Providing good financial advice is a qualitative as well as a quantitative initiative. A capable financial advisor must have the education and skills required to build portfolios and allocate investments that accommodate their clients’ risk profiles. But what separates the best financial advisors from the pack is not about buying, selling and allocating.
If all an advisor focuses on is returns, that’s a loser’s game. The fact is that if your portfolio is appropriately diversified, asset allocation means you’re always having to say you’re sorry; there’s always something going the wrong way in your portfolio if you’re well diversified.
What distinguishes a good or even great advisor is the qualitative side of advising, the ability of the advisor to get into the client’s head and find out what they are interested in, what excites them. And to do that you have to be nosey. You have to ask a lot of questions, probing, sometimes uncomfortable questions.
When you ask someone a question, they tend to tell you what they think you want to hear as opposed to what they really think or feel. People want to be accommodating and maybe not too revealing. When I’m talking with a new client and ask them when they want to retire, they’ll typically say at age 65. But if I dig deeper I’ll find most often that it’s more about being financially able to retire, at 55 or 50, whatever age that is. It’s those probing questions that allow advisors to do their best work for their clients.
Several years ago I met with a physician whose wife wanted him to retire but he was reticent. She was worried about his deteriorating health but he was concerned that he didn’t have enough money to retire. I asked him how long he expected to live. It was an uncomfortable moment, but it led to an open and honest conversation. We determined that his assets were more than sufficient to support him and his wife through the rest of his life and hers, and he went from bending over an operating table three days a week and killing himself working to living the retirement lifestyle he and his wife had always planned for. Our meeting was at times very uncomfortable for him and his wife but it motivated him. It was a life-changing conversation.
If your advisor is nosey enough, he or she will ask you questions no one has ever asked you before, that might even make you uncomfortable. But the only way an advisor will ask those questions, will find the right areas to probe, will be if that advisor is truly interested in you and helping you make decisions so much more meaningful than how much of your portfolio should be in stocks and how much in bonds.
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