Practical analysis for investment professionals
06 September 2012

Five Key Strategies for Building Trust with Your Clients

Why has the economic recovery in the United States been so slow? How can the eurozone solve its crisis? At the recent 65th CFA Institute Annual Conference in Chicago, CFA Institute President and CEO John Rogers, CFA, issued a call to action for all investment professionals to help rebuild and restore trust in the investment industry. Depending on your role, disposition, and reach, that might sound like a daunting task. If you work in the investment business, you might be asking yourself, “Where can I start?”

Jamie Ziegler, cofounder of AUM Partners, a consulting firm that works with investment organizations, provided one very practical starting point during her session. She noted that “it’s not that investment professionals don’t have integrity, it’s often that they just don’t know how to communicate care to their clients.” Rebuilding trust in the industry, from her perspective, can begin at a very basic and individual level by learning how to better communicate, build, and demonstrate trust with clients, peers, and colleagues.

Ziegler identified five key “trust builders” that you can begin to put into practice immediately:

1. Your client (or peer or colleague) sees the world differently than you. Your challenge is to see the world from their perspective.

This may seem obvious but bears repeating: Even if you base advice or a recommendation on what you think is solid evidence, trying to force your perspective on another person — who may have very different values and is very likely to see the world differently than you — rarely (if ever) works, and it does little to foster a good relationship. Each of us has a lens through which we view the world, and this colors not only how we interact with others but also what we understand and take away from our interactions with others. Becoming more self aware of where you place your attention and what your lens is will help you learn your own biases. If you haven’t read Dan Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence, that’s a good place to start.

2. Spend more time seeking and being curious and open to feedback from others than being defensive and closed.

This, of course, builds on the first trust builder articulated by Ziegler. In order to truly understand another person’s perspective, it helps to be curious and interested in what their perspective is in the first place. As she puts it, the driver should be “the desire to learn rather than to be right.” Curiosity and openness to feedback are also linked to learning agility, which, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, is an essential leadership attribute. Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger explore this trait, and its impact on performance in their book, The Leadership Machine.

3. Find reliable “shift moves” that you can use during “amygdala hijacks.”

The fear response is innate in humans: When a threat appears, our amygdala fires off stress hormones, and the consequence is often one of “fight or flight.” Ziegler said that we can mitigate this by better understanding our own unique responses when we feel challenged by a client, colleague, or peer. She provided three different examples of shift moves to counteract the fear response:

  • Cognitive shift moves, which include reframing the threat/situation and purposefully taking a different point of view (e.g., “I wonder . . . “, “What if . . . “, etc.)
  • Physical shift moves, which include focusing on your breathing and/or physical movement to reduce the tension and stress you’re experiencing.
  • Time-based shift moves, which include taking a time out. This can be accomplished by recognizing the tension and taking a short break to reduce it or by asking the other person to revisit the discussion or issue at a later time.

You might find that one of these shift moves works better for you in certain situations than in others or even that a combination of these works best. Regardless, the key takeaway is to practice and find out what most suits your needs.

4. Energize your client (or peer or colleague) by asking great questions and then really listening.

You’ve probably noticed that each of the trust builders build upon each other. If you aren’t already practicing the first two, it’s unlikely that you’re practicing this one. Active listening requires effort and involves really listening to the other person, asking good questions, checking to make sure you understand what they’re saying (and vice versa), and listening for mood and emotion. Active listening demonstrates effective communication and really helps the client (or peer or colleague) feel that you truly care about them. For a quick assessment of your active listening skills, try taking this inventory.

5. Tell a number of stories, not a story of numbers.

For better or worse, investment professionals are often stereotyped as being overly analytical and numbers focused. But, as Ziegler pointed out, most people remember stories rather than the numbers you present. If, like many investment professionals, you have a propensity to use more of your left brain than your right brain, try injecting some creativity into your approach by wrapping your information into a story so that it’s more memorable, and don’t forget to use visuals and humor to support your points. Daniel Pink offers a provocative take on “right-brain” thinking in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

For more practical tips from Ziegler, watch this video interview, “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Critical to Your Success.”


Please note that the content of this site should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute.

About the Author(s)
Heather Packard

Heather Packard is the director of product development at CFA Institute and serves as the subject matter expert in leadership, management, and communication skills (LMCS). Previously, she was the managing partner at Trilogy Corporation of Virginia, where she was responsible for developing and cultivating a regional territory for telecommunications and network integration sales. Packard also served as the coordinator of collections for the Science and Engineering Libraries at the University of Virginia. She holds an BA in English and Spanish Literature from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an MA in Spanish Literature from the University of Virginia. Topical Expertise: Leadership, Management, and Communication Skills

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.



By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close