Dear young advisor: Don’t tell me you know what I mean, because you don’t. Don’t even tell me you understand how I am thinking, because you don’t. And be careful trying to advise me if you don’t know what “cc” stands for and have never even seen a real carbon copy.
You should be more respectful of your elders–and by that, I mean baby boomers.
Remember that we boomers came of age when everything was possible, and pills solved a lot of that–that’s legitimate medicine, not street drugs, by the way.
But today, we have learned that not as much is possible as we had thought. And we are in the uncomfortable position of not being able to consult our mentors about what to do, since many are dead or unable to communicate effectively, and those who are still alert have other things to worry about.
So we are looking for advisors in new places.
Take health care: We have learned to seek younger physicians who will be around to take care of us as we age and who are up to date on the latest treatments because they have recently been in medical school.
But with insurance and financial advice, we need a different approach–because in this area, I am more concerned with what to do tomorrow than with a long-lasting relationship, at least at the start. If you are young, that’s okay. But please heed my six tips on how you can get my attention and, maybe, become my financial advisor.
Listen. Like anyone else, I like a good listener. I also like someone who takes some notes. I have worked with many young people over the years. They seem to think they can remember everything I say to them. But I know better. No one is that good. So while you are listening, warm the cockles of my heart and have a yellow pad handy on which you take notes.
Provide thoughtful analysis. Don’t pretend that you can solve my problems without some thoughtful analysis. It took me 60 years of living to get into this financial mess, and it’s going to take more than just an hour of talking with me to figure a way out.
So don’t give me a knee-jerk solution. I would like you to take your notes home with you, chew on them, and wake up in the middle of the night thinking about them and me. Then do some good worrying about what you might recommend to me. I want you to feel my pain, even if I think you can’t understand it.
One of the most compelling things an advisor ever said to me was that she had awakened in the middle of the night thinking about what to recommend to me. Second best was her telling me she had spread all my papers on her dining room table to organize them so she could think about them. (I know she did this because I saw it with my own eyes. I felt it too–after all, I’ve got judgment based on many years of experience; I sized things up.).
Come back. After you have done your studying and ruminating, come back and see me. But please wait at least a week before trying to schedule another appointment. Then I will know that you have spent the right amount of time to worry over me.
Have a presentation. When you come back, have a presentation ready that anticipates my questions and is easy to follow.
Oh, and I don’t like acronyms. Never did. (You may remember “Initials,” the song from the musical Hair. Well, you probably don’t, but take it from me, it made fun of all the acronyms that were creeping into our lives–and that was in 1970.)
Speak a simple language that I can understand, and be well organized. It’s obvious to me when someone is not prepared. I have spent my whole life preparing everything but my current financial plan. So I know what lack of preparation is when I see it.
Answer my questions. I am somewhat self-centered. After all, we boomers were told that we could have the whole enchilada, and we still want it. So please answer my questions when I ask them; don’t defer them to later. If you can’t adjust your presentation accordingly, then you’re probably not the right advisor for me.
Offer ideas. Remember that the beginning of my adulthood was the Vietnam era. Between then and now, we have learned that reality can be brutal and unyielding–even as we do our best to think that the usual rules–like aging and dying–don’t apply to us. So I want to hear some ideas.
I know there is no silver bullet to resolve all my financial concerns. But if you would like to have a chance to advise me, please come up with something that makes sense for me based on what we have just discussed. Then we can go from there.
Douglas I. Friedman, a partner in the Friedman & Downey, P.C. law firm of Birmingham, Ala., is national counsel on estate and business planning for insurers. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.