How would you describe your relationship
with the people you pay to advise you? Does your financial
advisor treat you like a kindergartner or a partner? When
you're talking to your lawyer, do you feel intimidated or
In my counseling practice, it's not unusual
for clients to discuss their relationships with other professionals
in their employ. I've noticed that these relationships vary
dramatically. A woman whose money was always controlled
by others (first her parents, then her husband) found herself
in a similar situation with her financial advisor. "He acts
as if the money is his," she said. He brushed off her questions
about investments and dodged her attempts to discuss her
feelings. She described her relationship with her advisor
and her relationship with her money the same way: distant,
mysterious, and impersonal. Although these weren't satisfying
relationships, she had no idea how different things could
Take, for example, my client who feels happily
connected to both her money and the man who advises her
on managing it. He encouraged her to learn as much as she
could about her portfolio and her possibilities. He was
patient, personal, accessible, and informative. She felt
comfortable discussing her family concerns with him, confident
that he was her partner and not her judge.
What goes into creating a good relationship
with a professional advisor? Sometimes it's a matter of
chemistry, dependent upon what elements each person brings
to the equation. I've noticed that financial advisors, like
physicians, enter the profession focused on the technical
aspects of their job. Yet I've observed that truly skillful
advisors, like excellent physicians, go beyond the technical
expertise to reach out to their clients as individual people
whose needs are deeper than textbook answers. Such professionals
encourage us to learn, understand when we are nervous, applaud
us when we make progress, and listen when we need to talk.
What Should You Look for in an Advisor?
I believe the best advisors recognize that the relationship
is all about the client. How can you tell?
great advisor will take time
to learn your individual
history with money, your fears and hopes, your family
relationships, your tolerance for risk, your spending
habits, your saving patterns, and what is important to
great advisor is also a great teacher,
information at a pace and with language that works for
great advisor is a great listener,
and offering guidance for problem-solving.
A great advisor is a great helper,
she or he recognizes that advising is a helping profession.
Makes an Empowered Client?
Relationships are partnerships. Clients need to take responsibility
for expressing their needs honestly. It doesn't help to
keep quiet about problems, to avoid the truth, or to harbor
resentments without attempting to resolve them. If you hold
yourself back, you're not doing your part to make the relationship
Can You Fix It If It's Broken?
Ask for some time to talk over how things
are going, apart from the nitty-gritty of your business.
Be clear and honest about what's bothering you, being mindful
to keep the discussion respectful and businesslike. Be specific
about problematic incidents or patterns (e.g., "It seems
to me that whenever I ask about the trust language, you
change the subject"). Be very clear about what you would
like in the future ("I would like you to spend some time
discussing riskier strategies in our next meeting") and
behaviors you want ("I'd prefer you not take other client
calls when you're meeting with me"). Many advisors say that
they have to guess what their client wants.
forget-even the most client-oriented advisors are fallible.
Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they feel hurried.
Talking it over is always the first step to resolving the
Can You Tell If It's Working?
Watch for change.
Does your advisor take your concerns
seriously and implement the changes you request? Does she
or he get defensive, angry, or cold after you've been honest?
Good advisors are eager to get things back on track. Give
your advisor a chance to repair or rebuild the relationship.
know it's working if you feel better. A great advisor supports
you as a person above and beyond taking care of business.
You want to recommend this person to others.
If It's Hopeless?
Interview several others and find a
better fit. If you are legally locked into a relationship,
see if you can make any changes. Perhaps you could work
with a different associate in the firm. Talk to a senior
partner and be clear about what you want. Your feedback
to the firm about its staff is also valuable to the company.
Worth the Effort!
Great relationships with professional advisors will help
you have a great relationship with your money, and that
will improve your relationship with the people in your life
who are affected by your money.
relationship is achieved without effort from both parties.
Don't settle for less than the best from either of you!
Grubman, Ph.D. (
) is a clinical psychologist specializing
in the intersection of psychology, medical disorders, and
financial issues. In addition to his private practice, he
is an adjunct faculty member at Bentley College in its graduate
program in financial planning. His course, Psychology and
Financial Planning, teaches fundamentals about client psychology
to future financial advisors.
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved