As another year ends and a new one begins, it’s hard not to reflect on achievements and shortcomings—all the things that one has accomplished over the past year, and those we wish had been done before year-end.  This marker of time leads inevitably to “resolutions” for the year ahead.  While it’s common to spend time thinking about the pounds not lost and the time to be spent in the gym in the year ahead, this column is dedicated to a different kind of exercise. I would propose additional reflection:  asking questions about how we’ve functioned in our relationships as private wealth advisors and as clients. To help jumpstart the process, I also suggest a few resolutions that we might consider adding to our lists.

 

Clients

Too often, the private wealth management industry focuses on the advisor’s role, with an implicit assumption that the client is a mere recipient of services to be delivered.  In this model, professionals control most aspects of the relationship and clients are essentially passive.  While this reflects the inevitable gap in technical expertise, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that a client must be fully engaged in the work done together.  As clients, we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions at the beginning of the process and at various points along the way.  Any engagement must begin with personal reflection on one’s goals, which are inextricably tied into the meaning and purpose of one’s life.  Questions include:  What kind of life do you want to live? What role do money, investments and finance play in making that life possible?  What do you want to leave behind as your legacy, beyond financial assets?  Have you and your spouse or partner had open discussions about your respective values and goals?  How much time and energy are you dedicating to these aspects of your life?  Do you know what you’re looking for in each advisor you hire, and have you thoughtfully chosen the professionals who will help you meet your goals?

 

Client Resolutions   

  • I will spend time reflecting on my goals.
  • I will have open discussions with my family about our situation and what we want to accomplish. 
  • I will be an engaged partner with my advisor. 
  • I will prepare for meetings and arrive with questions.
  • After meetings, I will set deadlines for my responses to outstanding questions.
  • If I don’t understand something that my advisor says, I will make sure that I ask to have it explained in language that I understand. 

 

Advisors

 As a starting point, it’s helpful at least once a year to do a “check in” to consider whether, as an advisor, you’re keeping up to date on developments in the field, which includes complying with continuing professional education requirements.  In addition, I would recommend reflecting on the other areas of expertise that are essential for working with individuals and families.  Thinking about the moments in the past year when a client didn’t quite make the progress we had hoped might open up consideration of how we might have done things differently.  There are always thorny issues that we don’t quite grasp that can get in the way.  A moment when a client balked at implementing an estate or financial plan or failed to return phone calls about major decisions.  Thinking about how to change one’s stance or role might help in overcoming challenges that might appear to be solely the responsibility of the client, but could be improved through our own behavior.  

 

Advisor Resolutions

  • I will stay up to date on developments in my field. 
  • I will honestly assess my abilities and seek out resources to develop areas of additional expertise. 
  • I will consider how my behavior and skills might have affected difficult moments for clients. 
  • I will ask deeper questions of my clients and patiently listen to their questions and concerns.

 

It Can’t Hurt to Try

Of course, we each need to have our own moments of reflection and determine the questions that are most relevant to us.  As a client, it may not be as easy to define where our responsibility rests and what we can leave to our private wealth advisors.  As advisors, it may be hard to move beyond our comfort level to expand expertise in new areas.  But just like that resolution to spend more time on the treadmill, it can’t hurt to make the resolution.  And if we don’t carry through with it, there’s always next year to do it again.