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Uncovering Client Personality, Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs

Sarah Fallaw, Ph.D. June 6, 2024

A financial advisor having a conversation with a client.

You are the expert when it comes to creating a financial plan or investment strategy. Regardless of your expertise, each of your clients has a unique personality that drives their spending, saving, and investing decisions. Some of your clients may struggle to follow a plan, or they may be worried or anxious when markets are choppy. In other cases, you may work with couples who have completely different attitudes about what retirement will look like. Thankfully, you can anticipate these types of client scenarios. This is where measuring your client’s personality, attitudes, values, and beliefs comes into play.

Gaining deeper insight into a client’s personality, attitudes, values, and beliefs will enable you to anticipate what they may do in the future, provide more personalized service, and better support them in reaching their goals.

In a recent webinar, “Who Is Your Client? Uncovering Client Personality, Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs,” I discussed what makes each of your clients unique and how you can measure different types of characteristics. Read on for a preview of the session’s highlights here and then access the full webinar to take a deeper dive.

What Makes Your Clients Who They Are?

There are a number of different things to consider when you are trying to understand who your clients are, starting with their personality. A client’s personality is the unique way they think, feel, and behave. It is influenced by their experiences, environment, and inherited characteristics. Though someone’s personality is somewhat stable over time, changes may be observed after a significant life event such as the death of a spouse or major job loss.

Other key areas that make your clients who they are include:

  • Attitudes: An attitude is your client’s evaluation of a specific thing, from positive to negative. For example, you may need to adjust the way you present a spending plan to a client who hates budgeting (but who also needs to budget to meet their financial goals!).
  • Interests: An interest is a client’s preference to engage in a specific activity or experience. For example, you may have a client who is very interested in investment strategy and wants to hear all of the details of your recommendations. In contrast, this client’s spouse may find those topics less than interesting. Adjusting communication to acknowledge each client’s unique set of interests can help to build rapport with both spouses.
  • Values: Values are your client’s moral principles and ethical priorities. For example, a client may value tradition and want to keep the status quo when it comes to money management. Another client may value trying new things and be interested in exploring different strategies.
  • Beliefs: A belief is what your client believes is true, reliable, or valid. Beliefs tend to be developed in childhood or early adolescence. There is typically some truth to beliefs, but they are not always completely accurate (for example, holding the belief that “having more money is better”). Everyone has underlying, and often unconscious, beliefs about subjects like money or individual wealth.

Strategies for Uncovering Who Your Clients Are

You can uncover your client’s personality, attitudes, values, and beliefs using a combination of interviews and tests. I explore how you can measure each area in more depth in the webinar, but here are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

Most firms use some sort of interview while onboarding clients, and interviews can be used to measure client personality. I recommend a) having a structured, consistent set of questions for each area you’re measuring, and b) focusing on life experiences by asking about your client’s past experiences related to the area you are trying to measure. For example, you may want to learn about how your client has worked with other advisors. You could ask, “Tell me about a time when you had to work with another professional like me. What worked well? What didn’t work well? How did it turn out?” Questions focused on concrete examples from the client’s life can reveal insights about their personality traits in a natural way and help you predict their future behavior.

There are many commercially available personality tests (see an example here), and it’s important to check the science behind any test you are considering. Be wary of fun, non-scientific personality tests. These quizzes don’t always provide consistent, valid results. Some popular quizzes, for example, categorize people but don’t measure traits accurately. If you want to use personality assessments, including personality-based risk tolerance questionnaires, be sure to choose scientifically validated assessments. This is particularly critical when measuring a client’s psychological risk tolerance, which is a unique set of personality factors that can predict how an investor reacts to market fluctuations.

With so many areas to measure, it would be overwhelming to tackle each one during onboarding. Instead of trying to do it all upfront, you can incorporate assessments and interviews throughout the planning process and get a better understanding of your clients over time. For example, as clients move closer to retirement age, consider measuring retirement attitudes to understand their perspectives on what life will be like in this next stage of life.

Introducing Assessments into Your Processes

If you want to start using personality assessments with your clients, a simple place to start is by assessing a client’s attitudes around topics like budgeting, spending, and investing. Questions on these types of discovery tools are typically “money-related” and thus appear appropriate in the context of the advisor-client relationship (i.e., clients expect to get these types of money-related questions from their financial professionals). The results of the assessment provide an easy way to begin meaningful conversations about a client’s life experiences and perspectives related to money.

When you begin incorporating personality tests into your onboarding process, you can explain the use of assessments on your website or in communications before your first client meeting. Consider using a simple statement like, “Research shows understanding the human side of money is important. We invite you to take this assessment so we can provide better service tailored to your needs and goals.” This positions the assessments as a beneficial resource, not obligatory tasks to add to their growing to-do list.

Finally, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. There are now advisors, financial therapists, and financial coaches who will work with firms to implement discovery processes that measure client personality.

Leverage Assessments for Deeper Client Insights

Incorporating personality assessments and tailored interview questions into your financial planning process will allow you to understand each client’s unique money attitudes, values, and personality traits. This creates opportunities for more personalized advice and stronger relationships. With scientific assessments and the right approach, you can better support clients in achieving their financial goals.

Watch the on-demand webinar, “Who Is Your Client? Uncovering Client Personality, Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs”, to explore how you can use a combination of personality assessments and interviews to gain deeper insights into your clients’ unique characteristics and experiences.

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.

The views and opinions expressed by this blog post guest are solely those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of eMoney Advisor, LLC. eMoney Advisor is not responsible for the content, views or opinions presented by our guest, nor may eMoney Advisor be held liable for any actions taken by you based on the content, views or opinions of the guest.

Image of Sarah Fallaw, Ph.D.
About the Author

Sarah Stanley Fallaw, Ph.D. is the co-author of The Next Millionaire Next Door and the founder of DataPoints, a behavioral assessment and risk tolerance fintech company. Dr. Fallaw has authored numerous psychometric-based discovery tools, including the personality test based on The Millionaire Next Door. Dr. Fallaw’s research has been featured in numerous conferences and publications, and she works with firms worldwide to enhance their client discovery processes. Dr. Fallaw received her Ph.D. in Applied Psychology from the University of Georgia in 2003.

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