Trust: The Root of a Farmer/Financial Advisor Partnership
August 29, 2023
Aside from helping their crops thrive in varying weather conditions and temperatures, farmers have a full plate of business decisions to make. They must balance income vs. debt, monitor interest rates, evaluate the cost of labor and consider farm succession planning, among a laundry list of other financial activities. As if this wasn’t enough, the USDA says farm debt will increase 6.2% in 2023 to $535.1 billion. Additionally, debt-to-asset levels are expected to worsen from 13.09% in 2022 to 13.22% in 2023. There really is plenty from a financial perspective that can keep a farmer up at night.
But they don’t have to navigate the financial decisions on their own. This is where a financial advisor with experience in the agriculture industry can step in to help a farmer’s operation thrive. We know trust is the foundation of every relationship. So, if financial advisors work to garner farmer trust, they should have a successful relationship.
It won’t be easy though as farm finances are an extremely sensitive topic, and expertise in financial management isn’t always seen at the same level of importance as expertise in production management. Many farmers believe if they get their production right, their farms will be profitable. They will talk to their banker about loans and their accountant about cash flow, but deeper conversations about financial strategy don’t usually happen unless the advisor can find a way to make a deeper, personal connection. This dynamic was documented in a study published in the Journal of Rural Studies which found interpersonal trust must be established before a farmer will feel comfortable discussing their finances and data, and the advisor must be able to prove their value.
Financial advisors can be successful if they can relate to farmers on an individual level and show they understand the industry and what’s important to each client. As farmers begin to see their financial advisor is invested in their success, trust can start to be established. As trust blossoms into a working relationship, it’s also important for financial advisors to be very intentional in how they communicate with their clients. Here are some tips that can help to establish a flourishing business relationship.
Understand agriculture and speak the lingo
Learn about each client’s farming practices and the crops they grow. Understand agriculture terminology and the challenges your farmer customers may face. As farmers feel understood and respected, they’ll feel more comfortable discussing their business goals and finances.
Actively listen to goals and concerns
As in any conversation, active listening is crucial to showing respect and interest. Ensure you take note of your client’s goals and aspirations, as well as their concerns. When you better understand their finances and long-term vision and make recommendations that address those, they’ll see you have their financial interests in mind.
Customize financial strategies and reports for each client
Since each client is unique, they require customized recommendations to meet their business goals. You can also tailor your reports for each client. Some may prefer to read reports on their own and ask you their questions, while others may want you to present the report to them. Having all reports and their financial records stored digitally may help you both have quick access to needed files.
Visualize recommendations and explain them clearly
Depending on the size of the business and your client’s goals, your financial recommendations may be lengthy. Since everyone has a preferred way of consuming information, you may want to visualize some of your recommendations into charts and graphs to help make the content more digestible. You can also simplify complex financial terms into more laymen’s language to ensure your client understands your recommendation and approach to their business.
Offer ongoing support and provide financial education
To build a strong, long-term relationship, you will need to continue showing value to your customers. Whether it’s recommending they attend financial webinars or helping them stay abreast of changing government policies, showing you care will help garner their trust.
Trust and effective communication are the gateways to a successful financial advisor/client partnership. Once established, there are benefits for both farmers and financial advisors. A Vanguard report says a satisfied client remains with their financial advisor and refers others for advice.