During the hazy, hot and humid days of summer, it can be hard for advisors to think about how to help clients with their family needs. Some days, just getting to the office might seem a tall enough task, with temperatures rising all around, both literally and figuratively. In this Building Bridges column, the final in my first year of installments, I thought I’d give everyone a break. Today, I share an easy technique that’s been proven to help lawyers, accountants and investment advisors meet their ultimate goal of helping clients preserve their wealth: just tell your clients to “go away!”
No, the heat hasn’t addled my brain, at least not on this topic. Rather, summer provides an opportunity to clearly see something private wealth management professionals often overlook . That is, the “job” of wealth preservation essentially belongs to our clients, and most of the work is done when we’re not around. There’s been so much talk about client education and training sessions over the past few years that I’m afraid we’re at a stage now where we might be overlooking this fundamental reality. “Wealth” doesn’t include just financial assets, and the most effective techniques to preserve and build family wealth take place within the family when their advisors aren’t around.
I don’t say “go away” lightly; rather, it reflects years of observing healthy, productive families. They all have something in common – they enjoy spending time together, outside of the office and outside of the home. When I meet with new client families, I’ve found that it’s helpful to ask some questions beyond the usual inventory of trust structures, holding companies, financial assets and the like. In addition, and especially if there’s a family business or family trust, I ask whether they go on vacation together. More specifically, I ask if they have fun together and probe about what kinds of activities they enjoy. When I find little evidence of “family fun” time, I’m likely to expect that the task of coming to terms with transitions in business ownership or management, and/or in trust and estate planning or administration, to be more difficult. So, I recommend that the next time an advisor speaks with a client this summer, the advisor just might want to ask these questions. And depending on the answers, a subtle “go away” just might be in order.
To back up this advice, I would merely mention all the evidence – historical and current – that wealth goes far beyond money and investments. Some would say that wealth consists of several “capitals” – human, financial, spiritual, intellectual, social, etc. Others, including most of the clients I’ve queried, would define wealth as closer to “well-being.” Some say that it consists of close family and friends, or community. These kinds of wealth aren’t quantifiable. And yet we know that they can be fostered, and they can grow. Family “wealth” tends to increase when family members trust, respect and enjoy each other. Families deepen their human experience in the times they spend together, if they approach each other with this mindset. It requires work, and sometimes that work can be quite fun.
So, for the advisors who are just trying to make it through the summer, give yourselves, and your clients, a break. Recommend time away. And take some yourselves!