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44 Questions to Ask Clients to Understand Their Values

Emily Koochel June 15, 2021

Financial advisor client meeting
Updated on: November 17, 2021

Understanding a client’s values is an essential step in building them a financial plan that will help them achieve their most important goals.

While you don’t need to uncover everything at one time, asking the right questions throughout the course of your relationship can help surface productive conversations that inevitably inform the ongoing process of planning. When you engage clients in these kinds of meaningful conversations, you can also better help them stick to the plan by motivating them to enact positive change. Keep in mind that, if your client has a partner, these questions are most revealing when both are included in the conversation.

To help you build relationships over time, here are 44 questions that can help start the right conversations.

Financial Planning Questions to Ask New Clients

When meeting new or prospective clients, you’ll want to learn the basics of their current personal and financial situations. You can start to feel out whether they are thinking short-term or long-term about their finances, as well as a general idea of their financial attitudes. You’ll also uncover important information about who they’re already working with and their level of comfort discussing financial topics.

The goal is to hear their money story, so you’ll want to get them talking about themselves and how they view their current situation as much as possible. Here are some introductory questions to ask:

Opening Questions

1. What do you want from this process?

2. Tell me what keeps you up at night?

3. What’s important to you about your money?

4. Do you have a household budget?

5. What goals have you set for yourself now?

Professional Relationships Questions

6. Have you worked with a financial planner before?

7. Why did you choose me?

8. Do you work with an accountant, attorney, insurance professional, or anyone else?

9. What’s the most important thing we need to achieve?

10. What or who else should be involved in this process?

Questions to Understand a Client’s Finances

Of course, there is quite a bit of information to delve into when it comes to a client’s existing financial circumstances. It helps to start by thinking about their goals. What kind of lifestyle do they want to live now and in retirement? What do they want their retirement to look like? What value do they place on leaving a financial legacy?

As conversations progress, ask directly what clients can tell you about each account. Even though this is a tangible discussion of finances, it is full of emotion. Every account a client owns likely has a story behind it in terms of why they opened it and what they were hoping to achieve.

To get the conversation started about finances and the direction clients are headed, here are a few more questions to ask:

Turning Investment Management Clients into Planning Clients

11. Do you feel you’re on track to meet your financial goals?

12. What do you feel is your most pressing financial concern right now?

13. Do I have the most up-to-date information on your financial situation? What can I update?

14. Did you know, based on what I gather from your circumstances, that you’re on track to retire at ___?

15. Do you feel that a financial plan would make your life easier?

Family and Legacy

16. Who are you financially responsible for and who is it important that you’re able to assist?

17. What role will you play in your children’s and grandchildren’s future?

18. What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family?

19. What plans have you made in the event that you become disabled?

20. Tell me about your philanthropic intentions.

Retirement

21. What do you want your retirement to look like?

22. What kind of retirement lifestyle do you want?

23. Why is it important to retire at age ___?

24. Where would you send a postcard from and what would you write?

25. How will your retirement be different from your parents’?

Lifestyle questions

26. What do you enjoy doing outside of your career?

27. If you’re not on track, what are you willing to change to get on track? What won’t you change?

28. What causes are important to you?

Getting into a Client’s Values

Asking questions that probe deeper into a client’s values, and ultimately what will offer them fulfillment in their life, is how you can make the most impact as a planner. Talking about money can be difficult, so it’s likely that these conversations won’t happen until you’ve had some time to build a relationship with your client.

With these questions, you’ll be uncovering attitudes towards money and helping connect the fact that there’s intention behind every financial decision they’re making now with what they’re trying to achieve. Over time, you’ll start to gain a better understanding of how much they value time with family, philanthropy, their name or reputation, teaching good money habits, providing security, or anything else that matters to them on a fundamental level.

As you have these conversations with clients, their path to fulfillment will be reflected in their plan. Here are a few questions you can ask to start having values conversations:

Financial Attitudes

29. What is your first money memory?

30. What was your first experience with money?

31. What was your relationship with money growing up?

32. What are some mistakes you’ve seen other people make that you want to avoid?

Risk Questions

33. How do you define “risk”?

34. What percent of loss in your overall investment portfolio would start to cause you considerable discomfort?

35. What would make you feel worse, selling an equity position before it increased 5 percent in value or not selling an equity position before it lost 5 percent in value?

Financial Wellness and Overall Well-being

36. Share with me any health concerns or issues (personal / family) you have.

37. Tell me about the provisions you’ve made for long-term care.

38. What’s your gut feeling when money comes up?

39. What are your strongest feelings you associate with money?

40. If you didn’t worry about money, what would you worry about?

41. Is your financial situation a source of conflict with your partner or family? Is there any way I can help?

Fulfillment Questions

42. How do you want to be remembered?

43. What makes you happy?

44. What intentions do you have with your money?

Keeping the Conversation Going

You don’t have to ask all of these at the same time. It doesn’t have to feel like an exercise for you or your client. These questions are meant to spark conversations that happen over time, so choose your moments to ask the right questions and always be asking follow-up questions.

Financial planning is an ongoing process. Client conversations should continually evolve accordingly. While you know your clients best, these questions can help you guide conversations in a way that will help you best serve them.

For your convenience, you can view a PDF worksheet of 44 questions to ask clients to understand their values here for future reference.

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.

About the Author

Dr. Emily Koochel is an experienced financial professional, academic, and researcher. She currently serves as a leader for eMoney Advisor’s Financial Education and Wellness initiatives in her role as the Senior Financial Planning Education Consultant. Dr. Koochel’s PhD in Applied Family Science and Master’s in Financial Planning provide a multidisciplinary lens to inform her work where she focuses on understanding the effect of financial behaviors and financial decision making on personal and financial wellness. She serves as a subject matter expert in the field, reviewing and authoring peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and contributing to public scholarship. Most notably, she served as a co-author for the CFP Board’s book – The Psychology of Financial Planning - and was awarded 2020 Outstanding Research Journal Article of the Year by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. She holds the Certified Financial Therapist – I designation and is an Accredited Financial Counselor.

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