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Schwab Advisors Say Goals and Values Are Better Keys to Clients

At Schwab IMPACT, United Capital CEO Joe Duran’s message of changing up the client conversation resonated with many.

Clients are emotional creatures, yet very few advisors talk with them about feelings, argued Joe Duran, CEO of United Capital, speaking at Schwab’s IMPACT conference in Washington, D.C. this week. In United Capital’s client research, he said, the universal thing people want more than anything is not better financial returns, but to be understood.

“The currency in our industry is understanding, yet we don’t talk about that,” Duran said.

Every one of our clients have the same concern when it comes to money, and it’s not running out of it. Every one of our clients wants to know if they’re OK, and that means, can I live the life I want? At its core, every one of our clients is coming to us for one reason and one reason only—to just know, can I live the life I want?”

Some advisors attending the conference said they’re moving towards providing that answer to their clients.   

“The prospect is not about dollars and cents and shares; it’s about understanding what the client wants to do with their lives and how managing the dollars and cents can help them achieve that,” said David Kamons, senior wealth manager at Firestone Capital Management in Coral Gables, Fla.

Duran argued that advisors are no different than Starbucks, Target or Uber, and need to create a client experience that provides instant gratification. When you walk into a Starbucks, for example, the smells and sounds are instantly gratifying.

Yet Kamons sees a distinction in wealth management; the services are not immediately consumable, and the client doesn’t know how it’s going to work out for a while. “You can’t really test drive a portfolio before you buy it.”

Craig Larsen, president of AHC Advisors in St. Charles, Ill., said his firm has a living room setting for meeting with clients; there are no conference rooms or tables. That setting is much more conducive to planning.

“We do that because we’re talking to people about things that are at their core emotional, so we try to meet them where they are,” Larsen said. “What we’re trying to do is find out from them what do they value most in life and how can we get them to that point.”

Because clients aren’t sitting in individual chairs—on a couch, rather—their advisors are able to get a window into where clients are emotionally. If the couple sits on opposite ends of the couch or someone holds a pillow in front of them, for instance, “[t]hat makes me think that maybe they’re worried or concerned.”

But most advisors don’t operate this way, Duran said.

“If you think about it, we choose not to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and say, ‘What is it like when I come here?’” Duran said. “We will state things that are table stakes; ‘We’re trustworthy,’ as if that is an asset. Of course it’s not an asset.”

Advisors need to think about the client’s arrival moment. Before, biases were preformed through the prospect’s conversations with the person referring them. Now, by the time the prospect comes in the door, three-quarters of the impression is already made; the prospect has Googled the advisor, gone to their website, and gone to their own social circle to ask about the advisor. And if the physical experience doesn’t match the impression given by the digital footprint, that’s a broken promise.

“If it doesn’t match, you fail,” Duran said.

Arthur Rubinfeld, founder of Airvision, an advisory firm that works with customer-oriented brands, told attendees that they should aim for at least 20 percent growth, especially in job-generating cities.

“You should set the standard for the highest quality wealth management firm in your market. Don’t accept mediocrity.”

But highest quality doesn’t only mean best financial advice in a comfortable setting. One thing Rubinfeld likes about his wealth management is that they offer to take a lot of things off his plate.

“In a meeting they’ll say, ‘I’ll take care of that for you.’ What a surprise and delight moment to have someone else volunteer to do something that’s really not in their role and responsibilities.” More than talk of fiduciary commitments and investment portfolios, that kind of service leaves an impression.

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