Satisfied? Delighted? Fed
up? How happy are you with your financial professionals?
Is it possible to find experts you can trust to serve
your financial interests, to understand you on an emotional
level, and to honor your values?
The following personal
stories reveal some of the challenges and delights that
people with wealth experience in cultivating trusting
relationships with financial professionals. At different
points on the path of taking charge of their finances,
our interviewees explore their problems and successes,
uncertainty and confidence, and share some of the wisdom
they've gained along the way.
Adapted from an interview
with Joani Blank.
Joani Blank is the founder
of Good Vibrations, a nationally known worker owned and
run emporium and catalog featuring products and advice
that contribute to healthy sexuality. Her investment and
philanthropic habits are as unconventional as her business.
I have what I think is
an unusual approach to money. I love having money because
of what it enables me to do and I hate having it because
I feel guilty about the unfairness of the widening gap
between rich and poor. But I'm not self-conscious about
It's important that my
financial pros understand my idiosyncrasies so they know
how to advise and support me. For example, I loan money
to all kinds of people. I currently have about $120,000
outstanding in $1,000 to $10,000 loans and a couple over
that, one for $15,000 and one for $20,000. I get such
a kick out of doing that! I have money, so why not help
my friends? If I get it back (and I usually do), I can
keep giving it over and over.
In one case I loaned money
to a friend who's a hair stylist so she could buy her
own salon. In another I helped a musician friend buy an
18th century string bass. It would normally have cost
$80,000 but she had an opportunity to buy it for $13,000.
I loaned her $6,000 and she had enough money of her own
to make up the difference.
I've never shopped around
to find financial professionals I could trust. Friends
who know my world view have just steered me to people
with similar philosophies. One of my favorite people is
the woman who does my taxes. She has served as one of
my "money therapists" over the years, and I frequently
ask her advice about money stuff. She does my daughter's
taxes now, too.
I met my first financial
advisor-- an accountant who got fed up with the corporate
world--though a small business network I belonged to.
He had me fill out one long, comprehensive form that covered
everything, my sources of income, how much I spent, what
I spent it on, and what I like to give money to. I was
impressed with how thorough it was. Then we talked about
investing, retirement, saving for the future, how to support
my child, saving for her, anticipating her inheritance
from me--an overall plan.
My current advisor, David,
is informal and friendly and interested in me as a person.
I talk about emotional issues pretty easily, so it's important
to me that he is willing to relate on that level, to understand
my priorities and my excitement about various projects.
Also, although he has no children of his own, I'm very
impressed that he seems to really understand the complex
relationship I have with my daughter, who is now a young
David is one of the financial
planners in the First Affirmative Financial Network, an
association of financial professionals who work exclusively
in socially responsible investments. I've never worked
with a financial professional who wasn't committed to
socially responsible investments. David's wife is my bookkeeper
and we're friends, too. It's important to me that I can
call him any time. Sometimes we'll talk about something
for ten minutes and he'll forget to bill me.
This kind of relationship
may be hard for some financial people to understand if
they are accustomed to looking only at increasing wealth
or reducing taxes for their clients. It's my impression
that some professionals will do whatever is within the
letter of the law to help their clients avoid taxes. That
may be legal, but it doesn't always feel ethical to me,
so I steer clear of advisors like that.
I've invested in two privately
held corporations. One sells sustainably harvested wood
and the other is developing superconducting materials
that can be stored at ambient temperature. This technology
could dramatically decrease the amount of electricity
that's needed and has hundreds of sustainable applications.
Also, although I don't
like the stock market, I recently bought my first stock:
100 shares of a high tech software company. It feels like
gambling, and I'm not particularly into gambling. My advisor
asked, "Why are you buying this?" I said, "Because I thought
it would be fun to play at being a stockholder." He may
not share my enthusiasm, but he understands it and supports
My advisors know I'm going
to do what I want anyway. What I like most about my financial
professionals are their flexibility, their willingness
to adopt my perspective when advising me, and their understanding
and support of my attitudes. I'm something of a control
freak, so when I have a little extra money to invest,
David will tell me about some new things I might get involved
in. Then I'll make the decision. For example, last year
I started putting money away for my grandchildren in the
form of educational IRAs.
