Dan Hill Photo by David Bowman
Dan Hill

My Life as a Client: A Wake-Up Call

To learn what everyday clients really think about their advisors and what all advisors can learn from them, we talked to Dan Hill, founder of Sensory Logic, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that focuses on how emotions affect behavior.

I started working with three advisors a long time ago. They were all with big firms. I got their names from my father, who is a retired executive. The first two are fine, or at least OK, so I still use them. The other one was a disaster and, as a result of that experience, I started doing my own investing.

I founded my business in 1998 and in a few years I started with the first advisor. She mostly works with municipal bonds that I bought for tax-exempt advantages. She’s pleasant. She gets back to me quickly. But my father and I suspect that I’m not such an important client. She tends to contact me though phone or email about a single offering she’s pushing. Why not give me a range of options?

Just a few years ago, she asked me detailed questions that I found invasive and not about my financial positions. Bearing in mind, she’d gone for well over a decade without asking me for any kind of update, I asked her how many questions. She told me she had just a few. After 10, she said there were just a couple more and asked another 10. I said, “I’m done.” I don’t see that she has any right to know about things that aren’t part of our transaction history.

I suspect management forced her to do it. Still, I see no reason to give them more of my money. It’s not like she paid any attention to the relationship. In fact, if she did care, she would have learned that my business is a success and I have more money to invest.

The second advisor my father recommended is a very nice man who mainly invests in mutual funds. I started with him about the same time as the first advisor. Other than sending me a yearly birthday message by email, I haven’t received any particular outreach from him. About 2 years ago, he asked me how my business was doing. He was quite surprised by my answer.

The third advisor was terrible. First, there were large fees attached to the funds he used that decreased my earnings. And the portfolio he recommended included funds specific to his company—obviously, a conflict of interest. Also, he soft-pedaled the fact that I couldn’t just exit; I had to stay in the funds 2 or 3 years. And I can’t tell you how many times I called and he had left the office early. If I’m working hard and he’s managing my money, he should be working hard too. Then, there was a time I did some research and asked him to invest in commodities. Six months later, I checked back and he hadn’t done anything.

Then, one day while I was driving, I heard an interview with the manager who handles Yale’s investments. He mentioned my firm by name as a company with high fees—surprise—it was my wake-up call about investing. I left that firm and began doing a lot of research, so I could handle more of my investing on my own or with my father to avoid making future missteps. I saw no reason I couldn’t learn this stuff. (Most of it isn’t that complicated.) Now, I’m diversified in everything from individual stocks to mutual funds to real estate and CDs. I don’t want to get burned again.

None of these advisors did much to foster a healthy emotional connection with me. It’s kind of ironic. Based on what my company does, they should have been more aware.

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