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This week’s episode is a special one in that Steven is not being joined by a CPA or CFP. Steven’s guest this week, Ashley Quamme, is actually a Fractional Financial Behavior Officer (don’t worry, they talk about what that is) and specializes in helping financial planning firms go beyond the numbers and understand how their clients think, feel and do money. Steven and Ashley explore the science behind some of the things Steven has learned and does in his own practice and the advice he shares with Advisors. This is an incredibly insightful conversation that will give you a different angle for improving your tax and financial planning skills.
Steven and his guests share more tax-planning insights in today’s Retirement Tax Services Podcast. Feedback, unusual tax-planning stories, and suggestions for future guests can be sent to email@example.com.
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Hello everyone and welcome to the next episode of the Retirement Tax Services podcast, Financial Professionals edition. I’m your host, Steven Jarvis, CPA, and this week joining on the show to have a conversation on the softer side of taxes is Ashley Quame. Ashley, welcome to the show.
Now Ashley, right out of the gate, I’ve got to ask, on your LinkedIn profile, you have yourself listed as a fractional financial behavioral officer. What does that mean?
Yeah, that’s a great question. In a nutshell, it means that I provide consulting services to financial advisory firms, helping them really go beyond the financial plan to understand how or why their clients think, feel, and do money the way that they do.
This is addressing things like, hey, I met with my client in May. We talked about this great tax plan for the rest of the year. When I checked with them in December, they had not only not followed through on it, but they didn’t remember half the things I told them and had this idea that they were never going to pay taxes ever again. Where did this all go wrong? Those are the kind of things you help address.
Absolutely, yeah, the things that likely financial advisors did not get trained on or educated on in their program. So yep, you’ve got it all of the above.
So actually I’m confident that we can’t condense everything that you do into a 30-minute podcast, but start me out with just some high level. You mentioned that you focus on things that advisors probably weren’t taught as they were growing up in the industry. What are some of those key areas where you see that you’re spending time training people in?
A lot of it’s communication-centered, communication-effective, communication is kind of a buzzword here, but really just how to be present with your client or clients. So what communication skills do you need to possess? For example, how to show empathy. It sounds kind of easy in nature, but sometimes that can be really difficult, especially if you feel frustrated or you just don’t understand why your client is not making progress or following through on the things that you’ve discussed. So communication skills is a big one, but also the psychology from a client standpoint, the psychology mindset, providing context or consultation as to what might be behind the behavior. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s not, especially if you’re not interacting with the client. And then really the other side is also helping advisors learn about themselves as practitioners, even as CPAs, you’re a practitioner and we bring our own stuff into any relationship and the client advisor relationship or client practitioner relationship is really no different.
So if there are things in terms of your personality, your own internal external awareness that you have maybe neglected or not attuned to, it can perhaps sometimes maybe lead to less optimal interactions or sticking your foot in your mouth inadvertently maybe saying something that the client could perceive as dismissive or harmful. So self of the advisor is kind of what I call it, but that’s self-work communication skills. And then the other aspect is really how to work with couples. I’m a couple’s therapist by training and education. That’s where I’ve spent a lot of my clinical practice time: working with couples and so there’s a particular dynamic there with couples that’s different from individuals and anyone who has sat in front of a couple and tried to work or help them knows exactly what I’m talking about. It is vastly different than individual work, so part of my role is also helping advisors understand the dynamics within couple systems or even within family systems as well.
There are so many things I want to pull out of there, so we’ll see if I can cover ’em all. One of the things that stood out to me, I love this theme of effective communication because I completely agree. I spent a lot of time working with people on as well, and as we talk about taxes, but many areas of financial planning. How do we take these very technically complex areas and explain them in a way that resonates, that isn’t going to feel like we’re talking down to someone but also simplifies these incredibly complicated things into something we can take action on. We’d love any thoughts or tips you have on how you find that balance. Then I’m going to ask a follow-up question about how you practicing it better about that?
Yeah. One of the things when it comes to explaining complex concepts, I pull from one of my mentors, I used to work for the US Army very, very early in my career and he was an active duty service member and he would say, Q, you got to break it down to crayons level. And so I just have that thought in my head when it comes to breaking down jargon or concepts is how would you explain it maybe to a child or a pre-teen, a teenager that concept in very, very simple terms. If you can’t, then maybe there’s some work to be done kind of around that, but working with practitioners really on how to break those concepts down in a simple way, especially when it comes to our clients, can be really impactful and helping them to follow through and helping them to take action if they don’t understand what they’re doing or if it’s not connecting as to why it’s important, they’re not going to follow through and they’re not going to take action.
