25 Critical Discovery Questions for Financial Advisors

Whether you’re meeting with a new prospective client or doing a client review with a client you’ve had for decades, it’s important to know how to guide the conversation. Asking the right questions allows you to gain the insights you need to provide the best advice possible while fostering a deeper connection. Because when you take the time to listen to clients’ answers to these questions mindfully, It shows that you genuinely care about their goals, values, and needs.

The questions you ask at the first discovery meeting with a new potential client are especially key in building a strong relationship and winning new business. So we’ve compiled a list of 25 financial advisor discovery meeting questions that spark meaningful and productive conversations.

We’ve broken these questions down into the following categories:

  • Financial planning
  • Assets, liabilities, and investments
  • Family and key relationships
  • Work and hobbies
  • Tax planning
  • Estate planning

You can also use our new client conversations checklist as a simple template to guide meetings with questions that create a strong foundation for new relationships based on a deeper understanding of what matters most to your new or prospective clients.

Financial planning questions

Putting together a solid financial plan requires a deep understanding of your client’s financial goals and concerns. These are ultimately the driving force to determine how clients should save or invest their money to achieve their goals without taking on unnecessary risk. You may also use these as financial needs assessment questions within an introductory questionnaire that you send to clients’ prior to the discovery meeting so you have some key data to start with even before the meeting.

1. What’s top of mind for you right now as it relates to your finances?

When you meet with a new client, they probably already have something in mind they’d like to improve about their financial life. They might be worried about whether they’re on track for retirement, unsure of their current asset allocation, or they may not be happy with their current advisor and want a second opinion on the current status of their investments. This question can help bring these and other concerns to the table upfront. This allows you to focus the conversation around how you may be able to help resolve their biggest concerns.

2. What are your top three financial priorities and goals within the next three years?

This question will help you uncover what your client wants to achieve in the short-term so you can create a strategy to help them achieve these goals without sacrificing their long-term goals. These goals could include things like paying down a mortgage, saving for a child or grandchild’s education, planning a family, or buying a second home, for example.

3. What are your most important long-term financial goals (including any retirement goals)?

People often meet with a financial advisor because they’re not sure whether and how they can afford to achieve some of their biggest life goals, including achieving the financial independence to retire or start a business.

4. What does the perfect retirement lifestyle look like for you?

While some clients may include their retirement goals as an answer to either of the two questions above, others may not have given much thought to their ideal retirement lifestyle. By asking this question, you may help them gain more clarity on what they’d love to do in their retirement years. You can then use this information to calculate a budget and a savings plan so they can achieve those retirement goals efficiently and sustainably.

5. If you knew you had more than enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life, how would that change your life?

This question is powerful because it can uncover a client’s hidden goals or passions. Oftentimes clients may limit the goals they express only to what they think is possible given their current financial situation. But in asking this question, they may open up to sharing hidden dreams or ambitions that would truly bring a sense of meaning and fulfillment to their life, such as philanthropic goals, creative goals, or starting a business or a passion project. You can then help them see how it may be possible to integrate these goals into their financial plan.

Assets, liabilities, and investment-related questions

Once you understand your prospective client’s goals, you’ll want to gather more information about their finances so you can create a plan that will help them bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.

6. Can you provide details about your investment accounts and retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, IRAs, or pension plans? 

This question is crucial in helping you create a balance sheet and a net worth statement. It is the basis for any financial planning you may be doing for your client. Plus, it sparks a conversation about the client’s investments and asset allocation as it relates to their goals.

7. Do you own any real estate properties? If yes, what are their current market values and mortgage details?

A client’s real estate holdings can make up a large portion of their net worth. Learning about the properties they own can also give you more insight into their goals as it relates to where they want to live in the future or about any potential sources of rental income that could accelerate the funding of their financial goals. 

8. Are there any outstanding debts or liabilities that you have, such as mortgages, loans, or credit card balances?

Learning about a client’s liabilities allows you to advise them on potential steps they might take to pay down their debts faster or to refinance certain mortgages or loans when appropriate.

9. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very risk-averse and 10 being very aggressive, what do you feel is your risk tolerance and why?

While there are many risk tolerance questionnaires online, when you ask a client about their risk tolerance during a discovery meeting, you have the opportunity to learn more about their current asset allocation and the reasoning behind it. This insight into their mindset can help you guide them from a behavioral perspective when there’s turbulence in the markets.

Questions about family and key relationships

Here are some questions financial advisors ask to learn more about a client’s family so they can create a more holistic financial plan.

10. Are there any family members that you’d like to be involved in the financial or estate planning process with you?

If your client is married, it’s possible both spouses may come to the discovery meeting together. If not, this question will give you a chance to learn more about whether they have a partner and if they would like them to be involved in the planning process. This allows you to customize the plan based on whether the client is focused on planning for themselves or for other family members such as a spouse and/or children and grandchildren as well. 

11. Is there anyone in your family that you may be financially responsible for in the future?

When preparing a client’s financial plan, it’s important to consider potentially expected and unexpected expenses and liabilities. This could include a client having to cover financial bills for their children or aging parents. This question can also provide more background about the client’s family relationships and values.

12. Who’s your power of attorney or trusted point of contact?

This question is important because it lets advisors know who to reach out to in case the client becomes incapacitated or something happens to them. This also gives you insight into who the client considers a trusted person in their life. You might even ask your client if they would be comfortable providing the trusted individual’s contact information and under what conditions you may have permission to contact them. Some firms may have a permission form that a client could sign – if yours doesn’t, consider creating one (with the approval of your compliance team, of course).

