LAS VEGAS -- Investing more time in client discovery, especially when working with business owners, can yield dividends, says James Bergeron, senior vice president of wealth management services at Nuveen Investments.

For starters, asking the right questions (and spending more time on the answers) can build rapport and trust with all clients, Bergeron speaking at IMCA 2015 says. It can also help advisors differentiate themselves in a tough marketplace for their services.

Bergeron suggests asking open-ended questions to get clients to open up and help advisors learn what drives them.

"Rather than just asking, 'At what age do you think you and your spouse will retire?' Or 'How much do you think you'll need?' Maybe we could let the clients fill in the blanks themselves. 'What does retirement mean to you?' Or, maybe, 'You've been retired for a year. It's Tuesday, what are you going to do today?'" Bergeron suggests.

It's also necessary to be a good listener, he says. Don't try to fill in pauses in the conversation – let the clients do that and build extra time into the process, he says.

"We all live busy lives, and when we finish one thing we move onto the next one," he says. "Maybe you spend 90 minutes talking with a client about these issues. Take two hours, and spend those extra minutes to refresh your mind and memorialize the solutions."


With business owners, Bergeron recommends developing questions that reflect the psychology of entrepreneurs who built enterprises from scratch. They often want that legacy to stay in the family. At the same time, it also means that even if they exit the business, they'll probably want to scratch that entrepreneurial itch again – meaning that they'll need money to start a new venture.

Bergeron says that business owners can get tripped up over liquidity issues, the right valuation of their business and what their exit strategy or succession really is.

"Business owners often fail at their exit strategy because they aren't prepared for that transition," he says.

As such, Bergeron suggests posing questions to get the client thinking about those topics. For example, ask what are the issues that keep them up at night. What do they want their wealth to accomplish?

To be on lookout for future expenses, try to find out if they are likely to start another business. Do the clients have grandchildren on the way? Or maybe adult children who need additional looking-after?

It's also critically important to discover if any non-family member has played an integral part in building the business, Bergeron says.

"Rarely do we think about what it will take to retain that person during a transition," he says.
Getting as many of these answers in advance can help the client and the client's family plan properly for any transition. It'll also pay dividends for the advisor.

"If I'm thinking about my best clients, who happen to be business owners, then I should be worried about whether there is attrition in that business. What's the best way to mitigate attrition? Build connections with the younger generation," Bergeron says.

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