By and large, many Americans don’t like discussing politics in the workplace, but how about with clients?
Although it might seem like touching the third rail in a client discussion, some say it can actually be a key to understanding a consumer’s broader perspective.
“Discussing politics with clients is a great way to alienate half the people that enter your office,” says Pedro M. Silva, a financial advisor with Provo Financial Services in Shrewsbury, Ma. “Clients are looking for advisers to listen to them, guide them, and look out for their best interests. As soon as the adviser focuses on their personal political beliefs, they have shifted the conversation away from the client’s needs.”
Silva is hardly alone.
“My general rule for discussing politics with clients is that it’s not recommended,” says Steven Estes, a financial advisor with Waddell & Reed in Lake Oswego, Or. “You simply do not know how sensitive someone is to opposing viewpoints, and for me, it’s not worth potentially jeopardizing an otherwise good client-advisor relationship.” Estes does say there are exceptions.
“Personally, if I have a particularly good relationship with a client, and we happen to align politically, I may discuss politics,” Estes says. “If they are a great client with opposing views, I will keep my opinions to myself.”
Others say discussing politics with clients can actually help advisors learn more about their clientele – always a good thing for advisors.
“Talking politics with a client can be more useful, and less off-putting, when learning about the client than in campaigning for political support,” notes Bruce Sanders, consumer psychologist and retail consultant Bruce D. Sanders, the author of Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.” A financial consumer’s political views are associated with how much responsibility an investor wants the advisor to take and what sorts of companies the consumer favors.”
Sanders says that Republicans prefer to have decision-making decentralized. “They think of political leaders and skilled financial advisors as reliable and practical, but as not paying enough attention to what’s best for the locals and distinctive cases. Democrats see the politicians and financial advisors they support as intelligent, empathic and interested in individual needs, so the Democrats are more willing to grant centralized authority.”
Some financial advisors agree with the position that investment professionals can learn more about their clients by discussing politics.
“I see it as part of my role as an advisors to know, understand, and interpret politics for my clients,” says Joseph Orsolini, a financial advisor with College Aid Planners. “Politics ultimately impacts the decisions that I make with my clients. It would be a disservice not discuss the political ramifications with clients. Talking about politics, as their advisor, is different than advocating a political position to them.”
Orsolini says a number of his clients enjoy talking politics so much that he has to book extra time with them when they meet.
“Some of my favorite political conversations are with clients that have complete opposite political views form mine,” he says. “There is something to the advisor/client relationship that leads to a more congenial political conversation.”
The last word on the topic? That comes from Doug Mitchell, Owner of Ogletree Financial Services, in Auburn, Ala.
“Early on in my financial services career, I was advised never to discuss politics or religion with clients,” Mitchell says. “There have been many times in the last 20 plus years that political topics have come up, but never by me.”
The best strategy to take when a client brings up politics is just listen, he adds. “If your view is similar, go ahead and agree but keep it light. If your view is completely opposite, you just have to go with the flow. You don’t have to agree but try to avoid any comments.
“Nothing good can come out of political arguments with clients or prospective clients.”
Brian O’Connell is a former Wall Street bond trader and author of the best-selling books, such as The 401k Millionaire. He’s a regular contributor to major media business platforms. He resides in Doylestown, Pa. Brian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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