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  • Writer's pictureDavid H. Kinder, RFC®, ChFC®, CLU®

What makes a good client?

I've been giving this some thought as I thought it would make an excellent blog article.

Let me start with the obvious: Yes, it is up the the agent, advisor, consultant, planner to deliver a great experience, understand their clients, understand their problems, and offer solutions on a cost-effective manner. But what about on the part of the client? What makes a client a good client or ideal client?

A good client has three main characteristics:

  • Chemistry: Are we getting along? How are our dynamics? Are they asking good questions to understand? Or are they merely questioning everything being shown? There is a distinct and massive difference between the two.

  • Timing: Is this the right time to be engaging and discovering if a new financial course or strategy is warranted? Or are there just too many distractions or other considerations where the timing just isn't right? (Beware waiting too long - ten years will pass and you may not have the same options then as you do today.)

  • Money: Since my business is about one's financial affairs, one should have resources that need to be deployed. No, or below ideal, resources, may not make sense to continue to engage. They may not be able to get the maximum value for the work I do.

I recently had an incompatible situation that brought this to my mind. We had a good meeting and they do earn a decent income. The strategies we discussed could be timely for them, so all three boxes were essentially checked at the time.

So what happened? I'll explain through this story. One of my favorite books of all time is "The Greatest Networker in the World" by John Milton Fogg. This is a great story and there is a mini-story within it that came to mind after my meeting with this incompatible situation:


“There’s a story I want to tell you,” he said, plainly coming to rescue me from my awkward silence. “Would you like to hear it?”


“In Japan, many years ago, it was the tradition among Buddhist monks to travel from monastery to monastery, seeking the teaching of the masters. As was the custom, the master would serve his guest tea and they would talk.

“One young monk was a particularly outstanding student. In fact, he was so exceptional, he had made a bit of a career out of showing up lesser masters with his skill and tremendous intelligence.

“One day, he called at a very famous monastery attached to one of the most sacred temples in all Japan. The master there was old and most wise. The young man begged an audience with the master, in hopes of being accepted as his pupil, to live and study with the great man.

“The young man — whose reputation had preceded him — was ushered into the master’s chambers immediately. This was most unusual, and the young monk was greatly flattered.

“The master entered and they bowed to each other. They sat across a low table on the tatami mat floor and talked.

“The young man told the master of his journeys, of the teaching he had heard, of the monks he had ‘bested’ in his search for Truth. It was a most impressive tale. The master listened intently and acknowledged the young monk many times for his wit and intelligence.

“A teapot and cups were brought in, and the master began pouring tea for them both. The young man addressed the Master: ‘I wish to remain here and study with you, for I sense that here, unlike with the others, there is much you have to offer me . . .’

“And all of a sudden, the young monk cried out in pain and alarm, jumping up from his place on the floor, shaking his robes and dancing about. The scalding hot tea had spilled all over his lap!

“The master sat calmly and continued pouring tea — which was overflowing the student’s small cup and spilling out over the table onto the straw-matted floor where the young man had been sitting.

“'‘What are you doing!?!’ the young monk demanded. ‘I have been burned! Stop pouring! The cup is overflowing!’

“'‘Go away from me, young man,’ the master said. ‘I have nothing to teach you. Your cup is too full . . . overflowing with all that you know and all that you think you don’t know. Come back to me when your cup is empty and you are ready to receive what I have to give.’'”

[emphasis added]


What is the point I'm trying to make? First, let me clarify: I LOVE it when prospective clients ask questions. I want to be a part of their educational journey to determine if the work I do and how I serve my clients is a fit for them or not.

The issue comes in when someone wants me to 'beat' them against their own body of knowledge. They aren't seeking, but they are looking to be proven wrong, yet often won't recognize the facts behind what is being shown, let alone their own assumption, and dismisses it.

There's a certain element of pride and they may take pride in trying to 'best' other people with what they think they know and the other not being able to back it up. (I've got an extensive blog and lots of resources - I know how to back it up.) This particular individual "had it all figured out". From our interactions, it seemed that they had every statistic and piece of data to prove that they were right. They didn't need our strategies since they don't see the need to have liquidity and control of their savings before retirement age. They aren't going to own a business or become a real estate investor where having access to capital is a big deal. They even created their own spreadsheet with their own level assumptions for their current strategy to work. (Now, they don't know that everything changes all the time, but their spreadsheet of a plan showed that they don't need us.)

On my LDS mission, we called that "Bible bashing". Essentially it's a "battle of wits" and who knows more about the Bible. (I was actually taught to leave my scriptures closed and only quote from memory during these sessions. We rarely ever went back.) Now, I can defend my ideas and faith rather well.

The real secret is this: "Does it matter? Would it matter?"

Here's my personal statistic: 100% of the time, these kinds of conversations never end up with the other person moving forward, whether it's financial or faith related.

It's simply not yet their time.

It doesn't mean that they may not make good clients in the future. It just means that this isn't their time yet. Perhaps when it is their time, they may look me up, but it's okay if they don't. They may want to start a new relationship with someone else. That's okay. These people, at that moment in time... need to become their own earnest seekers of truth - whether financial or faith based. It won't be because of me that someone changes. It's their journey to go down, not for me to say "You're doing it wrong." So I would rather withdraw myself from the situation, and will do so. It's simply not worth the aggravation. There are many more people who want to learn about this to waste my time. To answer the article's original question of "What makes a good client?" A good client asks good questions to seek to understand. A good client will become a good student with the advisor. But the client needs to want the solution to a problem and see that they have a problem to be solved.

If there's no problem to solve, then there's no solution to present and I won't be put into a situation to debate who has more information to be correct than the other one. This particular individual... did not acknowledge that they have a problem, so the solution is rather irrelevant, other than they're curious if they could do things better.

Here's the other phrase that I keep in mind:

The pain to change must be greater than the pain to say put.

There is always pain or at least discomfort when making changes. That's normal.

This individual doesn't acknowledge that they have a negative situation. Based on their age (mid-30's), they really don't because they have TIME on their side. Time in finances can heal a lot of things and situations. So for their needs and situation, this isn't their time to move forward. One day perhaps, but not today.

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