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Financial Planning > Charitable Giving


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To quote Johnny Mathis, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

In fact, if you close your eyes and take a deep breath, you can almost smell the holiday cookies baking up fresh in the oven and hear the children rifling through their presents –and whining that Davie (or Susie) got more than me! Ah, yes, the holidays are upon us. It doesn’t get any hap-happier than this. Or does it?

While many look to the holidays with excitement and childlike wonder, others approach this time with a sense of dread. Apparently, the prospect of a large bearded man in a red suit trying to break into the house doesn’t sit well with everyone.

My extensive research has shown that financial advisors are among the most out-of-sorts during this season. To better understand, you need to put yourself in a financial advisor’s Gucci loafers. This can be a very stressful time. Expectations are high. And now, more than any other time of the year, advisors need to manage these expectations.

For example, here’s one expectation your office staff has: the holiday bonus. No matter how much they have screwed up during the year, they still expect their bling around the holidays! Receipt of said bling is very important because they generally use it to make the minimum payment on their January MasterCard bill.

Another expectation is one your clients have: They expect the “thanks for being a client” gift. Even though your last commission on Mrs. Blue Hair’s money was in 1962, she is still expecting that recognition from you — the person who took all her money.

Giving clients gifts can be a minefield. What you give your clients says a lot about you. A small gift certificate, a box of chocolates, or an Escalade can show your clients just how much you care. A 12-page photocopied letter detailing every excruciating moment your children and their pets have had in the past year says anything but.

And if that’s not enough, advisors must deal with everyone’s main object of holiday discontent: the Christmas/Holiday Card. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s generally decorated with your logo, as well as the obligatory picture of you, your trophy spouse, and your 2.3 children. It also contains a very generic holiday message. In fact, that same message could be used for any holiday card, including May Day, the Fourth of July and Hog Days.

Once you’ve found the perfect card, the real stress begins. Countless meetings and endless hours of deep contemplation are needed to come up with the perfect list of clients, prospects and family who should receive this priceless gift. After all, you can’t give the honor of hanging your card on the shelf in the foyer to just anyone. (At least no more than a few thousand.)

But just how necessary is all this stress and anguish? During a recent visit with my older sister, she informed me that in 32 years of marriage, she has never, ever sent a single Christmas card. “Once you start that stuff, you can’t stop. I never wanted to get it started.” The more I thought about it, the more stunned I was. I never even noticed! In fact, I’d swear I remember getting cards with pictures of her punk kids. “Nope, wasn’t me,” she smirked.

My point is, if this busy holiday season has you caught between a rock and a fruitcake, it’s OK to forget about sending holiday cards (just this once). After all, five years from now, my guess is hardly anyone will remember your lackadaisical postal habits of 2007.

Have a great holiday season . . . my card is on the way!

Once a mildly amusing comedian and a recruiter for a top independent broker-dealer, Bill Miller now works as an industry wholesaler; reach him at [email protected].


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