What you’ve done in the past isn’t enough for the future. That which has differentiated you enough to become successful thus far in your career likely isn’t sufficient to set you apart and perpetuate your success going forward.
At one point, pushing product for a recognizable company gave you an edge. Then, being an asset manager turned some heads. Evidence-based investing gave you an even better story to tell. Offering comprehensive advice as a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner was once novel, and full-time fiduciary status made you a more evolved advisor.
But now some recognizable names are offering a version of the above for less than you pay for your streaming television subscriptions, all while one of the most recognizable names in finance just announced the end of a sales practice for which it is legendary. The net result is that there will only be more—and lesser priced—competition for financial advisory services. What, then, will it take to continue to set you apart?
For most financial advisors, no one ever sat down and told us, “Here’s how you should go about your day.” Too many of us started our careers being judged by one single metric—new revenue generation—and the only tools we were given were a booklet in which to write down the names of as many friends and family members as we could conjure and a phone. The rest was up to us.
Day one, everything we did (in life, not just work) was designed to generate new business, and everything else was sublimated to that aim, including servicing those new clients, learning how to better serve them, and actually managing the business of a financial advisory practice. As long as you subjected yourself to one meeting per week with a dude doing his impression of Alec Baldwin’s “Always Be Closing” speech, the rest was up to you.
If you were one of the fewer who entered the business through a less sales-oriented route, you were still likely inserted into a system driven by someone else’s once-manic approach to achieving the singular goal of new revenue generation. Then the ubiquity of email, shared calendars, instant messaging, smart phones, and social media sprayed lighter fluid on the dumpster fire that was most of our days.
Early in my career as a financial advisor, my goal, even more than gaining clients, was to gain knowledge. I was operating under the assumption that bringing knowledge where it is lacking is an advisor’s primary value. But while a certain degree of knowledge is a prerequisite, of course, I eventually learned that knowledge is ubiquitous—readily available with a few keyboard taps—and that it can even be counterproductive when sub-optimally applied.
Fortunately, I graduated from that oversimplistic belief to a more nuanced one in which I found greater confidence. I determined that sound judgement was actually the most important trait for an advisor. It was the ability to apply knowledge, to help clients make a this-or-that decision, that was really where an advisor could demonstrate his or her worth.
The last time I put a presidential campaign sign in my front yard was 2004. We lived on a small court, and we had just moved in that September. One of our neighbors was another young couple, but the other two families had lived there since the houses were built in 1960.
My political convictions were (and are) important to me, but one day, as I pulled into the court and saw the sign, it struck me that while it may have been a bridge to one neighbor, it could almost certainly be a stumbling block for another. I hadn’t even met all my neighbors in person yet—did I really want my vote to be the first impression I made?
I pulled out the sign, and I haven’t raised another since.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself, because as a financial advisor, my job is to meet people, learn about what’s most important to them, help them articulate those values as intentions and goals, and then help create and follow a plan designed to reach them. What a gig, and what a privilege!
One of the greatest gifts of my 20 years and counting in the business is the wide variety of people with whom I’ve been able to engage. While you might tend to think that there is a stereotypical financial advisory client, my experience has been anything but uniform. From teaching college students—one of the best educations I’ve ever received—to advising individuals and families, it’s the striking differences between people that have left an indelible mark on me.
Sure, aside from the college students, they all had something in common—they were blessed with means sufficient enough to hire someone to help in its stewardship—but that’s where the similarities stopped. And their political proclivities have ranged across a vast continuum.
Especially over the last decade, and increasingly over the past four years, I’ve also seen these political opinions manifest as convictions so gripping that I’d describe them as visceral. People seem increasingly concerned with the potential for politics to shape their lives externally, and these concerns are so deeply internalized that I can see, hear and feel the weight of them in the faces and voices of my clients.
These feelings seem just as strong across the political spectrum. It’s not uncommon for us, as advisors, to have a conversation with someone who is convinced that their livelihood is doomed and the very fate of our nation sealed if so-and-so wins only to find, in the very next conversation, that another person is convinced of something equally cataclysmic if such-and-such wins.
So what are we advisors supposed to do? How do we navigate these intense emotions with our clients? And how should we navigate the opinions we hold, knowing that our convictions are rarely, if ever, going to be entirely aligned with those of our clients?