I grew up with a prejudice
against people who make money by having money. Now I guess
I'm doing it, even though it still doesn't make sense
to me. That's one of the reasons why I include philanthropy
in my "portfolio" of socially responsible investments.
I'm pleased that I'm able to give away fifteen percent
or more of my income almost every year.
My advice to others who
want to hire a financial advisor is, "Remember that your
financial professionals work for you." Make sure they
know as much about you as possible and ask them any questions
that seem relevant. Base your decision to work with them
on their responses. I don't have a problem being open
with most people--even relative strangers--about either
sexuality or money. So if I can encourage others to open
up and relax about money by being relatively open and
relaxed myself, then I've done some good.
How do I know if my financial
professionals are highly competent? I don't. I guess I
won't know until one of them messes up, and so far none
of them ever have.
Inheritor Turn Financial Pro
Although I grew up in a
wealthy neighborhood and was aware of the privileges of
wealth, we didn't have the same kind of money ourselves.
I didn't know I would someday be wealthy, until my father
In the late 60s early 70s,
I was working as a botany research clerk to put myself
through college. It was a very transformative time. People
were considering the political implications of everything.
I studied for a degree in resource economics, learned
about community organizing and economic theory, and got
involved in the women's movement. When a group of women
started a credit union, I volunteered to help. It was
exciting to put my politics into action to help women
gain power over their money and their lives. I joined
the credit union board and eventually became president.
We offered a lot of seminars and individual counseling
to our members to help them understand and gain control
of their finances.
Then my father died, and
for me, everything changed. During my parents' married
life, Dad made all the larger financial decisions and
had given Mom an allowance. So my mom was a classic example
of a widow who was in the dark about important aspects
of her financial affairs. Together, she and I went through
their papers and tried to figure out what was what. This
opened my eyes even more to the need to help people get
control of their money.
Also, suddenly and unexpectedly,
I found that with Dad's death, I had been left with a
lot of money from a trust, but it seemed tainted, a bad
exchange for the loss of my dad. Angry and sad and uncertain,
I turned to my first professional helper. I assumed a
woman would understand my feelings and needs and values,
so I was relieved and hopeful when a member of the credit
union referred me to a woman broker. I automatically trusted
her. What a mistake!
She helped me develop a
stock portfolio, then encouraged me to put part of my
inheritance into an annuity with a company her firm recommended.
She said, "If you're going to put the rest of your money
in stocks, you should have something safe like this."
Then the firm she had recommended
went bankrupt. I first heard about it on the news, then
through a letter the firm sent. My broker wouldn't even
return my calls. When I finally got through to her, she
said, "The firm approved the sale. My research people
said this investment was a good one." She never said,
"I'm sorry." or showed concern for how I felt. I felt
betrayed, as though she had turned "company agent" on
me. Although my money was restored, this experience raised
my awareness of how impersonal this industry can be.
I had heard about a profession
called financial planning. It attracted me right away,
but I wanted to be a different kind of financial professional
than my broker had been. I wanted to help people understand
their life picture and empower them to take charge. So
I studied for a Masters in accounting and became a CPA
and a CFP specializing in personal finance.
I've been very happy with
that choice. What I like most is helping people put their
values to work in the arena of money management. I advise
people looking for a financial advisor to ask that advisor
about whatever is important to the prospective client.
From the beginning I found
that clients supported my efforts to focus on values but
my more traditional colleagues didn't, so I joined First
Affirmative, an association of advisors specializing in
socially responsible investments, in order to meet like-minded
professionals. I also work with attorneys, tax professionals
and non-profit development officers. It's very important
for clients and professionals to talk with each other.
One person can't be an expert at everything. Being part
of a team of trusted professionals is empowering for me
and for my clients. It has made all the difference.
a Financial Advisor
I was 16 when I first met
with my mother's financial advisor. I really wasn't that
interested in learning about the world of finance. I just
wanted to get an idea of how the stock market worked.
