From the May 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

April 24, 2012

Changing the Conversation

Presenting in late March the findings of a Pershing study on the opportunities presented by women clients, Kim Dellarocca suggested that “it’s time to change the conversation about women and advisors.” The Pershing director noted that not only do women represent a “crucial client opportunity” because of their control of household financial decisions, but also because of their expressed dissatisfaction with those advisors with whom they already work.

Part of your job with clients is always to direct the conversation, and how you do so will reflect what your priorities are and what, exactly, you’re offering clients. If your client meetings always focus on portfolio performance, over which you have limited control (remember 2008?), you’re sending a clear message about what you bring to the table. You’re also setting yourself up for a potential fall.

In an interview with Mark Tibergien on the occasion of his becoming a member of the IA 25 for the 10th consecutive year—and we’ve only been naming this subjective list for 10 years—I asked Tibergien if he was a philosopher. After all, in his writings for this magazine and in his speeches, he’s always using the Socratic Method. For those of you who slept through your history of philosophy course in your undergraduate days, it was the Greek philosopher Socrates who taught his students not by lecturing, but by asking them questions; it’s all about the dialogue between teacher and student, a two-way street where listening is as important as speaking. But back to Tibergien.

“I’m no philosopher, but I do use the Socratic Method,” he said (see AdvisorOne.com for extended profiles of all the IA 25 honorees). Like Socrates, Tibergien said his goal is to “teach people to think, not to give them the answer.” That’s why in his columns he’ll often write, “Ask yourself these questions,” which forces you to think critically, to solve a given problem by deciding, for instance, what is the business you’re really in. If you’re in the retirement plan market rather than the high-net-worth market, he points out, that will affect the structure of your business, how you measure success and, most importantly, the kinds of people you hire to help you achieve that success.

We chose Elliot Weissbluth to lead the IA 25 this year because I believe through HighTower Advisors he has changed the conversation about Wall Street and on Wall Street when it comes to the role of advice, the fiduciary standard and how independent advisors—and their clients—can take best advantage of what the Street does well.

Having meaningful conversations with clients, helping them determine, maybe through the Socratic Method, what their goals are should be your priority. First, though, you have to have a conversation with yourself. You have to decide what business you’re in, really. You have to start with the destination in mind, suggests Tibergien, so you know where you stand on the journey to that end. “If you’re heading in the wrong direction, he says, “the last thing you want to do is to get there efficiently.” Enjoy your conversation.

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