A recent report by Morningstar1 found that 60% of people decide which Financial Professional (FP) to use based on emotional (vs. financial) reasons. The individuals surveyed cited emotional motivations such as increasing confidence, helping with decision avoidance, and providing discipline, more frequently than finance-based reasons (i.e., retirement planning, income management, setting up an annuity). This finding highlights the importance of characteristics separate from financial planning skills—emotional intelligence, warmth, approachability, and likability—and suggests that acquiring and retaining clients can be more about who you are than what you can achieve.
Regardless of the type of decision being made, emotions are involved. While we may advise people to be unemotional about certain decisions, this is unrealistic and unachievable. Instead of trying to reduce the role of emotions or remove them from the decision calculus entirely, it is better to plan for clients making decisions with emotional inputs and use that knowledge to stand out as a Financial Professional.
Everyone makes decisions using their emotions. The extent to which someone relies on their emotions, however, can differ—some people rely heavily on their feelings and intuitions, while others do so to a lesser degree. Regardless of these individual differences, emotions are an ever-present input for our behavior and decisions. This makes sense as emotions are generated automatically and constantly and there’s no way to turn them off (and you wouldn’t want to). Emotions can also be overwhelming and are extremely difficult to change—this means they will often take precedence in our minds and actions.
While emotions can provide meaningful information, they can also result from irrelevant or ambient factors beyond our conscious awareness. Thus, we think our emotions are the result of cognitive considerations when, in reality, they can be completely separate from deliberate thought processes (e.g., if you’re in a good mood or bad mood, if you’re hungry, if you’re sad, happy or afraid). We almost always assume our emotions are responding to our thoughts, when often the reverse is true. This results in us putting undue weight on our emotional responses and inferring they always mean something rather than acknowledging the often reciprocal effects emotions and thoughts can have on each other.
We are also often unaware of the meaningful impact emotions have on our judgments, preferences, and decisions. Research has shown that specific emotions—anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and happiness—have significant and differential effects on our behavior. For example, when clients are feeling fear, they may be less open to taking risks and feel a greater need for control2; when they are feeling sad, they may seek out change, be more open to reward and comfort (i.e., retail therapy is real), and be less patient3; and when they feel angry, they may feel more confident and powerful, and be more open to taking risks.4 This means gauging a client’s emotions can be extremely helpful in ensuring that they are not taking actions that are the result of a current emotional state versus in pursuit of their overarching goals and plans.
Acquiring and retaining clients can be more about who you are than what you can achieve.
It is important to understand the preeminence of emotions in decision-making not just because clients tend to look for an FP that can provide emotional support and guidance, but also because emotions serve as inputs into all of our decisions. This means that regardless of the why behind a client seeking an FP, emotions will play an integral role in the process.
In deciding which FP to use, most clients use an interviewing process—even clients who do not speak to more than one FP decide to hire or not based on an initial conversation. In these conversations, most clients use an unstructured approach—they may have some questions in mind, but the interaction is more about rapport than competence.5 The problem with an unstructured approach is that interviewers (i.e., the client) can be distracted by irrelevant data such as likability and attractiveness (both of which are driven by emotional responses or feelings). These inputs are invalid because they are not significantly correlated with FP performance (i.e., being more attractive does not make an FP more competent). Research has even highlighted just how important these invalid inputs are: most assessment of a candidate occurs within the first 3-5 minutes of an interview (or less) and the remaining time is spent confirming that impression (i.e., confirmation bias).6 For clients this means they can end up hiring an FP with whom they have a great rapport, but who is not a good match in terms of methods and outcomes.
Research has even highlighted just how important these invalid inputs are: most assessment of a candidate occurs within the first 3-5 minutes of an interview and the remaining time is spent confirming that impression.
As an FP you cannot stop clients from relying on their emotions or force them to use decisional inputs that are more valid than likability. However, focusing on the role feelings and rapport play in client behavior and decision-making can help you show potential and current clients your value beyond outcomes, metrics, and skills. Given that all clients will use “FP likability” in their decision calculus, it is important to have high likability. Likability is driven by positive emotions—create positive emotions in others and they will like you more. So, how do you create these positive emotions in clients?7
Atlas Point facilitates enhanced connections between FPs and their clients, all while effectively addressing prevalent behavioral blind spots. Elevate your likability and rapport through our unique client-facing BeFi survey, Financial VirtuesTM. By leveraging this signature tool, you gain a comprehensive understanding of your clients' preferred communication style, motivators, demotivators, and other crucial character traits. In a world where emotions exert significant influence over preferences and behavior, our platform differentiates itself by integrating emotional inputs into our AI-powered recommendations. Through our comprehensive insights into clients' emotions around money and decision-making, FPs can have personalized interactions with their clients that truly resonate.
Feelings are an undeniable and unavoidable force in our lives. They permeate everything we do—even decisions that we would rather make unemotionally. As an FP, it is important to understand the special effects of different emotions, how client decisions are affected by those effects, and how you can use emotional decision-making to present your best self to prospective and current clients.
 Morningstar report, “Why People Hire Financial Advisors,” accessible here: https://www.morningstar.com/lp/choosing-financial-advisor
 Lopes, 1987; Lerner & Keltner, 2001; Wake et al., 2020.
 Garg & Lerner, 2013; Lerner et al., 2013.
 Lerner & Keltner, 2001.
 A structured approach would involve a client meeting with several FPs, asking all FPs the same questions, and rating each response on the same scale (e.g., a 5-point scale). From here, the client adds up the ratings across questions and chooses the FP with the highest score.
 Barrick et al., 2010; Dougherty et al., 1994; Prickett et al., 2000.
 For more on social influence and persuasion, see Robert Cialdini’s book Influence (2006).