Marie encouraged me to think about the companies that
I saw people talking about or spending money on. I ended
up investing in The Gap, which did really well. It was
a great exercise to learn how to identify stocks that
both had some value in my life and were fruitful investments.
Marie was-and is-a patient
teacher. She always lays out for me all the options in
any major decisions I have to make, and we discuss them
all before she makes her recommendation. Sometimes I just
want to cut to the chase and have her give me her advice
rather than have an in-depth discussion, but she insists
I think for myself. She also encourages me to ask questions,
which I really appreciate about her and when I do she
says, "That's a great question! I'm so glad you asked
me that." I still don't find financial management that
interesting, but at least Marie demystifies it so I don't
One challenge of "inheriting"
a financial professional is learning how to assert my
own ideas when I feel less experienced than both her and
my mother. For instance, my mother is a firm believer
in SRI. And most of my investments have social screens
that I chose myself. But at one point I wanted to ask
Marie if I was making the most money that way, and it
was hard to bring it up because socially responsible investments
are the focus of what she does. One day I asked her bluntly,
"How come everyone's talking about how the stock market
is booming and I don't feel like my investments have gone
up as exponentially?" I told her I wanted to play around
with a small amount of money in non-SRI investments. It
was difficult but important to me to assert myself that
way. She appreciated me raising the issues with her and
encouraged me to invest in a non-SRI stock if I wanted
In addition to Marie, I
have another financial advisor, Andrew, who also works
for my mother. Andrew and I talk bi-monthly about my long
term financial planning and taxes. Neither Andrew nor
Marie takes for granted that I will be their client just
because my mother is. Marie even said, "I want you to
realize that it's your choice whether or not to have me
for your advisor."
I look forward to my relationship
to Marie continuing to evolve as I become more confident
as an investor. My lack of interest and initiative was
in part due to the young age when I started working with
her. I now see how fortunate I am to have inherited a
financial advisor who is sympathetic to my world view
and is helping me to have confidence in my own ideas about
how to manage my money.
Struggle to Trust
In her early 40s, single
and childless, this author feels stuck with advisors
with whom she is uncomfortable, and she is terrified of
looking for new ones.
I've always been well taken
care of. Now that I'm in my '40s, however, I am just starting
to think about taking charge of my own finances. There's
the matter of my will, for instance. A while ago, when
I was getting ready to leave on an extended trip, I had
a will drawn up that leaves everything to my siblings
and their offspring. That's not the way I want it now,
but I am single and childless and I find it terrifying
to face what to do with what I have when I'm gone.
My father is my primary
financial advisor. He's a lawyer and he says you go to
lawyers for everything. He's a force to be reckoned with
in the world, people listen to him, and I trust him completely.
But he's 78. I don't know what I'll do when he is not
around to answer my questions.
I inherited a stock portfolio
when I was in my 20s. I also inherited a stockbroker,
who I refer to as "Uncle" Bob since he knows more about
my financial life than most of my relatives. He's an older
man and deals mostly with clients who are like him. He'll
say, "I'm invested in these stocks and I wouldn't buy
you anything I wasn't invested in myself." He's very patronizing.
He once said, for instance, "Hey, how about Tampax? Let's
invest in Tampax because you're a woman." I wanted to
say, "I don't have a uterus so I don't use them," but
I didn't. That pretty much tells you about my relationship
with Uncle Bob. I'll stick with him while my father is
alive, but eventually I would like to find an advisor
who is more simpatico.
My portfolio pretty much
rides along unchanged. The only other financial professionals
I've seen are a couple of CPAs. The first one I went to
looked at my papers and said, "You look like a little
old lady coming in with a shoebox full of all these 1099s"
and laughed unpleasantly. I felt humiliated and angry
but I didn't say so. I just didn't go back.
The woman who prepares
my taxes has made a few snide remarks about how little
I earn, or how I spend my money. So I've learned to limit
the information I give her. It's not a good situation,
but I'm uneasy at the thought of confronting her and unsure
about how to find someone else. I still believe that God
and the bank are the only ones who should know anything
about my financial balance.
