I loved my time as a practicing Wealth Advisor/Financial Planner. I became close with my clients. Almost too close, as the bulk of my clients were elderly (my firm was in Boca Raton, FL., after all) and watching them age, and eventually pass on, was ultimately my undoing. I felt I was losing a family member with each passing, and it took a personal toll on me.
If I’m being honest, though, there were a few things about the job that I didn’t enjoy. Watching couples divorce and bicker over finances was nauseating; particularly when children were involved. Seeing families fight over estate settlements was bewildering to me, as I am ridiculously fortunate to come from a great family of amazing sisters and brother. But without question, nothing was more disheartening to me than to see parents disown, disinherit, or simply deride their children. As a father of a son, witnessing a dad acting out of ego/insecurity (they really are one and the same) towards his child was, and is, abhorrent to me.
During those conversations, my anger would sometimes rise to the surface with little to no disguise. It was my Relationship Manager (our firm’s title for Junior Advisor), who said, in no uncertain terms, “You need to work that out because you have zero objectivity to help your clients.” She was right! She often was - and by often, I mean always. The precision of her rapier-like allegation hit home. My clients paid me for objective advice, not to hear my pontification on family dynamics. At the same time, I was incapable of sitting tight and listening to parents disown their children because they didn’t like the spouse they married, or they didn’t thank them enough for last year’s Christmas present, or whatever slight they felt was bestowed upon them. “They have no idea how hard I worked for this.” “They have no appreciation for what is being handed to them.” “They’re all part of an entitlement generation raised on participation trophies.” The list went on and on and, frankly, I found it reeked of ego, self aggrandizement, and informed me a great deal more about the parent than it did the child.
Still, I needed a solution and worked out a compromise. A “go to” question that reframed the discussion.
“Before we make any changes to wills, trusts, estate plans or beneficiary forms, I want you to answer a question for yourself. What is the end state you want for your child? Now decide if these actions take you closer to that end state or further away.”
It always worked. Not because, in every case a child was no longer disinherited or had her full college tuition paid, but because it removed ego and emotion from the decision and put the focus squarely on the beneficiary and the hopes and dreams that a given parent might have for their child.
When I transitioned from personal planning to a corporate position, I now found myself talking to Advisors rather than clients. But what was eerily familiar were the conversations with those Advisors regarding their staff and specifically, their Junior Advisors. “They have no idea how hard it is to build a business.” “They would never make the kind of sacrifices that I made to get to where I am.” “They’re all part of an entitlement generation raised on participation trophies.”
Basically, it was Groundhog Day. I wanted to scream, “You do realize that every time you open your mouth, you encapsulate why the expression, ‘Sit down boomer’, was invented?”
I didn’t! (Or at least not every time). Instead, I asked the same question of the Advisor that I asked of the parent,
“…. what is the end state you want for your staff…?”
“I want a self sufficient, professional whom I can transition many, if not most, of my clients to. One who can create scale for the business to free me up to bring in the next client and focus on marketing and rainmaking. One who potentially could be a part of an exit strategy and provide an elegant transition both for my clients as well as for me.”?
These were an amalgamation of the answers I heard repeatedly. To which I, as gently as I was capable, pointed out the limited utility of wondering whether your Junior Advisor properly internalized how difficult you had it in creating your firm. I gingerly nudged these Advisors towards recognizing their potential retirement plans did not hinge on whether their staff understood how difficult it was to gather the courage and speak, week after week, at luncheon seminars, without knowing if you would get a single client. Occasionally, I would even covertly underscore that perhaps in the early days of forming your practice, you didn’t ALWAYS walk uphill to the office (both ways) enter trades with bloody fingers on mainframe, IBM desktops, and trudge nightly to client’s homes… in snow! (in Florida).
More than anything though, what I tried to convey, was whether it was harder for you, as the founding Advisor than for them, as a hired Junior Advisor, ‘What difference does it make to your end state?’
The only thing that matters is whether they have the professional skills to properly address the needs of the clients of the firm (emphasis on ‘clients of the firm’ and not ‘YOUR clients’)
Anything past that, is you needing your ego stroked.
Now, there is a reality that you, as a founding Advisor, probably had a strong spirit of entrepreneurship. If you didn’t, you would have joined one of the large banks or brokerage houses. So, the likelihood of your hired Junior Advisor empathizing with the emotional toll of creating a practice from the ground up is somewhere between zero and Trump’s next apology. But you aren’t hiring the next entrepreneur to build a business beside you. You’re hiring an employee to grow your practice to the next level. That is a very different personality. A very different skill set. Most profoundly, it is a very different need.
In order to know the end state you are striving for, you need to know your needs. And your needs are having the best trained, confident, and highly skilled Advisor representing your practice.
In next week’s blog, I’ll go over 3 specific techniques that move a Junior Advisor to that self sufficient professional. But before you can even begin implementing those, be certain you’ve crystalized your end state.