Sudden wealth for your clients can create an interesting power dynamic. On one hand, it’s their money and their life. You work for them—they’re in charge and they call the shots; your client is the driver. On the other hand, most sudden wealth recipients aren’t comfortable enough with the Tax Code, laws or financial strategies to make smart decisions. They must rely on you to guide them; your client is the passenger.
Driver vs. passenger is a critical distinction that can help you work more effectively with clients. One of the big fears clients have when working with tax, legal and financial advisors is that they’re giving up control. Understanding the driver vs. passenger relationship can help you explain your role and reassure them that they’re still in control.
Some sudden wealth recipients go too far one way or the other. For example, they may throw their hands up in the air and relinquish all control to their team because they feel confused and overwhelmed. Or on the flip side, they become involved in every detail and make it difficult for the experts to do their jobs. Both scenarios are disastrous. The key is to help the client identify the areas in which they’ll be the driver and the other areas where they’ll be the passenger.
When to Be the Driver
Here are three tips I give my clients about when they should be the driver:
1. Defining goals. Be the driver when it comes to defining your goals, objectives and vision. Sometimes, well-meaning attorneys, CPAs and financial planners will place a higher emphasis on form over function. They may devise sophisticated strategies that are financially correct, but in doing so, compromise your overall vision and desire for simplicity. They may dazzle you with big words and highly technical details, but make sure you’re vocal about what you want.
2. Setting expectations. It also makes sense to be the driver when it comes to setting expectations for your team. It’s worth repeating: Your advisors work for you. It doesn’t matter how little education or experience you have or how many letters they have after their name, you pay them to perform a service. As a result, you should set expectations, such as how often to meet, how they should best communicate with you and how well they should explain things.
3. Asking questions. Be the driver as it relates to asking questions and ensuring you understand what’s happening. Every question you have is valid and deserves an explanation. Most people only experience one sudden wealth event in their lives, but their advisors may handle hundreds or even thousands. What’s “obvious” or “common sense” to them, may not be to you. Don’t be shy about asking a lot of questions or having your advisors explain things until you understand them.
When to Be the Passenger
You shouldn’t attempt to be the driver in every situation, however. There’s a reason why you are hiring the best attorneys, CPA and financial advisor you can find. They have decades (or should!) of knowledge and experience. You’re paying them, so let them do their jobs. This means giving them the freedom to explore different strategies, to have conference calls with the other members of your team, and to keep an open mind to their ideas and advice.
I tell my clients that I’ve found that the best client relationships are the ones in which clients paint the big picture of what they want and hope to achieve and then let the advisors craft the strategy about how to make that happen. Encourage your clients to focus on the destination while you figure out how to best get them there.
This is an edited excerpt from Robert Pagliarini’s new book, The Sudden Wealth Solution: 12 Principles to Transform Sudden Wealth Into Lasting Wealth.