm, called Kinesics Method. For those who may not have heard of kinesics, what exactly is it? And how did your interest in it start?
BH: Kinesics is originally comes from the ancient Greek word for movement, and it’s the study of how body movements and gestures serve as a form of communication. I first became intrigued by non-verbal communications as a police officer, and it is now embedded in our financial planning firm, Jones Hill. While talking with a colleague, Steve Martin of Smart Financial in Altrincham, it became abundantly clear to both of us that financial professionals could huge benefit from being able to decode non-verbal communications, and in 2017 Kinesics Method was born.
RP: Traditionally, adviser training has not included soft skills like this. How much of a problem has that been? And is it changing?
BH: Qualifications, integrity and professionalism are no longer USPs for advisers. Clients expect all that as a matter of course. What matters is the human interaction, but this is not something that advisers are ever really trained in. Communication covers six main elements: content, interactional style, voice, face, body and psychophysiology. Traditionally, as financial professionals, we're only trained in one aspect, namely technical content. This leaves a huge gap which, until now, has been left to chance. Soft skills training is now gaining pace, and we've been working with organisations such as NextGen, NMBA, CISI and the Financial Planning Training Academy to deliver this.
RP: How useful has your knowledge of non-verbal communications been in your work as a financial planner?
BH: Tremendously useful, without a doubt. Whether it's a discussion around fees, our client's objectives or just getting to know them, our conversations are structured in such a way that makes the whole process natural, relaxed and enjoyable for both us and the client. These skills are immediately actionable, and workshop attendees tell us that they are key, not just with clients, but with colleagues, family and friends too.
RP: How much of a disconnect do you think there is between what clients say to a financial planner and what they actually mean? And can you give an example?
BH: Many clients will come to a meeting with a financial adviser with their guard up, to a greater or lesser extent. Combine that with being British, and it’s no surprise that some clients won’t tell you exactly what they think. It's a financial planner's job, in my opinion, to deliver great financial planning for each and every client they work with. The better we understand our client's values, the better the plan. However, you're not going to find their values out from a fact find. It only really comes from a bilateral, open and trusting relationship.
RP: As well as body language, Brian, you’re also interested in office design. Indeed you’ve gone to great trouble to make the Jones Hill office in Bradford on Avon as conducive as possible to a great client experience. Explain what you’ve done.
BH: First, it's important to note I'm not an office designer! However, we wanted to arrange our office in a way that helped clients feel they were in a safe place and one which would engender trust. This incorporates fresh colours and cool furniture that's in keeping with the town. One of the subjects we teach on our courses is proxemics, which is about the amount of space you should allow between you and other people. It’s useful for financial professionals to understand how proxemics can help them build rapport ad gain trust with their ideal clients.
RP: Jones Hill was one of the early adopters of evidence-based investing, at least in the UK. What part has that played in the firm’s success?
BH: Moving our focus away from investment management to providing a comprehensive planning, has taken the weight off our shoulders. It's rare to receive client calls or emails when we get a rocky market. As Ellis Jackson, one of our staff, put it recently, “when you're sailing, expect waves".
RP: You’re also strong proponent of financial life planning, aren’t you?
That’s right. Very few clients come in looking for comprehensive, fixed-fat-fee, financial life planning, although that's what we deliver. However, once it's been delivered, our clients are great ambassadors for it.
RP: Finally, for advisers who want to learn more about body language, and perhaps come to one of your events, what should they do?
Visit www.kinesics.co.uk, register to learn more, and have a look at our events list. Some of the events we hold directly, others with our partner organisations.