3 ways to deliver value without asking your clients "why"

October 09, 2017 by Haley Haas

About the author

Haley Haas

Business analyst

Haley is part of the research and development business analysis team at Advicent where she works with a cross-functional team to identify and translate business needs to functional and relevant software.

The United States now ranks 17th in the retirement security index and only about half of pre-retirees consult a financial planner. Given these alarming statistics surrounding the environment of financial planning, it is safe to say clients may come to their advisor with a high amount of anxiety about not only being able to retire comfortably, but also about the process of financial planning in general. To put clients at ease, it is essential to understand their values.


Values are the core beliefs by which we live our lives. They determine how we feel and they guide our decision-making — especially how we spend our money. They are our "why." During client meetings, the advisor's main goal is to uncover what is valuable to their clients so that they can ensure their finances secure a life full of what is meaningful to them. In doing so, you may be tempted to ask your clients why that is valuable to them.


It is pertinent to the advisor-client relationship that this word is avoided. “Why?” That three-letter word usually comes with a tinge of judgement or challenge, especially in the English language. Despite the most benign tone, "why" is a loaded word. Here are 3 ways to discover value — your clients’ "why" — without explicitly asking.

Substitute “why” with other inquisitive words

Using other inquisitive words instead of “why” forces the question to be a bit more thorough. For example, if a client does not know how much they need for retirement but are very concerned about it, you may want to ask, “Why are you worried?” Instead, try phrasing it “What is it about your current retirement plans that makes you feel as though you are not prepared?” or “How would insufficient planning affect you in retirement? Which activities would you need to cut out?” These questions bore deeper down into the clients’ values — their hopes and dreams of retirement — instead of just a blanket question of why they are feeling what they are feeling.

Dig deeper with word mapping

Another method of discover a clients’ “why” is by using word mapping. While a client is talking about financial goal, notice the words that they assign much value to, or words that they keep coming back to. Maybe that is “family time” or maybe that is “traveling.” When these types of intentional subjects come up, write it down. Then, draw a line from that word that connects to other words related to it. After your client meeting, you will have a map of words the client associates with the values in their life and therefore, their finances.

Nested meaning (the breadcrumb method)

Finding clients’ values through the breadcrumb method starts with large concepts and drills down to the core purpose and value. Think of a website’s navigation: Home, About, Contact Us, etc. These links are typically the most important buckets of information. When discussing retirement or another financial goal, notice the bigger subject areas that the client focuses on. Imagine that is the top-level navigation on a website and “click down” to see what is underneath. What is it about this area of goal planning that concerns the client? Keep asking questions about this focused area until the core values are discovered, then move onto the next large bucket and continue until all goals and concerns have been defined by the values to which they represent. 

To learn how Advicent can help uncover your clients' goals, click here.