2016 has been the year when the credibility of experts in all walks of life has been called into serious question. So where does that leave professional advisers? Looking ahead to 2017, Mark Lee takes a look at what it takes to be an expert, and suggests that it is not just what you say but what you do and how you do it that can make the real difference
During 2016, politicians in both the UK (Michael Gove) and in the US (Donald Trump) have repeatedly asserted that people have “had enough” of experts.
Voting patterns seemed to confirm this as we saw expert political and economic views being largely ignored by the public in large numbers.
And yet, we also know that it is patently not true. If you have a health problem, would you prefer to take the advice of an amateur or of an expert? What about if you were arrested? Whose advice would you want then?
The real question
The real question is why do so many people trust some experts but reject others? Why do many people on the one hand seek medical experts for medical issues, but distrust climate experts for climate issues, and economic experts for economic issues?
I recently came across some research that may have the answer. But, before I explain this, let’s also consider the assumptions we make about other professionals. These assumptions often impact the extent to which we ourselves are likely to be perceived as experts.
As a professional adviser, you’ll be used to making assumptions about things like inflation, rates of investment return etc. which form a key part of the advice process.
However, in my experience, many of the assumptions that professionals often make about each other’s expertise are flawed. Sometimes they are outdated, based on misunderstandings, preconceptions or simply due to our prejudices. One good or bad experience isn’t really a justifiable reason for assuming that all future interactions with similarly qualified people will be the same. But human nature being what it is….
As an expert in your field, maybe you are thinking that you would never do such a thing. Maybe you are right. And maybe I shouldn’t assume otherwise!
Are you able to avoid making certain assumptions about the prospective client you meet? With experience, we come to learn that someone with a big house may not actually be that wealthy. This, as we know, will depend on the size of their mortgage, other assets, their debts and the extent to which their income exceeds their outgoings and commitments. Making fewer assumptions will probably mean that you will ask more open questions, which will, in themselves, help to reveal your expertise.
All accountants are not the same
Another classic example concerns key assumptions that financial advisers make about accountants. Did you realise quite how different they are to solicitors?
All solicitors are members of the Law Society. But anyone can call themselves an accountant. Anyone. Some have professional qualifications. Some do not. Some are Chartered. Some are not.
The incorrect assumptions made about accountants is a topic I have been researching and advising on for many years. Financial advisory firms seek my guidance on engaging with accountants and yet on the other hand accountants complain to me about the quality of the financial advisers they encounter! In all such cases, my first challenge is to help everyone to overcome some common assumptions. Then we can focus on how each party’s relative expertise could be of value to the other and to their clients.
Here are just a few of the misconceptions which I have heard over the years and that I have seen leading to misplaced assumptions:
- Accountants will be interested in easy money for client introductions
- Accountants give their clients advice on business and financial issues
- Financial advisers are more interested in making money for themselves than in client service
- Financial advisers can’t be trusted to look after my clients
Each of these assumptions drives behaviour and yet none of them are accurate statements across the vast majority of practitioners in either profession.
You may have benefitted from advice you have had from experienced and expert peers and colleagues who have shared their views on all manner of topics with you. Much of their advice will be really valuable. However, some will simply be assumptions based on what may no longer be up to date experience.
Recent research shows that many of us tend only to accept the views of experts who fit a certain profile. Beyond their evident expertise we also see them as having:
- Integrity and
This German research suggests that being an expert is just not enough any more. This is key. Experts are more likely to be believed if they are evidently honest and likeable. This is one reason why we learn from colleagues and tend to be less interested in the views of those we dislike.
One way to evidence your honesty, and thereby to build trust with those people you deal with, is to admit what you don’t know. In so doing, you add credibility to what you do know about. You evidence your expertise partly by accepting its limitations.
This isn’t easy. As professionals, we want to evidence our expertise and to come across as confident when advising clients as to what action they should take. And so we should. But equally, we may generate more confidence in our expertise if we also admit we are not ‘all-knowing’. There are inevitably gaps in our knowledge but the important thing is that we know where to go, who to ask, or where to look to get the answers we need to fill those knowledge gaps.
Now, I’m assuming that due to the fact you are reading this magazine, that you consider yourself to be an expert; and that you feel your advice should be believed and acted upon. You will increase the chance of this happening if you demonstrate that you are a good, honest person who has their clients’ and prospective clients’ best interests at heart.
We can all increase the likelihood that we will be perceived as experts if we:
- communicate more clearly and hold back on the jargon;
- admit what we don’t know; and
- develop a genuine interest in helping other people.
Let’s also stop making assumptions about other professionals. We will waste less time if we do this and instead we will build up our real knowledge and understanding. Then, when we seek to evidence our expertise to them, maybe they will be more open to our proposals. And correspondingly, that they will see us as more trustworthy experts to whom they should not only introduce relevant clients, but also with whom they can build mutually rewarding, long term business relationships.
If you’ve reached the end of this article and feel you’ve not learned anything, my apologies for wasting your time. Please don’t assume however that the same will be the case for any future articles I might write for IFA Mag. To do so would suggest you did have something to learn from this one after all!
Mark Lee FCA is a speaker, author and debunker. He speaks about how to stand out from your peers and how to build better relationships with accountants. He can be reached through his website: www.bookmarklee.co.uk
Follow Mark on Twitter @BookMarkLee