Yeah, that totally makes sense. Being able to illustrate things in crayon is an analogy I use quite often as well, so I’m glad to have some backup there. Ashley, as I look at my own experience with working with clients and how I’ve improved my communication over time and as I work with at this point, hundreds if not thousands of advisors, I’ve yet to find a replacement for just actually getting in and practicing these things. Listening to discussions like this can be helpful. Getting insight from professionals like yourself is very impactful, but at the end of the day, if you want to be good at something, you have to practice and it seems to me like a lot of people feel uncomfortable practicing what feels like everyday conversation. We all know that to play an instrument or even to perform on a stage takes practice, but it just seems like there’s a disconnect for a lot of people. As a practitioner, it feels uncomfortable for people to practice with their team members, practice with family members practice in front of a mirror on a recording. Do you see that same value in getting those repetitions in and if so, how are you encouraging people to follow through and do that?
I love everything that you said and I would agree. One of the things that in my clinical practice, I supervise pre-licensed clinicians, and so one of the aspects at least of our supervision is there are times when we role-play. There are times when we engage in that and that can feel sometimes a bit inauthentic, maybe I get it can be uncomfortable, but I do think that for advisors, for any practitioner that is trying to practice any kind of new skills, especially relational ones or even just the art of asking different questions, you’re going to have to get in there and do some repetition work, whether that’s with a peer, whether that’s with somebody like myself, the mirror, maybe your dog, that’s okay too, but I also know that being able to take that plunge and do that, it requires some vulnerability. It requires sitting with that uncomfortableness and we’re not really prone as humans to sitting with those feelings, so we kind of resist it and maybe put it off. I think that there’s a massive disservice that we do to ourselves and our clients though in not being intentional about practicing some of these communication skills.
Yeah, I completely agree. I think it’s absolutely a disservice and I think it’s interesting that you brought up in there that it can feel inauthentic at times, and I definitely have people have that pushback and I know I’ve experienced that especially early in my career where I felt like it needed to be new and different every time I was talking to someone that somehow it felt like a disservice if it wasn’t something original every time I talked with people, and one of the things that helped me change my mindset on that was actually watching other practitioners as they talk to their clients or prospects or whoever it might be. There are a couple of people in particular that come to mind that are well known for using the same scripts essentially with all of their clients on the same topics, not that the whole conversation is rote or rehearsed, but there are certain areas where there’s certain topics they talk about, they’ll say it the exact same way every single time, and it’s like going to the doctor or other services we experienced in our life where we want that consistency improves the value of, improves the delivery, and for me, being able to watch other people do that and seeing that each of their clients had that very authentic reaction to what could feel like an inauthentic script, but it’s not if there’s the genuine passion behind it.
Yeah, I would agree. I think that one of my hopes, I guess, and this really draws from my experience and practice in mental health and supervising clinicians is recording sessions, and so I love that you said watching other practitioners, some of the work that I am also trying to do is helping advisors by recording their client meetings and then let’s watch it. Let’s get some feedback. I know that when I’ve brought that up just some I get like, oh my God, no, no, no, that can’t be. We can’t do that. I get it. I remember that feeling 15 years ago, the art of that, but I think to your point, there’s a lot of value in being able to do that, a lot of learning that can come about and when we practice things over and over, whether it’s scripts, whether it’s describing certain concepts, there’s a confidence that builds within us and clients feel that. They feel that from us when we’re confident when we talk about certain things. So repetition, creating kind of a script, but practicing it in that way if it doesn’t feel authentic, maybe I might offer that. Another way of looking at it is that it could build confidence for that interaction.
Yeah, let’s get super tactical on this for just a second. I think it can be so transformational for advisors if they’ll follow through on it specifically around how are we going to record client meetings because there is a difference between recording yourself or talking to a mirror and then sitting down with a real client. I don’t remember the last time I interacted with an advisor who is doing zero Zoom meetings. So one, we’ve already got a leg up that a lot of us have moved to at least some level of virtual meetings, so that makes the mechanics of it a lot easier and it’s going to absolutely be uncomfortable if you start that meeting with Mr and Mrs. Client, I’m trying to get better at this and I’m not sure I’m going to do a great job today, so can I record this? I can go back and critique it later. That’s not the right way to approach this, but a real simple line that I will use as I start conversations with clients, it’s just, Hey, if it’s all right with you, I’m going to go ahead and record this call so that I can focus on what we’re talking about today and my team has all the notes they need for follow up afterward. Would that be okay? And no one’s ever turned me down.
Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. And this is maybe a personal choice too. One of the things that I’ve used but also instruct others that I’m working with, albeit supervisees or advisors, is approaching it and saying, Hey, help me to help you if you want to talk about how you’re improving on a certain area or asking better questions is a really great approach. I’m working on my question-asking, I want to be able to ask you better questions. Would you mind if we just recorded this call? It helps me to be more present so that I don’t have to remember later kind of like you said, my team has all the notes and I can just sit here and be present with you. I generally find that when you’re positioning it as a service to the client and how they’re going to benefit from that, like you said, most clients are like, yeah, no-brainer. Absolutely.
Yeah, that’s a great recommendation. There are so many opportunities to do this, and again, it can feel uncomfortable to listen back to yourself. There’s probably some psychological explanation behind it of why we don’t like hearing our own voices recorded because no matter how many times I’ve heard myself recorded the recording sounds different than I hear myself in my head. And so there’s always this little dissonance of I’d rather not be listening to this, but that’s where I’ve improved the most, whether it’s working with clients or public speaking or being on podcasts. In fact, the fact that I’m on podcasts all the time and can go back and listen to myself in so many different ways gives me a great ability to continually improve the way that I communicate.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s helped me tremendously just in my own career and it’s never comfortable, and I’ve been speaking in front of clients for 15 years. I’ve been recording myself for 15 years on and off, not all the time, and it’s not comfortable, but I do think that in an effort to deliver high-quality service, that can be a really useful tool to incorporate into your own professional development.
Absolutely. Ashley, talk about ways that advisors can identify areas they need to improve their communication, and what I mean by that is a lot of people in this profession, I’ve certainly, myself included, we have very high opinions of the value we can deliver and how effectively we communicate. And there’s probably a lot of people listening thinking, man, that is great for Steven and Ashley, but I’ve got this thing down. And so especially for the people who aren’t going to run out and start recording themselves this next week, what are things they should be looking for in interactions with clients and feedback they’re getting? It might not be direct feedback, but what should I be on the lookout for to tell myself, wait, I need to improve.
I talk about really honing in and cultivating that sense of awareness. So both your internal awareness and your external awareness, and if you’re cultivating each of those, it will help direct you in knowing what are the areas to improve your communication upon or strategy. So for example, you said what to look for from an external standpoint, and I know we’re doing Zoom virtual calls now, and that can be a bit tricky because it’s hard to tell maybe where the eye gaze is, but one great example is if you see your clients looking up and away off to the side, that’s really an indication that they’re thinking and that they’re doing a lot of processing, hopefully, some rational processing, but they’re doing a lot of thinking and that area of their brain is really, really engaged. So if you go to ask them an emotional question at that moment when they’re in this maybe state of more thinking, you’re likely not going to get, they might be able to say, well, yeah, I feel good.
You might just get a very kind of quick response there. So pay attention to eye gaze. In contrast, actually, when we are looking down in a way and on Zoom, that might be hard because they might be looking at their phone, but especially in person, if you see that they’re looking down and kind of a way off to the side, that’s actually an indication that they’re more in an emotional state. So if in that instance, you’re trying to explain any kind of tax strategy and they are overwhelmed with emotion or you’re trying to get them to talk about the next steps in action, it’s likely not going to land on them very well, and potentially they could end up feeling dismissed or really just not hearing what you’re taking in. And I think we all know that that can cause later frustration. So those are two just quick tips on really expanding your own external awareness, watching for body language, what our client’s doing from a physical standpoint, and what do you notice really developing that radar for noticing what’s going on.
In contrast, there’s an internal component too, and you can’t effectively communicate if you have no idea what’s going on inside of you, at least I don’t think so. I’m willing to be wrong here, but I don’t know how you can effectively, authentically communicate if you’re not really in tune with what’s going on with yourself. So if you are really long-winded in your explanations with your clients, you’re probably going to lose them entirely. They’re going to check out. But if you don’t have that sense of awareness of, oh, wow, I’ve been talking for a really long time, maybe I should pause or stop, maybe I should be more concise. You really kind of run the risk there of not having a connected client relationship there. So those are two things I kind of coach on for advisors or any practitioners is let’s hone in on your internal awareness and there’s several other things within that. Let’s hone in on your external awareness, and then from there, based on where that is, we can really focus on the how or what to say piece moving forward.