I was raised to be a rather
private person and exposing the nature of my financial
assets to someone is really intimidating. I feel like
a little kid. How do you go to somebody, raise the issue
of what to do with your money, and feel safe about it?
I work at home part-time
writing and researching, and I try to do good work beyond
that, volunteering, making quilts for cancer patients,
etc. And I have well-connected friends who I might get
referrals from. But I'm not out there networking.
Trust is a huge issue for
me. I'm afraid of being taken advantage of and I'm afraid
of failure. I was raised with very high standards, so
I came to believe that it's easier to do nothing than
to be wrong. The funny thing is, I'm willing to take risks
when it doesn't involve money.
I would like a financial
professional who could help me clarify my values and teach
me to manage money rather than to focus on making more
of it. That would be a starting point. I like knowing
that because I have money, I can "make a difference."
Bank of Larry
The first time I walked
into the Money Management Services office in the early
1980s, I had just suffered a devastating bankruptcy and
divorce. I'd lost my home. My brother and his wife offered
to let me live in the converted attic above their house.
They suggested I see Larry Cherry, who helps people plan
their financial lives.
At first I was traumatized
by fear and pain and could not face bills, paychecks,
or anything money-related. Larry's office devised my budget,
banked my paychecks, and paid my bills. I gratefully allowed
Larry to manage every dollar I earned.
Within three years, Larry
guided me into a condo purchase and started my retirement
savings. He thought I should be thrilled to see $11,000
in my account. I wasn't. "I'm grateful," I told him, "but
we both know $11,000 is a drop in the bucket of life.
I'm still one step away from being a bag lady."
Several years later, I
married for love and got money in the bargain. Nobody
was happier for me than Larry. We continued to plan my
financial future using my new assets. Soon my needs outgrew
Money Management Services.
My husband is really, really
rich, and he made me just plain rich. Our personal business
requires sophistication and specialization. Our team of
financial professionals comes from some of the most venerable
institutions in the world. We have God-knows-how-many
attorneys (marital lawyers, estate planners, real estate
and tax attorneys, and private foundation specialists).
We have personal bankers, accountants, and investment
professionals who help us with our stocks, bonds, trust
accounts, and properties.
But I still work with Larry.
I want to "dance with who brung me," even though I'm dancing
at the Symphony Ball instead of the Wildhorse Saloon.
Now, Larry and I are partners in using my money creatively
to help others.
As for the brother who
took me in, I bought him a new house. Larry structured
the deal so that each of us gets maximum tax benefits
and minimum liabilities. I did the same with my sister's
house. And my manicurist's car. And a couple of small
businesses that could never have qualified for loans from
any bank except what we lovingly came to call The Bank
A limo driver told me about
his dreams, and I told him if he was serious to call The
Bank of Larry. My dental hygienist worried about retirement
savings, because she has none. I sent her to the Bank
of Larry. Recently, I saw a "Letter to the Editor" in
our local paper from a woman proudly struggling to make
ends meet. I wrote her, offering to pay her fees if she
wanted professional help to make the most of what she
has. Larry is now helping her collect child support, and
he recommended that I loan her what she's owed until the
state processes the payments.
Larry's clients include
a husband and wife who couldn't bring themselves to tell
their daughter that they'd blown her college money until
two weeks before she was supposed to start classes. Larry
thought if I met this young woman I'd be so impressed
that I'd scholarship her through The Bank of Larry. He
A condition of receiving
a loan or a major financial gift from me: you must work
with Larry and follow his plan for your "financial security".
It's all 'strictly business' and I'm not involved. Larry's
the one who collects, advises, issues ultimatums. Larry
teaches people to fish while I'm treating them to a fish
The Bank of Larry is a
godsend to many, as it was to me when I showed up broke
and scared. Last week I told Larry he's not charging me
enough for what he does on my behalf. He has to be reminded
that I, Rich Woman, am the client, and not the people
I send him.
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