Getting to Know Your Clients

“4 H’s” model builds closer relationships

Financial planning clients tend to favor advisors who get to know them on a personal level and provide individual guidance to help them purse their goals. Advisors may also agree that the time and effort it takes to build a personal relationship with clients pays off in recommendations better tailored to their unique circumstances.

Qualtric’s recent Financial Advisor Client Experience Research Report cited “lack of personalized attention” as the second most common reason clients switch advisors, trailing only “high fees” and tied with “poor customer service”. Similarly, the 2020 Global Survey of Financial Professionals by Natixis found the top reasons clients leave firms was advisors’ failure to listen to client needs (60%) and communications shortcomings (58%).

Hawks326“I spend a lot of time in getting to know my clients,” said Gilbert Hawkins, founder of CaliforniaHawk Wealth Management in Santa Rosa. “I know for a fact that my recommendations are going to be so much better when I know my client’s history and hopes.”

Hawkins follows the “4 H’s” model for building relationships with clients. He shares stories about his personal “4 H’s” – history, heroes, heartaches, and hopes – and encourages clients to do the same.
“The 4H's didn’t come from me,” he added. “Other people and organizations have used them and have confidence in them.”

The model has gained considerable attention in recent years – particularly for its role in helping rebuild the Cleveland Browns football team into a contender during the 2020 season. The team reversed decades of underperformance by winning their first playoff game in 36 years.

“Do you know what the difference was for the Browns last year?” Hawkins asked. “Everyone had to share their 4H's. We are talking about a group of professional athletes who got to know each other – despite huge differences – by sharing their history, heroes, heartaches, and hopes. I share their story with my clients and referrals so they can understand what we are doing.”

Hawkins said using the “4 H’s” model to guide his conversations with new clients has proven to be an ideal method for him to become familiar with them, and for clients to get to know him. The information he gathers allows him to set priorities for financial planning and make appropriate recommendations.

“When I’m talking to an individual, I look for the desire and persistence to become self-reliant,” he explained. “I learn about the historical events of their lives without passing judgment. Discovering who some of their heroes have been also helps me get to know them a little bit better.

horse506The toughest thing I listen to is their heartache, those difficult experiences they’ve had in life -- but I’ve learned that people are resilient. Those stories tell me so much more about them, plus indicate whether I am probably in a position to really help them. The fourth stage is finding out what they hope for and what they desire going forward.”

For example, that fourth “H” – hope – can guide retirement planning. Hawkins asks about their long-range plans and what they hope to be doing at retirement. The discussion then turns to how they could meet their hopes and expectations.

Hawkins started his financial career in the insurance industry in 1968, the following year he later obtained his securities license so he could better help clients adhere to their goals through investments.

He asks four main questions when meeting with new clients to understand their financial situation:

     • What have you done to protect your family from hardship?
     • How much consumer debt do you have (and how much other debt)?
     • What are your beliefs about saving and investing money?
     • Do you plan to create a family legacy?

“Too often I find that a young single person today has $10,000 or $15,000 in consumer debt,” Hawkins said. “That keeps them from comfortably investing. I have three main priorities: protecting your family from hardship; becoming debt-free; and saving and investing for the future. We cover those in our discussions and in our recommendations – regardless of whether this is a brand-new referral, a 35-year client, or an existing client’s children or grandchildren.”

Hawkins said his own persistency and determination helped him overcome his greatest challenge during the pandemic: learning to use new technologies to stay in touch with clients and prospects. He had to replace traditional in-person meetings with phone calls and virtual meetings. He also created a variety of easy-to-understand reports clients could receive through the mail or view on their personal devices.

“I’m surprised and pleased this past year has brought in more referrals and a lot more money under management than I expected or planned for,” he added. “We’re off to a good start for the first months of 2021 as well.”

Going forward, Hawkins said he plans to continue sharing his philosophy of self-reliance, persistency, and the “4 H’s” with as many people as he can. “If I’m going to work with somebody, I believe you really need to know each other,” he added. “It just takes four things: history, heroes, heartaches, and hope.”

For more information on CaliforniaHawk Wealth Management, visit


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