That makes a lot of sense. I’m really excited this conversation has gone such in a communication direction because at the end of the day, I mean Google has the whole tax code. When we talk about tax planning, there’s a lot of it that’s very objective and people can go find online. Taxpayers are looking for help because they don’t want to have to do that on their own. It’s daunting, it’s confusing, it’s intimidating, all of these types of things. And so really where the value comes from is not your understanding of a technically complex area. It’s your ability to effectively communicate on it. And I want to circle back to something you said as you were kicking this all off, and I might not remember it exactly correctly, but you talked in there about avoiding being dismissive in our communication and what comes to mind for me specifically with that as it relates to tax planning, is that there’s so much nonsense that’s also available online that taxpayers and their desperate attempt to not get killed on taxes will latch onto what for an experienced advisor just seems like this harebrained idea.
A client comes and says, oh, wait, I saw on TikTok or I heard at the family Christmas party or whatever it was that I should do X, Y, and Z, and I’ve found in my own experience that it’s really important how you respond to that no matter how wrong they are, avoiding being dismissive, make sure that you’re engaging, that you’re uplifting, that you’re creating a positive environment for them. Again, internally you might be thinking, that’s the dumbest question I ever heard, and so that’s what I’ve seen anecdotally from my experience. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about why it works that way and other things advisors can be doing to make sure they’re not falling into that trap.
I’m listening to you kind of describe this scenario, and I feel like I should probably share that. My dad is a CPA and my birthday is April 15th, so, I feel like I was probably destined to be here. And so my dad still practicing as a CPA. I laugh because he does my taxes for my business, and so I will ask him questions and I’ll say, well, I heard this, or do I need to be doing this? And he’ll get frustrated about whatever kind of information. Where are you getting it from? Is Clayton telling you that (my husband is also a CFP)? So yeah, there’s a lot there, but I’m laughing because there have been times of frustration, especially early on in my business where I really didn’t understand things. And so having to go to him and say, Dad, I don’t understand what you’re talking about right now, or Dad, don’t make me feel stupid.
I don’t know, right? I’m laughing because I’m like, oh, I’ve absolutely experienced those personal moments. Maybe I should go talk to my therapist about those now that they’re coming up on this podcast. But I think that it’s a really delicate balance there, and it can be hard when your client is coming to you sharing that they have acquired information from really a not reliable source. And I think that that’s a learning opportunity, and my encouragement would actually be before speaking to the actual content or the information that they’ve even shared, is to become curious about them, about where they’re getting information, why they’re attracted to it, especially from a social media standpoint. And you and I probably similarly have clients, I get clients all the time and they’re like, I have bipolar disorder, or now I’m autistic because TikTok told me. So it can create a lot of emotion, but I find that instead of trying to prove to the client why they’re wrong or explain to them in a different way, becoming curious, what attracted you to that video?
What was it about that video that spoke to you? I’ve found sometimes that it’s because whoever it is, well, I’ll use the word influencer here very lightly. The influencer may be explaining things in a very simple way. Maybe they’re not using a lot of jargon. Maybe they’re also using story to connect to the points or giving examples in that way, but nonetheless, becoming curious about why the client might be seeking it out through that forum and maybe offering content that you create yourself and send out. I’m not a marketing strategist here, but I do think that it can be helpful and really a way of bringing the two of you closer together. I do find that in these situations I will sometimes professionally, if I have clients that are like this, I’ll say, you’re bringing this information to me. Help me understand why.
Help me understand what about this information is important enough that you thought you should bring it to me. And you might find that they’re actually worried about a particular scenario. Maybe especially with taxes, they could be worried about, well, Steven, I’m not even going to pretend like I know a whole lot about taxes, but they could be worried about a particular scenario or upcoming event that you likely would have no idea about if you didn’t ask and stay curious in that moment. So it can provide a lot of insight there. I do think that it can be helpful, especially if clients have really terrible misinformation that could be damaging to them if you want to share your opinion or how that strategy really is not applicable for them at all. I always encourage practitioners to ask, would you like to hear my thoughts on that?
Would you like to hear my advice on that? Asking for that permission piece first instead of coming out the gate and just giving it all to them when maybe they just want to share and vent and tell you that they’re worried. So it’s a balance there that this is where going back to that internal awareness, it’s really important. It’s really important to be aware of yourself. If you’re so triggered by the fact that a client has brought this question or suggestion from a TikTok video and it makes you really frustrated, your chest is tight and you’re like, jaw, it’s clenching. There’s some internal work there that you probably should attune to, and the reason is by attuning to it and maybe working through it or figuring out what’s behind it, it will allow you to show up just in a better way that will bring you and the client closer together.
