Trust and the financial adviser

02 October 2020 - Elizabeth O'Hanlon

In an era of real time financial information, with seemingly unlimited supplies of online advice, and digital platforms facilitating instant investment transactions, you might be forgiven for wondering if there really any need in 2020 for face-to-face financial advice?
Last year marked our 100th anniversary, and if a century in financial services has taught us one thing it is that building trusted relationships has never gone out of fashion.
The decision to take advice on financial matters is, for many people, a huge, personal hurdle. Just to start a conversation with a stranger about your assets, your aspirations and your goals for you and your family is an enormous personal commitment and is little different to the private and confidential relationship you would expect with a medical professional. And that’s before you even start on articulating your worries: ‘will I have enough to achieve my goals?’, ‘how safe will my invested money be?’ and the perennial ‘can I trust you?’.
Our clients generally have three areas of trust which they will either overtly or subconsciously look for in a financial adviser: professional, ethical and emotional.
Professional trust is the most obvious place to start, and an area within which the digital platforms which offer financial advice are most easily able to compete with a human adviser. Professional trust includes attributes such as individual qualifications and official registrations with chartered organisations and industry bodies. It also requires an adviser to possess the ability to make rapid suggestions based on an initial financial profile, and the ability to formulate and execute a plan. Clients trust people who do what they say will do, and computers are (usually) pretty good at doing as they’re told too.
But the machines have limitations. Clients will often expect an additional layer of professional insight from an adviser: for example, an ability to demonstrate and discuss an awareness of trends within financial markets, a knowledge of emerging legislation and potential changes to financial opportunities. Clients like to be sure that their adviser has walked the path before, perhaps by confirming that existing clients of theirs have similar requirements or have had comparable experiences.
The ethical attributes of a trusting financial relationship build on the professional base. Clients need to know that their adviser will always act with integrity and with their best interests at all times. Online platforms support these moralistic behaviours by way of transactional transparency, but a human adviser can still offer a tangible advantage in this area.
We have found that in a face-to-face environment, it is much easier for a client to establish their own comfort zone, ensuring for example that conflicts of interest or ulterior motives are avoided and that they are confident that their adviser will avoid self-serving behaviour. We will always avoid tactics such as hard-selling which will promote doubt in a client’s mind, so we try to build trust by admitting when we don’t know have an answer on the spot, but we can promise to provide a timely, evidenced response prior to any funds being committed. Furthermore, a personal meeting will enable a natural conversation to happen, where issues can be discussed and supplementary queries can be asked, rather than being led down a prescribed set of online questions, which may not uncover the full picture.  
The emotional attributes, however, are the true foundations of trust in a client-adviser relationship and promote qualities with which no digital platform can compete.
A face-to-face meeting gives a client a huge number of spoken and unspoken messages. We don’t need to be masters of body language to understand whether someone is behaving in a way that fills us with confidence.
A trusted adviser brings no ego to a meeting; every portfolio is equally important, regardless of size. What matters is that a financial adviser is someone a client can relate to or make a positive connection with.
From a focus on listening, and asking clarification questions, to maintaining eye contact in a meeting, we know that a client has to know that  the time spent talking together is important to their adviser; in other words that they feel heard.
A client will want to know that their financial adviser will behave as their advocate because they have properly understood their perspective, priorities and risk appetite. Put simply: they want to sleep better at night knowing that their financial affairs are in safe, like-minded hands.
At Scrutton Bland, we recognise that it’s not enough for our advisers simply to do what they were hired to do. In our experience, trust ranks equally as highly with our clients as the performance of their portfolios. But we recognise that trust is a fluid concept; something which needs to be continuously nurtured as we play our role in securing our clients’ financial aspirations. Scrutton Bland is a Chartered and Independent firm meaning that we are not tied to providers and have been awarded the status of being “competent, knowledgeable and ethical” in our dealings, the highest mark of trust, capability and professionalism in the industry.

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