Perfect Pitch

I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on a particular advertisement, but having just gotten back from the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference and the 2nd annual Life Insurance Sales Mastery Forum, I couldn’t help but be struck by the almost perfect pitch of Charles Schwab’s new “Talk to Chuck” ad.

I say almost perfect pitch because, as we say in New York, “What’s with the Chuck?” For all I know that may be what Charles Schwab’s loved ones and employees do call him, but in all I’ve read about him I can’t remember Chuck appearing.

The reason the ad struck me, however, was how closely it tracked to the current thinking among financial planning and life insurance gurus that was forthcoming at both of these meetings.

The ad is in the form of a letter from Schwab to Dear Investor. (Interestingly, the letter is signed Charles R. Schwab, but in it he refers to himself as Chuck.) It begins:

“In your quest to find someone you can trust with your hard-earned money, your kids’ money or your grandkids’ money, it all comes down to this: Who can you talk to? And who will actually listen?”

You’ll note the use of trust and kids and grandkids. At one point in Stephen Covey’s keynote speech at the FPA meeting, he said, “The highest of costs is low trust.”

But what I find interesting is the listening part. Speakers at both meetings made the point over and over again that advisors need to listen and that listening is a discipline that most of us have to learn. Most of us don’t like to listen, we like to talk (and hear ourselves talk). But not Chuck.

Chuck makes the point that “I’ve built my entire company on listening to people first. Then talking.”

Then he goes on to say: “I recognized early on that what you, the investor, want most is someone you can relate to: a straight-talking voice who can guide you, advise you and support you. And, at the heart of it all, a fair price.”

So many of the speakers at both meetings were concerned with “relating” to clients, the province of the right brain. This always has been something that successful agents do, so it was not terribly surprising to hear a lot about it at the SMF. But I was struck by how much more prominent this touchy-feeliness has become in the arsenal of financial planners of late. A couple of years ago it was all Monte Carlo scenarios and the likes of hedging techniques.

Now, the technical expertise is seen as a given and relationship-building has come to the fore. As one planner at an FPA super session said, “People want something from their advisor, we just have to know what it is.”

Getting back to Chuck, near the end of his letter he says that when you talk to a Schwab rep, “you’re speaking to someone who does business the way I do. Someone who carries the standard of ethics on which I built this company. Trust. Integrity. Professionalism.”

This tracks amazingly closely with the four components of the FPA’s new credo/motto/slogan: Competence, Integrity, Relationship, Stewardship.

Whether you actually “Talk to Chuck” or not, you’ve got to hand it to him. Charles is hitting all the right buttons.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief

“So many speakers were concerned with ‘relating’ to clients, the province of the right brain. This always has been something that successful agents do. But I was struck by how much more prominent this touchy-feeliness has become in the arsenal of financial planners of late. A couple of years ago it was all Monte Carlo scenarios and the likes of hedging techniques.”