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Choosing a Financial Professional: What Attributes Are Important to Consumers?

Choosing a Financial Professional:
What Attributes Are Important
to Consumers?


Erin Bowler, MBA
Senior Analyst, Distribution Research

September 2023

When a coach is choosing players for a team, there are many qualities to consider in the athletes. Stamina, experience, versatility and personality can all influence a coach’s decision. The same is true of consumers when choosing a financial professional (FP).

Topping the list of important attributes in an FP are trustworthiness, experience, expertise and communication skills. Personal characteristics scored lower on the list, yet 1 in 3 consumers say it’s something they’d consider, especially an FP’s personality.

Top 8 Attributes When Choosing to Work With a Financial Professional


The Value of a Holistic Approach

The strategies and methodologies that financial professionals use to serve their clients can vary. At one end of the spectrum are those FPs who take a sales approach, providing clients with specific products as needed. This can be seen as more of a reactive position on the part of the FP, who may wait until the client comes to them presenting a need. The FP may occasionally review their book of business and reach out to the client with insurance product suggestions, based on the client’s life stage, but other aspects of financial planning are often overlooked.

At the other end of the spectrum are those FPs who take more of a holistic approach to serving their clients. This is one where the FP is more service-oriented and considers clients’ entire financial situation and needs. Rather than focusing on insurance products or investment advice alone, the FP may offer services such as debt management, budgeting, tax strategy, retirement preparedness, estate services and college planning. Consumers who value a holistic approach are more inclined to recommend their FP than others. Additionally, clients who work with financial advisors specifically — as opposed to investment brokers or other financial professionals — are more likely to say that their FP takes a holistic approach. This is also true of older, wealthier clients.

Given their experience, people who currently work with an FP are much more likely to note the importance of a holistic approach than others, and less concerned with recommendations and ratings than people who are interested in working with an FP. Those consumers may lack awareness of the breadth of services that FPs can offer. Financial professionals can profit by advertising their range of services as well as speaking to clients about them upfront. Consumers who are interested in working with an FP can benefit from a little research on various FPs’ services and approaches.

The Role of Gender

Most consumers report little preference when it comes to an FP’s gender. However, when all other qualifications and attributes are equal, consumers were asked to describe why they would prefer one gender over the other. Consumers — particularly those who prefer a female FP — often describe soft skills that they associate with the gender or how an FP of that gender would likely make them feel. They describe them as being better at making people feel comfortable, more understanding and better at communicating. It’s worth noting that people who would prefer a female FP — all else being equal — offer a reason along the lines of “they understand my needs” more often than people who would prefer a male FP.

Gen Z women, ages 18-26, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are much more inclined to favor a female FP. Moreover, people who currently work with a female FP, especially women, are more likely to prefer a woman if they were choosing today, compared to the proportions of people who work with a male FP saying they’d prefer a male.

People who prefer a male FP describe their preferred gender as being better when it comes to the hard skills associated with the job, e.g., knowledgeable, efficient and experienced. Additionally, those with male FPs are more likely to describe their approach as holistic compared to people whose FP is female.

Other Characteristics of a Financial Professional

When it comes to race, and assuming all other qualifications and attributes are equal, 1 in 4 consumers say they would prefer to work with an FP who has a similar ethnicity/cultural background as their own. Black and Hispanic consumers express this interest at greater rates. There is the perception that FPs who “look like me” will understand their clients’ financial situation and needs more so than an FP with a different cultural background.

Consumers express a preference based on an FP’s age much more often than an FP’s gender or ethnicity “all else being equal.” In general, FPs age 35-49 are the most appealing, followed by those who are age 50-64. Financial professionals in these age ranges may be viewed as being more knowledgeable than their younger counterparts. Much of the value they bring to their clients is their experience with different financial situations and their knowledge of financial rules, regulations and procedures. Older FPs may be perceived as lacking the technological tools to manage their clients in a timely and organized manner.

Just as a coach picks players for a team with the goal of winning games, consumers have this mindset when working with, or choosing to work with, a financial professional. They want a successful financial outcome. Female FPs are seen as being better when it comes to soft skills, and male FPs are perceived as better at hard skills. The goal for the consumer is to find a happy medium and work with an FP who can relate to them and create a plan to address all their financial planning needs.

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