When it comes to building your client list as a financial advisor, you might assume people want to hear how much money you manage or how long your clients have been with you. But like any consumer-oriented job, most people want to hire someone they trust, someone who’s qualified and someone they like.

What else do they base their opinions on? Read on to see what advisors say their clients are looking for. (For more, see: Shopping for a Financial Advisor.)

The Importance of Authenticity

Brandon Marcott, CFP and founder of Edify Financial Planning, said people can tell when you’re presenting your true personality and when you’re just hoping to add them to your roster.

“I think the biggest thing is authenticity,” he said. “Are you putting on a show for them? Does your message on your website jive with who you are in person? You better be real and you better be consistent.”

Even though it’s tempting to pretend that you, as the advisor, have all the answers, it’s also important to recognize when you don’t. Clients need to know when there’s someone else who can provide better insight into their situation.

Marcott said a client recently asked him what his weaknesses are, and he didn’t hesitate to answer. If you’re trying to avoid the question or dodge it, people will be able to tell. Being comfortable with who you are and what you can offer will only make you seem more genuine. (For more, see: 7 Financial Advisor Red Flags.)

The Letters Matter

Ted Halpern, AAMS, CRPC, AWMA, RFC and president and founder of Halpern Financial, Inc., a NAPFA-member investment advisory firm, said that being certified in the right areas also matters. Prospective clients can’t just rely on gut feeling — they have to make sure whomever they hire is properly qualified.

“The first step is to find out if an advisor is federally registered with the SEC," said Halpern. "If not, move on. It’s also crucial to find out whether the advisor takes a fiduciary role, and whether they are a member of an organization like NAPFA that will hold them to a strict code of ethics."

Marcott said that while he and other planners know that being a fiduciary is a valuable benefit to their clients, most of them aren’t aware of its importance. Marcott also bills himself as a fee-only planner, meaning he doesn’t get paid with a commission based on how many transactions his clients undertake. (For more, see: Do Financial Advisors Get Drug Tested?)

The Importance of Calm

When you’re used to watching Jim Cramer scream about stocks all day, it can be hard not to get sucked into the daily market tornado. But clients need their advisors to be level-headed people who know when their clients should sell and when they should continue to hold on.

“That means someone who will help them filter through the noise and all of the potential options out there to create a proactive plan for their investments and the rest of their financial life, as opposed to being reactive to news or market volatility,” said Melissa Sotudeh, CFP and wealth advisor at Halpern Financial.

It’s not enough to have someone who understands how the market works, though. That won’t matter if the advisor doesn’t know how to explain it to their client.

“Advisors that communicate clearly, simplify difficult concepts and identify new opportunities have long, successful relationships with clients,” said Chad Smith, CFP and primary advisor of Financial Symmetry.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re a new advisor building your client base or have been in the business for decades, it never hurts to evaluate if your clients are finding what they’re looking for. Are you being transparent with them? Are you providing a fair value for what you’re charging? Financial advisors are one of the most trusted professions around — make sure to give your clients what they need. (For more, see: Why Do Financial Advisors Have a Fiduciary Responsibility?)

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