13. Do you expect to receive any inheritances?

Some clients may have aging parents or family members that might eventually pass on an inheritance to them. While this should not be relied upon in the client’s financial plan, it is helpful for advisors to know this type of information so they can strategize ahead of time. This question could also open a conversation that could potentially lead to new business opportunities. If the client mentions that their family member needs help with their financial plan or investments, they may be willing to introduce you so you could help.

14. Which assets would you like to pass on to your partner or family members?

It’s not unusual for clients to want to leave at least some money to family members, including children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and other family members. When you ask about the client’s desired legacy, they may answer in terms of assets they want to bequeath, but they may also start a conversation about values or business interests they want to pass on.

Questions about work and hobbies

Some of your clients might be working professionals, some may be business owners, and some retired, while others may just now be entering the world of work. Asking questions about the work they’re doing, have done, or will do can help shed a light on their future earnings and expenses so you can account for these in their financial plan. 

15. What do you do for work and how long would you like to keep working?

When you learn about a client’s work or business, you will likely learn more about their income, their ability to save, and their interests and passions. This also opens the door to discussions about retirement planning and any retirement plans they might have set up in their business or with their employer. If your client is a business owner, you can use this opportunity to talk about business succession planning and other important issues they may not have considered.

16. What are some of your hobbies and passions outside of work?

In addition to learning about a client’s work, asking about their hobbies and passions could reveal goals as it relates to their retirement, philanthropic intentions, or potential sources of income or expenses down the road. Plus, this type of question gives you the chance to connect with the client on a more personal level to build a stronger client-advisor relationship. 

Tax planning questions to ask clients

While you may want to recommend that a client sees a tax advisor to help them with their taxes, it’s important to have at least some key information about their taxes when you prepare their financial plan.

17. Who is your accountant or tax advisor, if you have one?

It’s helpful to know about your client’s other trusted advisors such as their accountant so that you can get in touch with them as needed on behalf of your client. This allows you to coordinate and collaborate with the tax advisor to ensure a holistic approach to financial planning and tax management.

18. Do you expect any significant changes to your income or tax situation in the upcoming year?

A client’s answer to this question can prepare you to take advantage of investment-related tax planning strategies such as capital gain or loss harvesting. If they don’t already have a retirement account, this question also gives you an opportunity to start a conversation about the different types of retirement accounts, their tax implications, and how they might help a client save on taxes today and in the future.

Estate planning questions

One of the best ways to provide additional value to clients is to help them ensure that their estate plan is executed or updated so they can pass on their wealth in alignment with their values.Use these questions to get started and download our estate planning checklist for new client conversations for more ideas to get the estate planning conversation going.

19. What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

This is a great question because it’s open-ended and allows you to dive into a deeper estate planning discussion with your clients.Leaving a legacy means something different to each individual. Some clients may start talking about assets or values they want to pass onto their children or grandchildren, while others may share their philanthropic goals and objectives.

20. Do you have a will or a trust?

When you first meet with a new client, it’s important to be aware of their current estate planning situation. If a client does not have a will or a trust set up, you might recommend that they do so by either seeing an estate planning attorney or using an estate planning software like Vanilla to draft their basic estate planning documents online and then executing them with an attorney.

It’s also possible that a client could have a trust set up but doesn’t have their investment accounts titled in the trust. In that case, you and your team can help them ensure that their accounts are tilted properly based on their estate plan. You’ll also want to be sure that your client has executed the documents needed to help manage their wealth or health in case they can no longer do so, including living wills, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.

21. Do you have a healthcare directive, a living will, and a power of attorney?

In addition to wills and trusts, it’s important for clients to have estate planning documents that are designed to come into effect in case of their incapacity or health emergency. Asking clients about documents like healthcare directives, living wills, and powers of attorney can also help you learn more about key trusted people in their life.

22. When was the last time your estate planning documents were updated?

Life events such as marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and changes in financial circumstances can significantly impact your client’s estate plan. Yet some clients may forget to update their wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents even when there are significant changes in their life. 

Additionally, changes in tax laws and regulations can impact estate planning strategies and tax implications. This also opens the door to conversations about estate planning strategies that could help clients take advantage of available tax-saving opportunities and minimize potential tax liabilities for their heirs.

23. When was the last time you reviewed the beneficiaries on your accounts?

Does your client own retirement accounts, annuity contracts, or life insurance policies? Even if they have their wills or trusts done, there is still a chance that they have not designated beneficiaries on some of these accounts – or if they have, that these beneficiary designations are outdated. It’s possible that a beneficiary may have predeceased your client or that there’s been a change in the client’s life situation. Therefore, it’s important to review beneficiary designations at least once a year.

24. How are your assets titled?

Reviewing the titling on your client’s accounts is crucial, especially when onboarding a new client. You want to be sure that when you open new accounts or transfer assets, that everything is in line with the client’s wishes. The client may not be aware that there are certain options for titling their accounts that could help them achieve their estate planning goals more efficiently. Clients who have their accounts in their individual name and don’t have a trust set up, for example, may consider a transfer on death/payable on death option to avoid probate.

25. Who is your estate planning attorney?

If your client has an estate planning attorney, consider asking your client for their contact information and the permission to introduce yourself to the attorney as the client’s advisor. Keeping open and transparent communication lines between you, your client, and the attorney makes it easier to help your client execute on certain estate planning tasks as needed.

How will you grow your business with these questions?

We hope that these 25 financial advisor questions to ask clients give you a good place to start gathering the information you need to foster trust, deliver more personalized solutions, and differentiate yourself from other advisors.

So which of these discovery questions will you integrate into your practice first? 

Try picking at least three questions that you can add into your conversations this week and then add more as needed until you create a financial advisor questionnaire or a client discovery checklist that helps you deliver the most value in your meetings.

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