Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was on to something when in recent Congressional testimony he said the "economic outlook remains unusually uncertain." The lack of visibility on some economically fundamental questions uniquely clouds today's economic picture.
For example, Congressional tax reductions enacted in the early Bush years are set to expire on January 1. Unless Congress acts soon -- and with an election coming up, it might do so -- we will see increased taxes affecting families and small businesses; estate taxes going from zero this year to a maximum of 55 percent; and large increases in capital gains and dividend taxation. A new series of taxes based on the health care legislation will also add heavily to the mix.
Will these tax hikes close our budget deficits, as the Administration hopes? Will they sink any prospect of economic recovery, as critics contend? All this adds to the climate of "unusual uncertainty."
For those who share my view that we are not currently on the path to good times, that a new era of prosperity is not currently in the making, the vital prescription is to upgrade your skills and overall value proposition. If times are getting tougher, if the marketplace is contracting, then holding some kind of competitive edge becomes an imperative of survival.
A legal recruiter I know, who was comfortably pulling in an elevated six-figure income for decades, has seen his income fall precipitously in the past two years. Seeing this coming (he foresees income this year in the lower five-figures), he has cracked open his entire retirement savings and is investing everything he's got in a plan to offer help to law students succeed in their critical first year. It's no longer enough to get into law school (with LSAT preparation courses), or stay in (with the various course outlines available); students today know they must be top of the class.
A financial advisor friend of mine seconded all this. One of his sons, who just graduated at the top of his Yale Law School class, is starting his first job at a prestigious law firm. Another of his sons who has not broken out from the middle of his Harvard Law School class did not receive a single offer (after more than a dozen job interviews) for a summer clerkship.
As it is with legal professionals, so it is with financial professionals. That's why we invited John Bowen, the acclaimed founder of the coaching and consulting organization CEG Worldwide, to offer his four best ideas for getting that necessary edge in today's climate -- as illustrated by four advisors who put these ideas into practice.
While CEG is focused on hard skills (such as leveraging centers of influence) that advisors usually understand they need, we would be remiss if we did not also offer some advice in the soft skills that frequently make the crucial difference between success and failure. To that end we begin a new column called The Client Relationship by Harvard-trained negotiations expert Raphael Lapin. Advisors in the FPA's Pacific Northwest region who heard Raphael gave him their highest rating ever. Readers seeking more intensive training in these skills should contact John and Raphael.