From the June 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

May 22, 2012

When Your Own Skills Aren’t Enough: Psyche, Hearth and Children

In the second of our series, how to build a network to help clients with psychological matters, home building and special needs

More and more clients are looking for life solutions these days. As their financial advisor, you are someone they are inclined to trust for suggestions and referrals. To deepen your relationship with them, consider making creative collaboration with outside experts part of your practice.

As I discussed in last month’s column, “When Your Advisory Skills Aren’t Enough,” there are a variety of ways to begin building networks of support (see sidebar, “Get Organized to Provide Help,” Investment Advisor, May 2012) Here are some experts you may not have thought of partnering with, along with my suggestions on how these collaborations can help you increase your value to your clients.

Psychological Needs

Partnering with therapists, coaches and counselors is an excellent way to help clients with psychological needs. Some advisors already invite these practitioners into client meetings to help them deal efficiently with these issues.

Christine Moriarty, president of MoneyPeace in Bristol, Vt., has been collaborating informally with mental health professionals for some time. A CFP who is also a life planner, speaker and author with 20 years of advisory experience, Moriarty thinks the loaded emotional component of money often goes unrecognized. On her website, EnlightenedFinanceforCouples.com, she points out, “We go to therapists for relationships issues. We use wedding planners for the big day. We even go to sex therapists to have better sex. But money? We think we should just know how to do it.”

Moriarty also tries to educate financial planners about issues related to money and memory. “What’s our responsibility around memory loss of older clients? How do we recognize these limitations and work with them?”

I agree wholeheartedly, and see a huge opportunity for creative collaboration with mental health professionals who specialize in working with clients struggling with dementia. In the D.C. area, one such therapist’s recovery from a stroke allows her to help clients deal with mental or physical debility.

Moriarty has a “short list” of therapists to whom she has referred clients, but she cautions against recommending someone you aren’t familiar with: “You have to know something about their work and how comfortable they are dealing with money issues.” The complicating factor when collaborating with mental health professionals, as I’ve mentioned before, is that many of them are money avoiders. You may want to conduct face-to-face interviews in order to find therapy professionals who can collaborate effectively with you.

Once you find a therapist or coach, there are many opportunities for creative collaboration. Client appreciation events are one example; as a “money therapist,” I’ve spoken to clients about money personality types, couples and gender differences, stress management in turbulent times and issues related to retirement.

Financial Teammates

Barry Kohler, senior vice president and director of trusts and wealth management at Androscoggin Bank, a community bank headquartered in Lewiston, Me., thinks wealth advisors working solo may be missing the boat. “The reality is that planning for a financially successful individual or family takes a team—typically, at least a legal advisor, a tax advisor and a financial planner,” he told me. “The key is to find professionals who are willing to work collaboratively. Unfortunately,” says Kohler,  “many lawyers (and CPAs) don’t like to be part of a team; they need to be the smartest person at the table.”

He usually begins by asking whether he may contact a client’s lawyer and CPA to coordinate their efforts. With the client’s approval, he then invites the other advisors to meet with him individually to “share with you what I’m thinking to see if it meshes with your work.”

It must be understood that each team member will respect the others’ expertise (no one-upmanship in front of the client), and the mutual goal should be a well-crafted plan that all three experts believe is in the client’s best interest. There may still be disagreements presented to the client, but none of the advisors should hear a different view for the first time in the client’s presence.

Such a collaborative approach, with one designated leader, provides far more value to the client than a single advisor can.

Christine Moriarty agrees. She often sits down with her high-net-worth clients’ CPA and estate planner. “We look at all the pieces. That’s the way we come up with the best plan for the client—not just the best tax plan or legal plan or financial plan,” she explains.

In such a collaboration, the different knowledge and skills of financial advisors, CPAs and legal advisors make this a powerful triumvirate. It’s unlikely that any important details will be overlooked in protecting the client’s interest and planning for the future.

Home Building and Renovation

Few developments can stress a couple’s otherwise healthy relationship—and financial resources—more than building a house. If you know a few architects who are not just talented but cost-sensitive and collaboratively minded, your clients’ sanity and bankbook may benefit.

“First of all, the client needs to have a budget,” Salo Levinas, principal of Shinberg & Levinas, an architectural firm in Bethesda, Md., told me emphatically. “That’s what a planner can help them come up with.”

Once the budget is determined, an experienced architect knows how big the project can be and can develop a schematic design. Levinas explains, “We have a residential contractor tell us whether the numbers are OK or not. Then we can continue developing the drawings. Nobody has any surprises.”

But the financial planner’s role isn’t over. “We can do more realistic architectural planning with people who are savvy in finance,” according to Levinas. Meeting with the client, the architect and an estimator, a planner can help explore different payment options. “The first thing I need to know is how much money I am going to spend,” Levinas adds. “Maybe the client can’t afford two stories […]. Having clarity up front about how much they can afford will avoid a lot of frustration and misunderstanding for everyone involved.”

Planning for a Special Needs Child

Generally, parents of a special needs child will have sought specialized help before turning to you. But a client who is suddenly and unexpectedly responsible for such a child may come to you overwhelmed by the challenges of care.

Joe Gorin, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist in Washington, D.C., with extensive experience in working with special needs children, told me it could be useful for an advisor to refer clients to a pediatric neuropsychologist, who can diagnose the child’s mental or emotional disability and steer them to appropriate services, or to an educational consultant, who will be able to recommend schools, services and legal support if needed.

Having helped your client get the information they need, you are likely to find they return to you in a calmer frame of mind, with a better grip on the funding needed for the child’s support. At some point, you will probably want to collaborate with an attorney experienced in special needs trusts.

Keys to Collaboration

Creative collaborations don’t necessarily entail everyone meeting together. In some cases, it makes more sense for you and the experts you’re partnering with to work sequentially with a client. What’s important is for the collaborating professionals to respect each other’s perspectives and expertise, communicate with one another and have a shared vision (or at least visions that do not conflict) about what is in the client’s best interest.

Clearly, Christine Moriarty, Barry Kohler, Joe Gorin and Salo Levinas care about making sure their clients’ needs and goals are heard and respected. These four professionals underline the importance of finding people to collaborate with whom you like and trust, who do excellent work, and whose integrity and dedication to their clients is beyond question.

When these qualifications are present and no one is invested in being “the smartest person at the table,” a collaboration can help your clients feel better understood and more deeply supported during some of the most trying times of their life.

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