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Beware too much touchy, feely

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Conventional wisdom puts investment performance second to the “therapy” approach to financial planning. It dictates you know as much as you can about client hopes, dreams, wants, fears. Know their family, their charitable involvement, their dog’s name. But according to this week’s Wall Street Journal, the current downturn has skeptics speaking out. According to the paper:

“It’s a process critics fear can go wrong without warning, making client and adviser uncomfortable. ‘If you’re going to open a can of worms, you’d better be prepared to do some good,’ says Michael Fitzhugh, a principal in the San Francisco office of money-management firm Aspiriant. The bigger danger, though, may just be the awkward feeling that it’s inappropriate and that sharing all those details effectively tangles the heartstrings with the purse strings.”

Sure. Sound judgment and the ability to read comfort levels is a basic pre-requisite for financial advisors. But the Journal attributes a more cynical motive for this need for information:

“That’s one reason advisers like it so much: The intimacy creates trust, making clients less likely to defect and more willing to ignore the dollars-and-cents minutiae.”