I remember walking out of an interview with KPMG, second semester senior year at Widener. I had just received notice that I would win the Accounting Prize; something I had coveted since my freshman year. I loved Accounting, or so I thought. However, during each interview I realized more and more that while I loved to budget, plan and execute financial goals, I hated the idea of sitting in a cubicle, analyzing numbers all day, and reporting up a corporate chain of command. I realized I couldn’t be an Accountant and letting these companies know that was the decent thing to do – for them and for me.
I enrolled instead in Widener’s MBA program and on day one – in class one — I figured out what I wanted to do. I had elected to take Financial Planning 600 and, upon reading the syllabus, I immediately realized that that was my future.
I know what my gift is. I can communicate with people and connect in ways that allow them to be comfortably guided by my advice. In financial planning, I have the opportunity to use that gift – and my Accounting skills – to change lives. I can assess a financial situation, build a comprehensive financial plan and communicate something that seems very daunting to just about anyone.
During my MBA program I spent most of my time figuring out how to operate my business. Its cornerstone is my value proposition: To integrate myself into my clients’ families as their “financial doctor; the person to whom they turn to prudently guide their near, middle and long term financial decisions. My mission is to be my clients’ total financial resource: Providing unbiased financial advice; protecting their family and assets; improving their quality of life.
Doing so, I am able to accomplish two things. The first is my overriding client-related goal: “To place individuals and families in a better financial position then when I first arrived” (decency to others). The second is to build a reservoir of good will that yields unlimited growth potential through referrals from existing clients (decency to self).
Within a week of starting my business, I was introduced to the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce; an association that offers networking, education and advocacy to businesses throughout our region. The decision to take a leadership role in the Chamber has shaped my career; allowing me to use my instinct for helping others to positively impact the local business landscape and to do invaluable networking.
My hard work at the Chamber has definitely paid off. Many of my clients have come to me through relationships that developed in the course of that work. But while the Chamber opened the door to many opportunities, my ability to deliver on my core value proposition has been the key to my success.
In my industry, the number one mistake advisors make is to gloss over the truth. But my value proposition makes the temptation to follow this path an nonstarter. Instead, it dictates respect, transparency, and honesty in every aspect of the client relationship.
Transparency begins at the “prospect” stage. When someone is interested in talking, my first goal is to spend time looking at what type of help they need; to see if I can deliver services they need. The alternative – to bend my value proposition to take on a new client – makes no sense. All it does is set the stage for a future disaster. One of my cardinal rules is to send a prospective client elsewhere when my approach doesn’t meet their needs
A good example took place early in my career. I was approached by a couple that, at the time, would have been one of my largest clients. They wanted me to be a “day trader” for their money. They had no problem with the associated transaction costs but wanted me to be available at any moment during market hours and to execute trades on a consistent basis. But my value proposition did not accommodate these services. First, I am a “long term” investor. Second, I am out most days visiting clients. Third, I do not believe you can build long term wealth by constantly making market moves. After discussing my concerns with the potential clients, I referred them to a more appropriate professional.
Being wholly transparent about cost is another crucial element. Too many advisors make the decision either not to discuss, or to hide, the cost of their advice and of the financial products they use. For me, however, cost is always an essential part of the first conversation – to ensure that clients don’t experience any unpleasant surprises going forward.
Once we have an agreement on what is expected, what I will deliver, and what it will cost, we begin the financial planning process by gathering all of the client’s financial information using a fact-finder. This document specifies in detail the client’s assets, income level, insurance coverages, and investment risk tolerance. In my approach, full disclosure by the client is non-negotiable. Why? Because without it, my ability to deliver on my value proposition will be compromised.
The final element is honesty and transparency in the follow-up sessions I schedule to evaluate the client’s plan at regular intervals. This last step allows me to educate my clients on an ongoing basis, and keep them on-track to meet their goals. It is also the best way to add new clients. Clients who have seen me be fair, honest and attentive – over time and throughout the process – have always been my best referral source, by far.
My bottom line? Radical Decency, expressed through my value proposition, is the centerpiece of success, both financially and in terms of professional satisfaction.