CEO & Founder, CLJ Advisory LLC.

Personal vs. Professional Trust

Many financial advisors, planners, and agents that I’ve spoken to over the years seem to want the “magic bullet” or find the one strategy to start their CPA campaign.  Some advisors send letters to CPA’s offices presenting real estate opportunities, while others now use LinkedIn as a way to approach CPAs.  Unfortunately, many of these efforts contain the false expectation that the activity will actually produce tangible business results.

For those of you who have read our blogs or taken our COI training course you know that CLJ Advisory is a big advocate for developing trust as a way to grow your business with COIs.  We have found that the number one reason why COIs (CPAs in particular) don’t share clients with financial advisors has to do with trust.  Having trust is the key that unlocks the door to receiving referrals from Centers of Influence.  So the question that we would get from financial advisors is, “how do I develop trust?” Before we answer that question, I want to give you two important points to consider.


First off, let’s define the word trust.  According to Webster’s dictionary, trust is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something. Assured means guaranteed.  With that said, ask yourself if CPAs can rely on your strength as a professional.  

The second definition is a verb that means to place confidence in, or to rely on. In this case, trust is an action.  I want to highlight this slight difference.  As a noun, trust  is a thing (assured reliance).  The second definition is an action that someone does or has in you.   


The second point is to understand the difference between personal and professional trust.  I was talking with my cousin Robert Ross not too long ago.  My cousin is currently an executive at Wells Fargo, and spent decades as a complex manager at Merrill Lynch in New Jersey.  He told me that many of the advisors he managed were good at creating personal trust but they never developed professional trust.  In other words, they were good at developing friendships and social relationships.  In the sales industry, there are endless ways to build rapport, and you may feel you have great relationships with CPAs and attorneys.  You golf together, you’ve known each other since high school, or maybe attended college together.  However, the CPA has only shared 1 or 2 clients, if any.  In this case, you may have created a relationship on a personal level, but have yet to develop trust on a professional level.  

Professional trust occurs when a CPA feels confident in your ability as a professional to give sound advice to their client.  They know your skill set, expertise, and/or talent.  They know your professional strength, and are comfortable referring their clients to you.


In my opinion, developing professional trust is one of the most important qualities/skills you can do to grow your business.  I would argue it is even more important than presenting your product, getting more names, or conducting more meetings (which are important activities to do.)  I say this because having professional trust with others will increase your income at a much higher multiple.  

During my career, I’ve heard many advisors say how they’ve gotten referrals.  They would tell me that they don’t ask for referrals, they are just “referrable”.  This means their clients trust in the advisor’s ability to serve them well.  When a client trusts in your professional ability, they refer to you.  This person (referral) is ready to believe in your professional abilities.  After you establish professional trust with this new client, they also become a referral source for you.  

The same concept applies with CPAs.  I’ve asked CPAs why they give referrals to financial advisors, and their answers always come down to them having a level of professional trust in that individual.  In addition to having professional trust with your clients, here are 3 additional benefits to establishing professional trust with CPAs:

  1. Ongoing referral source – After you have established professional trust with a CPA, they can continue to refer clients to you.
  2. Ability to grow your CPA network – You will be more confident and comfortable in developing this trust with other CPAs
  3. Increase net worth of your average client – CPAs tend to deal with business owners, athletes, and other higher income professionals.  Referrals from these professional will likely increase the size of your business opportunities

In conclusion, you see how important this topic can be to your business.  I encourage you to think of professional trust as an action.  An action that inspires your own personal growth which in turn prompts the trust that others have in you.  Ask yourself “how can I become trustworthy?”  An even better question is “how can I become a guaranteed source for a CPA where they truly rely on the strength of my professional ability?” The answer is simple: They must see you in action! In order for a CPA to feel comfortable giving you referrals, they must see your work.  This certainly does not happen overnight.  We’ll expand on this in future blogs, but in the meantime, believe that you can develop professional trust with CPAs and multiply the growth of your business.

Best success ahead!

Click here to access our COI Referral Training course

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. James Curtis Sliker

    Very timely, I just got off a cold call with a CPA that I now have a first scheduled appointment with

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