A financial advisor’s guide to client discovery


It is no secret that the key to building strong client relationships is an effective client discovery process that is both complete and efficient. Let’s walk through how an advisor might strategically design their client discovery process to meet their business’s specific needs.

71% of clients are willing to share their personal data with their wealth manager to have a more personalized user experience (more than an online brokerage/trading platform (41%), an online shop (29%), or a digital entertainment provider (24 %)).1

1. Start with a comprehensive checklist

Start by creating a re-useable checklist that includes everything that you’d want to know about your client and their family. Try not to worry about how or when you’ll gather the information, that will come later. As you make the list, keep in mind:

  • This list should be exhaustively long at this stage.
  • You may choose to segment your clients into different client profiles. If you work with different segments, make sure you are asking questions that help you to confirm which segment a new client might fit into.
  • In many cases, you’ll want to collect information beyond just the immediate investor, particularly if they have a family, children, grandchildren, other beneficiaries, etc.

Your list might include questions like:

  • What goals do you have in mind for this process?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Was there a particular reason or qualifier that led you to reaching out to me?
  • Do you work with an accountant, attorney, insurance professional, or anyone else that could impact the financial plan?
  • Do you feel you’re on track to meet your financial goals?
  • What do you feel is your most pressing financial concern right now?
  • What’s the most important thing we need to achieve?
  • Who are you financially responsible for currently and who might you want to financially assist?
  • What role do you envision you will play in your children’s and grandchildren’s future?
  • What plans have you made in the event that you become disabled?
  • What do you want your retirement to look like?
  • What do you enjoy doing outside of your career?
  • What are some mistakes you’ve seen other people make that you want to avoid?
  • What percent of loss in your overall investment portfolio would start to cause you considerable discomfort?

Not all of these questions will be a good fit for your clients, but hopefully they give you a good idea of what kind of data might be useful.

Next time you meet a peer at an industry event, ask them what their favorite client discovery question is! It is a great ice breaker and you never know what you might learn.

2. Decide on your process

Now that you have your master list of questions, it is time to think about how to gather that information. Some information is easily gathered in an online form, while other details are better collected as part of an in-person conversation, where you benefit from a longer answer and the ability to ask follow-up questions.

Start with your own research. What can you learn from a quick Google search? Many clients are pleasantly surprised when they learn their advisor “did their homework” before a meeting.

Then identify the data you can collect before your discovery meeting. Which documents can your client upload? Which questions are yes/no or quick to answer? Those questions might work well as a simple online form. Some of your clients may have already tried other online tools, like Goalsetter or our own MyBlocks. Gather that data if you can. If not, your first meeting is a great time to introduce your clients to those tools so that you can learn more together.

Finally, have a gameplan for your client meeting. Organize your questions by topic and try to imagine how the flow will work in a relaxed conversation. If you need the client to bring hard copy documents, let them know in advance (ideally with a reminder immediately before the meeting), so that they can arrive feeling prepared.

Many advisors find that sharing their meeting agenda with new clients in advance is a great way to show them what it will be like to work together. For example, maybe you are asking questions that will help you to determine their risk tolerance or possible tax management strategies. Clarifying why you are asking a wide range of questions demonstrates how holistic your approach is.

As of 2023, the average adult attention span is around 47 seconds on any screen.2 Consider gamified tools and save online forms for short questions only!

3. Assign action items and a timeline

As you move through the client discovery process, establishing a timeline with clearly assigned action items can help clarify the process and keep it from being overwhelming or stressful for the client. Keep in mind:

  • Every client’s journey should be unique. Trying to fit everyone into the same exact timeline may stop you from delivering the personalized service that today’s clients want and need
  • Ask how your client prefers to communicate. Some clients love deep 90-minute conversations or multiple shorter phone calls that lower the need for digital communication. Others prefer to hand over as much information digitally as possible and to keep meetings to a minimum
  • There is a sweet spot between a timeline that is too tight and a timeline that is too loose. The timeline should be quick enough to capture the client’s momentum, but not so fast that they can’t comfortably complete it while also working, managing their family, etc.
  • Build in checkpoints to ensure that the client knows you are there to help and doesn’t feel left alone with a huge to-do list of questions to answer and documents to track down
  • Consider workshops or webinars, where they might be appropriate in the onboarding process

Advisors who are really successful at client discovery often focus on the overall experience they are creating. They understand that the client needs to have a positive experience working with them, particularly in the very beginning before the client starts seeing positive outcomes

4. Enjoy the process

There is much to be said about the nuances and value of client discovery. It is incredibly important, but it should also be rewarding and fun for both you and your client. Choose to use fintech platforms that help you to efficiently collect the data you need and free you to focus on what’s important, your clients and your business.

Explore MyBlocks for digital client experiences that make complex financial topics fun and easy to understand.

The information, analysis and opinions expressed herein are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views of Envestnet. These views reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of writing and are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing contained in this piece is intended to constitute legal, tax, accounting, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment, nor a solicitation of any type.


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1EY, “2021 EY Global Wealth Research Report”