How to Become Your Client’s Financial Architect

How to Become Your Client’s Financial Architect, presented to Moody’s Analytics

I got into the business to make money and stayed to make a difference in the lives of my clients. All of the excitement of my early years studying, learning, being mentored by those more skilled than I, became a disappointment as I began to build a business. I realized I enjoyed working with clients, the exchange of ideas and solving problems. What we did worked and protected our clients’ assets in the ’87 crash. So I began to document our process and the systems we put in place, so we could repeat it. Over the years I began to share these concepts with others and they too made a difference in the lives of their clients. They learned to build a trusting relationship with prospects faster and put systems in place so the team was more productive. I had the unique privilege of managing both retail accounts, institutional pools, and hedge fund futures. And as the markets increased in volatility, more and more we were asked to share how we combined the tools of retail investing with professional trading to exceed the returns of the great endowments and avoid losses. The concepts we will discuss today will help you and your team deepen your relationship with your clients and build advocacy, establish a lifetime of trust from the beginning of every relationship, and future proof your lives and practice against the uncertainties ahead.

The client today is different from those twenty years ago. They are better educated, more secular, proficient with technology, and skeptical of advice. They do not believe the institutions their parents trusted. They prefer to collaborate. They value teams, work together in clusters on projects at work, and believe no one has all the answers. Our industry has changed over time as we have developed various ways to relate to clients. Each generation finds what works best based on the technology available.

Once we brokered trades for clients as the “customer’s man.” Later we became stock and bond brokers soliciting transactions. Then a split occurred. Some brokers became consultants, overseeing the management of separately managed accounts. Other brokers became planners and took a holistic approach. Today, all the preceding relationships still exist. But most investment professionals moved to discretionary management, as advisors, giving advice. But most clients today don’t want advice. They are looking for something else.

Over the last decade, four changes occurred in our industry. Each change impacted a major aspect of our business. Integrating these changes into your existing practice will prepare you for the future. The first change affects our Marketing and helps us keep and gather more assets. The second affects our Practice Management and makes us more efficient and productive. The third affects our Solution and helps us better manage and protect our client’s assets. And the fourth affects our Future and helps us avoid the uncertainty of what is coming.

In the next few minutes we will examine these in more detail and suggest deliverables that will help your practice begin the transformation so that you can become your Client’s Financial Architect.

First Change: Coaching – Marketing is a Relationship Conversation

Only one profession resembles our relationship with clients. It is one of the great professions of the world.  They have a long history of helping wealthy people make large investment decisions.  We have much to learn from them.

This oldest of professions, built upon a collaborative model, is architecture. 

An architect collaborates to design what is often the largest investment of the client’s life. We also manage a large pool of our clients’ assets. An architect steers a client through a labyrinth of decisions. We help clients go through a series of decisions necessary to achieve their dreams. An architect follows a systematic approach to decision making. We assist our clients through a disciplined approach to making investment decisions. An architect guides a client through the timing of decisions. We also hold our client’s hands step by step through a decision process.

This is the nature of a coaching relationship. Coaching is a collaboration. We must become our client’s Life and Financial Architect coaching them how to Finish Well. Not just financially, but in all areas of their life. Most of what we do is communicate with clients, live, over the phone, or online. We ask questions and listen to their answers. They recap their past, review their present, and look to the future. We listen, identify the gap, and help them build a bridge across the chasm.

I always wanted to be an architect, I loved sketching and drawing designs. But by the time I got serious about building a career, making money was my prime motivator. So I decided against continuing the study of architecture and became a stock broker. I went through all the stages above in the first couple of years and almost left the industry. But I realized that I enjoyed collaborating and coaching clients through their decisions. So in my third year I moved completely to a new approach. I left behind the cold-call cowboy days of selling stocks. I abandoned position building and all the planning models. And built a multi-million dollar collaborative consulting practice that focused on coaching clients.

We incorporated the tools of architects to help clients through difficult decisions.

We discovered clients desire an expert to collaborate with them. Together they want to discover the best solution, specific to their needs. They want to avoid packaged solutions. And the wealthier they are the move they demand specificity.

Peter Drucker, Uber Coach

Let us now discuss how to move from being an advisor to becoming a Client Financial Architect who coaches clients.

There are specific core competencies of coaching. Let us learn from the master himself. Peter Drucker. He was one of the most valued and highest paid coaches of all time. Senior executives paid $25,000 to schedule a conversation with him. The following are Druckers Uber Mentor Guidelines:

  • Listen, ask lots of questions
  • Bring a wealth of knowledge, be well read
  • Have enormous breadth of experience, and an astonishing memory
  • Encourage people and help them believe in themselves
  • Build on people’s strengths and make their weaknesses irrelevant
  • Help them use their strengths to contribute back to the world
  • Define the landscape and the void in that landscape – what action now
  • Only work with those who take your counsel and act on it

What is common about these guidelines is that each client had the solution to the problem. All they needed was a collaborator to help draw it to the surface.

That is my job as a Financial Architect for my coaching clients. You too can partner with your clients to help them achieve their dreams.

Deliverable: Most Important Questions

The following are the most important coaching questions.

  • What’s on your mind, what matters most? That which is top of mind will be an obstacle until addressed.
  • What else? There is always more.What is the real challenge for you? Move from the abstract to the real.
  • What do you want? Identify the yearning.
  • How can I help? Where to add value.
  • What else could you do? Empower the client.
  • What was most useful? Connection.

Second Change: Practice Management – Financial Architect

We help clients design and build their financial house.

We start with the…

Foundation

As Financial Architects we begin this process by designing a sturdy Foundation.

