Conducting an effective, initial client – advisor interview is an essential part of any advisor’s job. It not only helps the advisor in terms of understanding the main objectives a client is looking to achieve out of the relationship, but it can also illuminate how to best serve those needs to come up with an integrated wealth management plan. By the end of such an interview process, the advisor should be able to get a better picture of the client’s financial goals and values, which can be done by asking the right questions.

Some advisors may try to get away with simply handing clients a questionnaire to fill out. At the outset, this approach may seem less time consuming and just as effective. But it can often result in the advisor missing out on some of the key issues that aren't likely to show up in a client’s written answers.

The client may also be more inclined to withhold information that feels too personal or difficult to write down on paper. That’s why it is often better to simply meet your client in person at the outset. This will allow you to get to know them on a personal level and it will give you the time to ask as many questions as you feel might be pertinent. Putting in the energy at the very start will help you both in the long run.

Here are a few tips to help you get started. (For more, see: Advisors: These Mistakes Could Cost You Clients.)

Prepare Your Questions

Preparation is the hallmark of any good interview. So start out by making a list of topics you want to cover with your client. Get a good history of your client's financial past and what he or she has been striving for in his or her investment, estate and retirement portfolios. You should also find out about his or her work history and how he/she hopes to see his/her career moving forward. The more questions you can come up, with the more chances you have of hitting on some key information that will help you develop a workable plan for the future.

You might also want to inform your clients about the types of questions you will be asking them ahead of the interview, so that they can mentally prepare their answers. If there are any documents you would like to take a look at, you should also request that the client bring these to the first interview. (For more, see: Tips on How Financial Advisors Can Talk to Clients.)

Be the Interviewer and the Subject

During the interview, you should also give your clients the opportunity to ask you some questions. Consider suggesting that they come to the meeting prepared with their own set of questions. By answering these questions, you will be giving yourself the chance to show off your skills and knowledge. You will also be able to garner a lot about the client from her questions and concerns. By engaging with your client in this way you will start to get a sense of what areas in her life or investment portfolio is making her feel most vulnerable. (For more, see: The Key Characteristics Clients Want in an Advisor.)

If a client is particularly concerned about a certain area of his life or investments or their lack thereof, he will tend to bring up the concerns several times in the interview process. Listen carefully for clues about what is keeping him up at night. If you can help a client rest easier, he will surely take note and be highly appreciative of your efforts and skills.

Ask Personal Questions

A client wants to feel that you know him on a personal level, not just a financial one. He wants to feel as though you understand him and his values. Is there a particular charity he likes giving to or is he taking care of a relative in need? The client may also have hobbies or causes that he's passionate about. A client wants to feel like you are addressing him or her in an individualized manner and not just giving him or her run-of-the mill service that any advisor can dole out.

Some clients don’t mind talking about the things that make them most uncomfortable, while others remain more tight-lipped. When asking questions, try to gauge your clients' comfort level in answering. You do want to get them to talk about key issues, but if the line of questioning is making them feel uncomfortable, you may want to hold back and ask more questions at a follow up meeting. For example, some people tend to avoid discussing issues involved with end-of-life planning, but with time they may open up to it – in fact it’s your job to get them to, so you can serve them better. (For related reading see: Want to Impress Clients? Show Your Due Diligence.)

The Bottom Line

Financial advisors need to take the lead in interviewing new clients. By sitting down face-to-face and asking probing questions, you will be better prepared to come up with a suitable financial plan for your client and his or her estate. (For more, see: Why Clients Fire Financial Advisors.)