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Jackson Browne Copyright Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Saying a Prayer for the Pretender

Following the 14 service commandments and reviewing them with your clients can keep you from feeling like you're a "pretender."

During a recent workshop, I took a group of 70 financial advisors through an exercise that was more revealing than I’d anticipated. We asked participants to gauge the strength of their client relationships using 14 important criteria from our research and an “A-ha!” moment surfaced. It was best articulated when a financial advisor blurted out, "We’re just pretenders!"

This got a laugh—but then prompted a discussion. Not everyone agreed with this harsh of an assessment, yet the majority agreed that improvement could and should be made related to meeting these expectations.

As the discussion wound down, less animated and more focused. Being an old rock 'n roll fan, the chorus of Jackson Browne’s song "The Pretender" was rattling around in my head: “Say a prayer for the pretender.”

It just so happened that one of the participants asked me for my thoughts as this chorus was playing in the background of my mind. Everyone got a chuckle when I repeated it—with an explanation, of course.

The stage was set perfectly for the next segment of the workshop. I handed out a form titled “Our Commitment: Service Commandments.” After allowing a few minutes for everybody to peruse the handout, I asked an advisor sitting up front (this is why the back seats fill first) if he would engage in a brief role play with me. He was to play an affluent client.

Let me outline this financial advisor/affluent client interaction (scripting only the advisor verbiage):

Financial Advisor: Our commitment is to consistently provide you and your family the highest possible level of service.  To that end, we’re using the Service Commandments based on research on the advisor/client relationship.

(Now you are presenting the Service Commandment form as you prepare to walk your clients through them.)

Financial AdvisorAs I walk you through each of these—there are 14—it’s important that you’re honest with me about how we’re doing. If we can improve in any way, I want to hear about it.

(Walk Mr. and Mrs. Affluent Client through each of the 14 Service Commandments, taking your time to discuss each.)

Financial Advisor: Okay. It seems as though we’re doing well on 12 of these Service Commandments, but you’d like… (Carefully describe the criteria that need attention, discuss each and develop a plan to address each.)

Debrief: First of all, yes, we will give you access to the Service Commandments; visit The idea of creating a service commandment form based on the 14 criteria uncovered in our research came from one of our coaching clients. He was using the criteria as a tangible way to frame the personal nature of his service and the comprehensive nature of the wealth management services he was delivering. His clients loved it.

Timing Is Everything

We quickly discovered that the timing of when this form was displayed was important. When this conversation took place at the beginning of a review meeting, it appeared awkward. When conducted at the end of a meeting, it came across as canned or insincere and clients would say “everything is fine.” Yet when conducted at the beginning of a review meeting, it appeared awkward. So, you guessed it, somewhere in the middle of a review meeting, as an agenda item, gave it the most traction.

This requires a heartfelt commitment to be able to receive feedback that might appear unwarranted or unpleasant, without becoming defensive. It also requires a discussion that leads to taking specific action to correct whatever issue surfaced.

One of the first pieces of feedback from a financial advisor using our Service Commandment approach was that of relief, followed by: “It was almost like planting subliminal seeds of all the services we were providing. Yet, as well as we were doing and as positive as our client was about services, they wanted us to review their insurance policies and then update their financial plan.”

By being proactive, there’s no need to follow Jackson Browne’s chorus and “Say a prayer for the pretender” with reference to a financial advisor—unless you want to help a colleague who has yet to understand today’s affluent investor reality.

Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent

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