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Three tools for perfect factfinding

by Damian Davies on 17·11·2023

It feels like the art of factfinding often gets diluted by the science of compliance.

No-one sets out to give bad advice, yet complaints do happen.  The reason is that these complaints can stem from poorly managed expectations, miscommunications or misunderstandings. 

This can be why so much weight of emphasis in advice is given to compliance risk warnings, caveats and processes designed to ‘CYA’. 

Any good compliance person will tell you that the best way to be compliant is to focus on really good fact finding. 

They will also tell you that fact finding doesn’t mean filling in every box on a 40-page fact find.

You can make your life so much easier by focussing your fact finding in a different way. 

I’m going to show you how.  Before I do, I want you to think about the context of fact finding.  It tends to be one of the first things that happens between you and a client, so framing it is so important to make a good impression.

So, let me ask you – what do you think the majority of client wants from you?

Is it:

A)      Access to thousands of different investment funds, a sexy, state of the art online system to view their investments, charges that are competitive and your knowledge downloaded like in The Matrix.


B)      Solutions to their hopes and fears.

More often than not, it is B.  A is, of course the by-product of B but until you know what the client’s hopes and fears are, you can never properly help them understand why A would be suitable.

As such, proper fact finding is about understanding a client’s hopes and fears in order to determine the best way you can help them.

It also means that the clients understand the context of the advice you are giving them.  You can’t control investment performance or changes in legislation, so try to avoid those being factors that you base your advice on.

That’s all well and good but asking what is essentially a complete stranger to open up to you about some very personal things within an hour of meeting you is a pretty tall ask.

The secret to achieving this is something close to a superpower.  Displaying empathy.

Empathy is very subtly different to sympathy.  Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position.

Luckily, I have a few useful tools and rules for you to adopt to help with this:


1)      HAVE A PLAN

Before you go into the meeting, you need to have a hypothesis about what the client’s hopes and fears are. 

It needs to be a hypothesis as this is something you challenge (rather than an assumption which is set in stone).  If they have been referred by an accountant, maybe it’s a tax fear or from a solicitor you know who specialises in Wills, maybe it’s an inheritance tax concern.

Also, you need to have a goal.  That goal is at some point in the meeting, you get the client to say, ‘that’s right’.  I’ll come back to why in a moment, so just put this in your toolkit for now.


2)      LISTEN

As you start the conversation you need to deploy two really useful tools.

The first is avoid conversational punctuation.  Phrases like, ‘I know what you mean’ or ‘that’s interesting’ are like conversational cul de sacs.  They tell the person speaking that they can shut up.  You told them you know what they mean, so you don’t need to say anything else!

Instead, use phrases like, ‘what was that like?’ or ‘tell me more about that’.  These make people open up.  The first level of information they will give you will be pretty banal but get them to open up and you’ll start to elicit proper hopes and fears.

That is when you then have to listen.

By listen, I don’t mean that naff Neuro Linguistic pseudo listening where you relay what the client says so they think you are listening, I mean actually listen.  People’s hopes and fears will stem from their motivations, values and beliefs, so listen for these.


3)      QUESTION

Once you start to feel like you’re getting to the roots of client’s hopes and fears, you can use ‘calibrated’ questions to see if your hypothesis is correct.

These are open ended questions that separate the person as a subject.  So, asking questions that start with ‘what’ and ‘how’. 

‘What is the reason that you think charity work would be fulfilling?’ it’s much less challenging than ‘why would charity work be fulfilling?’

Likewise, use questions to label and summarise what you think they are saying.  You can do this a bit like you are unsure about something:

‘I might be wrong, but it sounds like stopping work and starting this charity will help you feel you are repaying those people who helped you all those years ago?’

These questions are the point at which you want the client to say, ‘that’s right’ not, ‘you’re right’ but ‘that’s right’ because that is when you have unlocked the empathy bomb.


Once you know what the client’s hopes and fears are, you can be certain your advice will be suitable, that you will have an incredibly loyal client and probably someone who will refer twice as many new clients to you.

If you would like to take a deeper dive into this subject, we have a video you can watch.