As I was preparing for the third annual Retirement Income Symposium in Chicago in early November, I had a discussion with Mark Cortazzo, an advisor with MACRO Consulting in New Jersey who was talking about how the best-laid plans for clients gang aft agley (my words, following Robert Burns, not Mark’s). It can be the client’s own obstinacy or prejudices that keep her from following up or heading in the wrong direction after a plan is written; often, Mark pointed out, it can be well-intentioned or ill-intentioned family members that nudge the client off the path. That’s when I lit upon a new metaphor for the work you do.
Good investment advisors, I would argue, are like jazz musicians. Any decent musician will tell you that getting all the notes right in a composition is only the very beginning of making music. Like a jazz musician who needs first to master the melody, it’s only when you’re performing with—and playing off—other musicians that music is made. You have to improvise off that melody in order to be a good musician. You have to work with the other members of your band, and then sell that song to your audience by adding subtleties of tempo or softness or loudness—“dynamics” in music parlance—that gets your audience to pay attention and listen to that tune.
As an advisor, it’s one thing, and an important accomplishment, to get your “notes” correctly when it comes to a plan for clients, but then you have to start making music. You have to convince your clients to stick to the plan, monitor the plan and make adjustments as the other “players” in your jazz combo—the markets, regulation, life—present you with the need to improvise.