That makes a ton of sense. I really appreciate you walking through that. I wrote down specifically that line you said in there of help me understand. That’s one I often use when I’m reaching out to other professionals when I think they’ve made a mistake instead of leading with, Hey, you’re wrong. It helped me understand how this works. It’s such a better way to encourage dialogue as opposed to putting people on the defensive. But I could see how it would really help with clients as well when they bring up a top, even if in the back of your mind you’re just a hundred percent convinced they’re a hundred percent wrong, you’ve got to start with something that’s going to encourage them to come back the next time. Because if you don’t create this environment where they want to come to you to ask these questions, they’re just going to go off and do stuff on their own and get themselves in a lot more trouble, or they’re going to constantly second guess what the advice you’re giving because you haven’t addressed their concerns.
Absolutely. Pro tip, that also applies to parenting and your marital other relationships do, right? Creating that environment where that other person wants to engage or be vulnerable or bring that information to you. So yeah, you’re exactly right.
There you go. Bonus content there for your kids and spouses there. Perfect. Ashley, I really appreciate you taking the time to come to the show today. We always like to make sure that we’re giving people specific actions they can take so they can turn this information into value. And so as you think about the conversation that we’ve had today, what action items come to mind for you of things that advisors listening to this podcast can go out and do?
I have a simple exercise that I talk about a lot, and it’s one that I utilize with clients myself, but the exercise is called think, feel, do. And so I encourage advisors after their meeting, especially one that maybe has been kind of tricky, maybe hard, it’s been difficult for whatever reason, sit down at your desk or wherever it is your workspace is, write out the word think, feel, and do go back through that meeting during the hard spots, what were the thoughts you had like verbatim? What were you thinking? Maybe it was, man, I’m really messing this up, or I have no idea what to say in this moment right now. Or why can’t they just get it? What were the thoughts that you were thinking? The next one is to feel what feelings came up. This is oftentimes where people have the hardest part because they name, instead of naming a feeling, they name a thought, but feelings are frustration, sadness, disappointment, fear, and worry.
If you’re not as robust in your knowledge base of feelings, words, they have feelings wheel on Amazon, you can pick up one for pretty cheap. So there’s another tidbit there, but identify the feelings, and then what did you do in that moment? Maybe you shut down, maybe you just stayed quiet. Maybe you got defensive with them, whatever it was that you did. The reason why this is important is because it starts to cultivate, like I’ve been talking about, just that awareness, that sense of understanding what it is that you do, how you react in certain situations. And then you’ve got some really great data to go back and be like, Hey, I have a hard time when clients question my strategy, it makes me feel really defensive and I don’t tend to respond favorably. I need to do some work. Whether that’s working with a coach, working with a therapist, bringing on somebody like myself, or talking with a peer, what have you? So that is my big exercise takeaway think, feel, do. I’m happy to send out to your listeners or provide you with just the worksheet there that has the instruction on how to do that, but it is a very simple yet powerful tool that if used regularly can provide a lot of great insight.
Well, Ashley, I really appreciate that. That’s a great exercise for people to go through. Two other things that stood out to me from our conversation were really a strong recommendation to be curious and to ask questions, right? There’s such a powerful communication technique to not jump to whatever the conclusion in your mind is. Again, even if you’re just absolutely certain that that’s where the answer’s going to end up, it needs to be a guided discovery. You need to get there together. And then we talked about in the middle of the episode that there is so much power in recording yourself. There’s so much power in practicing. There’s so much power in being able to go back and not have a narrative in your head of how well you did, but to be able to actually see what it is you’re doing and how you’re communicating your abilities will drastically improve as you can look back through, watch back through, and then focus on those things that you can improve. So again, Ashley really appreciate the conversation today. How can people learn more about you and follow up and reach out to you if they’re interested in what you’re doing?
You can find me on LinkedIn, Ashley Quamme. There might be another Ashley Quamme, but I think I’m the only fractional financial behavior officer on there, you can find me on LinkedIn, I’m on Twitter or X. The handle is @BAMconsults, and then my website is www.beyondthefp.com, so beyondthefp.com. You can subscribe to my newsletter there where I put out content for subscribers.
Awesome. Well thank you. And for everyone listening, thanks for being here. And until next time, good luck out there. And remember to tip your server, not the IRS!
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