Financial advisors: Stop hiding your brand story behind your brokerage firm

It’s a trend I’ve noticed over the last 3 years. 

Whether I’m talking with independent financial advisors who rely on third-party custodians like Raymond James, Stifel, Fidelity, or Schwab, I run into something I’ve come to call the Big Heart, Small Story Problem. 

Almost always, these financial advisors are highly relational and extremely mission driven. 

They care about their clients. 

They’ve long shed their industry’s product-centered focus.

And they don’t have a shred of ego. 

Their hearts are big. 

And every time I talk with them, I feel like I’ve gained a new best friend who I might be able to trust with my biggest, craziest secrets. 

But in spite of all that warm and fuzzy goodness, there’s a persistent problem that shows up across the board for these advisors. 

Their stories are small. 

They’re not sharing the nuances of who they are, and they don’t know how to unhitch the best parts of their story from the story that belongs to their brokerage firm. 

In essence, they’re being swallowed whole by their brokerage, regurgitating the same, worn out stories about trustworthiness, integrity, and honesty that every brokerage and advisor on the block seem to be sharing. And it’s easy to see why.

It can be hard as a financial advisor to feel like you have permission to show up differently in this industry. Suits, ties, and brain-first thinking have ruled the roost for a long while, and in spite of all the tar we want to throw at that reality, good things have come out of this buttoned-up model.

Research shows that financial advisors are considered America’s most trusted source for financial advice, and we know that those who partner with a financial advisor are measurably more confident – with handling unplanned expenses, with retirement planning, and with long-term financial security.  

If you’re a good financial advisor, then you know that managing a portfolio and keeping a balance sheet is just part of the job description. Your real impact comes at the relational level – the one-on-one conversations during your clients’ highest and lowest moments, the hand-holding during tough decisions, the broadening of perspectives around wealth and legacy. 

But if we look at most advisor’s stories (via their websites), we’ll have a hard time spotting this part of the job. 

Instead, they’ll mention how they’re the experts, how financial planning is hard to understand, and how risk must be mitigated. Most words used on a financial website require a pre-reading of a college finance textbook – making it easy to see why most people report rising anxiety, heartburn, and near panic attacks over all-things-finance. 

Subdue them with confusion isn’t a mantra most advisors would ever condone, but it’s the dominant identity showing up in many financial advisors’ brand stories. Maybe you feel like it’s the main theme in your brand story, too, and if so, here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be that way. 

You can rely on a brokerage firm without losing your identity in the process, and when you figure out how to stand out with your own story, your clients will see your brokerage firm as an added value in partnering with you – rather than your single, one-dimensional storyline.  

Here are three ways to get started:

1. Give your heart a platform. 

This isn’t about giving yourself permission to run wild with emotion – because logic and reason do need to rule the roost when it comes to managing other people’s finances. This is simply about acknowledging the parts of your heart that come to life when you’re working alongside clients – and then granting yourself the permission to share those parts of your heart – via story. 

Think for a moment about the things you talk about when you’re describing your job to others – the details that cause your eyes to well up with tears or your voice to soften just a bit. Are you sharing the fundamental beliefs and principles that you carry with you into every client meeting or are you hiding those ideas behind the archaic towers of old-school financial jargon? 

2. Dig deeper than cliche. 

It feels slightly judgmental to point a finger at anyone who says their core values are trustworthiness, integrity, and honesty (or any other like-minded ideal, for that matter). But these values have become cliche in the financial industry, and that’s because as leadership coach Patrick Lencioni says, they’re permission to play values. 

I can’t count on one finger the number of people in my life who are looking for a financial advisor who deceives, tricks, and lies. Most anyone with a conscience expects their financial advisor to lead with a basic degree of goodness and decency. These permission to play values are the values that you need to show up with in order to even get on the field, and because they’re not the values that set you apart from anyone else in your industry, you need to dig deeper to discover your true core values.

When trying to define and explain your core values, consider this exercise: Imagine yourself and 20 of your other industry competitors standing in a packed-out gymnasium. When the lights go off and the gym goes dark, the only way you differentiate yourself is by loudly naming your core values. But. . . if every brand is calling out values like trustworthiness, integrity, and honesty, how will your audience find YOU? 

Now, imagine yourself in that dark gym calling out the true source of your trustworthiness, integrity, and honesty. What drives you to pursue those ideals?

Your belief in the inherent value of each human being?

Your relationships-first approach to everything?

Your desire to live the way you speak? 

Go BEYOND the cliche to identify the true source of your values, and when you discover what that is, you’ll hold a set of core values that are distinctively you. 

3. Make it personal. 

When you’re in the business of helping humans, work is always personal. 

And while this doesn’t mean you get angry when a client disagrees with your advice or that you should disregard every healthy client-advisor boundary, you should give some thought to HOW you do business – and then understand WHY you do it that way.

Did your grandfather teach you the value of a hard day’s work? 

Did you watch your parents build a legacy of generational wealth out of nothing? 

Have you experienced the grief of loss or the challenge of disability? 

Do you know the fear of not having enough to put your kid through college or the struggle of paying for your child’s wedding? 

Don’t be afraid to talk about the real human struggles that you see every day as you meet with clients.

You sit with them in their homes. You share cups of coffee together. You join important family events. And as a result, your clients see you as an extension of themselves.

They rely on you to help them make some of the most important decisions of their lives, so they’re not always looking for a smooth-talking expert who loves charts and graphs and all-things numbers. They also want to know that they’ve got a faithful friend who they can be real with – and because they’re inviting you into their life, they want to know that you live real life, too. 

If you’re a financial advisor who is ready to stand out with your own unique story, let’s talk about how we can work together to make that happen.