We often start new client conversations by asking a simple and direct question, “What does the ideal investment relationship look like to you?” No two answers have been the same. Whether the individual is most interested in sharing ideas, taxes, trusts and estate, investing or something else, a good advisor actively works to know and understand their client. Here’s what that looks like.
Regulators and compliance officers often ask us to summarize our client relationships into risk profiles and with neatly defined characteristics. Is a client a 2 or a 7 on the risk scale? The industry attempts to characterize clients with questions like: What would you do if the market went down by 10%? What is your income? How much do you have today? When would you like to “retire?”
After each attempt over the years to sort clients into various discrete “buckets,” we’ve come to the conclusion that each client is truly unique and all clients have their own biases, quirks, and exceptions. Since we are not a massive institutional distribution system like UBS or JPMorgan, we are able to customize each solution to the individual’s unique circumstances and priorities.
We rely on comprehensive note taking as the best method of tracking and understanding what a particular client needs and why. We get to know their preferences, worries and needs verbatim so that we are able to act as a true fiduciary, making decisions as they would. Here are a couple examples.
Real stories. Fictional names.
Tom has four kids and is intently focused on how to ensure all of them have fair access to money for college. Some have gone to private secondary schools and others public. How does he spread the wealth fairly and ensure that college is fully funded? Does he redirect extra funds to the one who earned a scholarship and went to public school? With 7-8 more years of education costs ahead, totaling well over $1 million, every investment decision, tax decision and trust and estate decision must take that family priority into account.
Charlotte’s kids are out of school and in their first few years of participating in the working world. Her kids don’t know the full extent of the family wealth but they are starting to get more involved. Charity and family financial values are a focus for Charlotte. She wants her investments to grow but preservation of family wealth is a priority. Money set aside for kids trusts and charity can be invested more aggressively because those particular accounts won’t be utilized for at least 10 years, or longer. With multiple beneficiaries and a large capital base, each investment decision takes into account Charlotte’s many family wealth priorities.
Tom and Charlotte each have specific needs and goals that drive our discussions. Trying to force them into a standardized category or bucket does not serve their interests. So it is with all our clients.
Will we be asking the same question 12 months from now? Will we be getting the same answers? Maybe not. How much will markets influence what we’re discussing? Where are the biggest threats and opportunities? These are the kinds of considerations that can only be assessed through thoughtful, ongoing conversations.
Change is constant
We make changes to portfolio strategy in two circumstances, when markets change and when our clients’ situations change. Market examples include a significant drop in oil prices, a bump in short term treasury rates like the one that just happened last year, a growing gap between international and US valuations and returns, and changes in tax and estate laws. Client change examples include leaving a high paying role to start a new business, the death or birth of a family member, marriage or divorce, significant real estate purchases related to lifestyle, and a major liquidity event like the sale of a business. When we talk with clients we always want to hear about these changes so we can keep their portfolios in synch with their lives.
Share your story
A big part of our job is accommodating these inevitable changes and matching client investments thoughtfully. Please share your story with us so that we can tell you how we are creating solutions for clients with similar opportunities and challenges. We welcome the conversation.
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