Diahann Lassus: Women in Wealth Profile

When it comes to wealth management, who influences the influencers?

When Diahann Lassus, president and co-founder of Lassus Wherley, took the helm of NAPFA—the National Association of Personal Financial Planners, for the 2008-2009 term, little did she know how extensively the market crisis would remake financial services. Washington politics aside, the changes sweeping through wealth management and financial planning may ultimately be the largest since those that resulted from the Great Depression.

LassusDiahann Lassus (left) has been very active in industry issues; as the NAPFA chair, she became a leader of a new group founded in 2009, the Financial Planning Coalition, advocating for recognition of financial planning as a profession. Lassus has testified before the House Committee on Financial Services and has served on the board of governors of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP). In addition, Lassus has been recognized by Wealth Manager (now part of AdvisorOne.com) as one of the 50 Top Women in Wealth in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Lassus and business partner Clare Wherley, CEO, founded Lassus Wherley in 1985 to provide fee-only financial planning and wealth management services to clients. Lassus Wherley is a registered investment advisor (RIA) with offices in New Providence, N.J., and Bonita Springs, Fla. This editor first met Lassus years ago, when her own family wanted a financial plan and, as a former investment advisor, liked the idea of a fee-only advice.

AdvisorOne caught up with Lassus via email on Monday and Tuesday.

Trends in Wealth Management

Q: Are clients asking different questions of you now than before the financial crisis?  

A:  People are much more aware of the risk in the financial markets today. We are much more likely to be asked whether the client is being too conservative. I believe many clients recognize that their perspective and frame of reference around investments has changed. They wanted to reduce risk for a while after the market in 2008-2009 but now want to make sure they haven't gone too far in that direction.

Q: Have the tax and estate law changes of last year helped clients to plan gifting and estate strategies or is it just as uncertain because the laws [are set to expire] at the end of 2012?

A: In many ways it has just added to the confusion for clients. Although it has provided opportunities for planning there is still the concern that the world will change in 2013. It can easily become analysis paralysis.  

Q: Where are the majority of your new clients coming from?

A: The majority of our new clients come from referrals from current clients. The rest come from NAPFA and other media references.

Q: Are you seeing clients deliberately look for a fiduciary advisor?  

A: People are asking more questions but there is still much confusion around the differences in how advisors operate. Many new clients are coming from banking or brokers and didn't really understand the difference in the models. Once they understand they think it’s great. Most of our referrals are definitely looking for fee-only and want to make sure the advisor puts [the client’s] interest first.

As an Influencer

Q: What do you feel have been the three most important keys to your success as a fee-only investment advisor and financial planner?

A: Problem-solving skills, strong communication skills and a

sincere desire to help people figure out how to reach their goals.

Q: As an influencer, who is inspiring, influencing you now?

A: My clients. I work with some amazing people who are constantly challenging me to continue to grow and learn.

Q: If there was one thing about the industry you could change, what would it be?

A: Separate selling products from the selling of advice to remove the confusion for consumers. It should be very clear what role an advisor is playing based on their title and on the information provided the consumer. The lines are far too blurry today.

Q: In your peer group of women in wealth management what are some of the commonalities that lead them to be great advisors?

 A: There are many, but strong analytical skills and strong communication skills are two of the most important. At the very top is the ability to actively listen. A new client told me the reason they were changing advisors is that the advisor talked all the time and never listened to them. I think that is a message we understand.

Successful women have an incredible ability to multitask and keep many things going at once. This is really important when working with clients in complex situations. You will also see them actively involved in the profession because of the commitment they have made.

Q: How do you see the industry changing over the next one to five years?

A: There are so many variables that could change the future. I will take the optimistic view and look for significant change in the way advice is delivered. More and more firms will embrace the fee-only model which means consumers will have access to an advisor who will put their interest first.

The fiduciary standard will be embraced by all but there remains a question of how it will be defined.   

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