Anybody following the latest politico-celebrity-insider trading scandals via Twitter, WikiLeaks or Facebook might well assume that everyone in a position of authority has feet of clay. That assumption sometimes carries over to financial advisors—and it’s serious enough that advisors themselves need to consider addressing it up front.
The problem is that while the great majority of independent financial professionals are dedicated to serving their clients’ interests as skillfully and impartially as they can, many find it difficult to communicate this in an effective way. Some actually regard the need to “sell” themselves with distaste and disdain.
But it’s vitally important for prospects, new clients and the general public to know what you stand for and how you do business. Perhaps this is a good time to revisit how to get off on the right foot when introducing yourself. To complement my own viewpoint as a therapist and coach, I invited comments from Mike Patton, founder and president of the RIA firm Integrity Wealth Management LLC in Baton Rouge, La., and a contributing editor for Investment Advisor (and blogger for AdvisorOne.com). Here’s how Mike and I would suggest handling certain situations.
Q: I have a good business and know that my work helps people become more financially secure. But when I’m asked, “What do you do?” by a stranger, I feel guilty about blowing my own horn. I hear myself saying dopey things like “I help keep people from losing too much money in the markets.” Why do I keep shooting myself in the foot like this and how can I stop?
A: Most likely, you’re being sabotaged by old internal messages that are telling you it’s wrong to brag about yourself. You may even believe deep down that it’s evil to want to make money. These “scripts” can prevent you from sharing what you do in an open and honest fashion.
I’ve been consulted by a skilled financial planner who believes wholeheartedly in her work, but old scripts like these have made her hide her powerful light under a bushel. To help her understand and get beyond them, I suggested that she record “money dialogues”—conversations between herself and Money about these troublesome old messages. She then records what her mother, father and other authorities in her early life would say about each dialogue with Money. The exercise has helped clarify her internal conflicts and shown her ways to move beyond them.
It may also help to practice writing or role-playing with a friend or trusted colleague a new response to the question, “What do you do?” When I asked advisor Mike Patton how he answers this question, he replied, “I say that I offer comprehensive financial planning and asset management services in a non-salesy fashion.” Something like this can make sense if, like Patton, you want to distinguish yourself from the sales orientation of a traditional broker.
Q: I would like more business, but I’m feeling ambivalent about a new client who used to be a do-it-yourself investor. Since following the “old rules” cost him years of portfolio growth, he wants me to tell him what the “new rules” are. After quizzing me for 40 minutes about my contract, he finally signed it. How should I adapt my style to work with a controlling guy like this? Or am I just setting myself up for trouble?
A: I suspect that you are, in fact, setting yourself up to be drained by a difficult client. Anyone who interrogates you in such detail about your contract will probably carry that challenging vibe into every corner of your relationship.
In your shoes, I would be sure to tell him exactly what you do and don’t do. If he is still interested in working with you, consider taking him on provisionally for three or six months to see how it goes.