We start by understanding the Stresses at work in our clients and prospects’ lives. We come to understand the challenges they face and the obstacles they must overcome. We can not begin construction without knowing and addressing these hindrances. They hold our client’s back from achieving their dreams or making decisions. Some advisors begin too early trying to solve a perceived problem. This is a mistake. We must allow the client or prospect to lead us down the path of their story, so they can pull us into their life.

Once we understand the stresses, we identify Supports already present around our client. We recognize their personal strengths and opportunities. We help them rely on their support team and existing network of family and friends. This support makes our job easier and increases the clients motivation.

To finish the foundation we discuss the Scope of their dreams. This builds upon their motivation. They have less interest in a financial plan and more interest in a spending plan. They want to achieve dreams and money pays the way. Without a clear understanding of their dreams how can we fulfill them?

We begin the design of the foundation during the first Conversation. The relationship grows as we practice the most important coaching skill: Listening. As the client shares the stresses, supports, and scope of their dreams, they pull us into their life. Marketing is not a method or a process. Marketing is a conversation. They talk and we listen. We build a lifetime of trust in a single conversation.

Superstructure

After hearing their story, we now design the superstructure. This is the portfolio and related solutions for the other aspects of their life.

The Shell comes first. Here we define the life they desire and the gap between their vision and current reality.

Next we focus on the Roof and examine the risks involved and how to protect the family and secure their future.

To finish the superstructure, we build in the Utilities that connect everything. We explain to our clients the necessary systems and processes. Then together we begin to walk the path of decisions.

Because we took the time up front to better understand our clients by listening to them. We are now able to collaborate with them in designing a realistic superstructure. We earned their trust. And continue to build trust as we listen and collaborate.

Construction & Deliverables

After design we oversee and coach our clients through the construction and delivery.

We must avoid Finished Rendering in the early stages. Packaged solutions rarely match the unique needs of a client.

Using a Collaborative Coaching Process we remove potential bottlenecks and avoid rabbit trails. The client helps build the solution. We are part of that which we build. It is no longer your solution, it is our solution.

Because we focused on the Client’s Life Story the solution fits them. And because they participated in its creation they feel ownership.

As Architects for our client’s life we have a toolbox of skills, processes, and deliverables. These are only a few of them. As we learn to master the skills of collaborative coaching we end confrontation.

Third Change: Investment Process – Trade Like A Pro

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently said:

“We’re in the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.”

The Depression had a huge impact on Wall Street and large metropolitan centres, like New York. But small town Main Street was less affected.  I am reminded of the stories my parents told, about the years of the Great Depression. Both were children during those difficult times, but their experiences were vastly different. Mother lived in New York City and Dad grew up in a small town in south Georgia. Mother remembered when the banks closed and standing in lines to buy bread with her mother. The shops in Dad’s town stayed open throughout ’29-’37. The local bank never closed their doors, and everything was the same before and after. How does this relate to us today?

It’s not the same. The Coronavirus has quarantined every community in every country, around the world. No event in the history of man has done such a thing.

Many believe we cannot avoid a recession. But when has any recession actually changed your life? Unless you were in a business that laid off employees. The average person never felt any effects from the past recessions. This time it’s different. We are all changed in a significant way. Main Street in every small town around the world has closed its doors. The more the virus infects weekly, the more towns will need to lock down in an attempt to contain the spread.

This is what makes this situation different from any other in the history of the world. We have never shut down both Wall Street and Main Street globally before.

The US has 1.2mm confirmed cases of individuals infected by the CORVID-19. That is more than the next four countries combined together. The States are caving into pressure to reopen businesses. Despite the fact that the death rate in most of the States, the weeks prior, doubled. And following the re-openings, continues to rise.

Health organizations world-wide say the quarantine must continue until we reach containment. Reopening too early can only lead to a second wave of infections and deaths. Governors don’t seem to understand that reopening only lengthens the long tail of economic recovery.

You may say that the recovery is already underway. The current market rally, stimulated by the $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill, is proof that we are recovering. And the further promise of another $3 Trillion dollars this quarter. But it may not be sustainable and a second leg down may be more likely. Two trillion dollars is a lot of money, it represents 10% of the US annual GDP. But it is not like real income from an outside source. It’s like taking money from one pocket (long term liability) and placing it in your other pocket (stimulus). The balance sheet is zero. This is not some gift from the government, it is a debt each taxpayer will be paying back for decades to come.

Professional Traders say the correction is not over. When have we ever had a market correction, that the low was not a point of capitulation? Clients did not sell, brokers did not sell. We hope the tools the Federal Reserve has at their disposal will give them the opportunity to protect us. But corrections don’t end with the herd still invested, and the professionals know that.

For the past three weeks the market traded sideways supported by the Point of Control. Everyone hopes that life will return later this month or next to normal. But there seems to be little hope of that being reality. We need to hold the possibility of a further decline. Goldman Sachs and other economists have all stated lower valuations of the market. And despite the optimistic outlook of many firms, we must re-examine our assumptions.

The average client looses money in every correction. Because most advisors only use a few of the tools in their investing toolbox. Professionals use all their tools to avoid significant drawdowns.

Many advisors talk to their clients about the wrong thing. The market lost 35% from top to bottom. You have no control over the loss in the market. Any loss that occurred in your portfolios, the market  caused. That should not be the dominant topic of discussion.

You control the avoidance loss. And few lost the entire 35%. Instead of discussing with your client how much they lost, tell them how much they avoided. That is your value-added. They did not lose 35%, they avoided 60% of the correction, or whatever you did. The advisors in the Mastermind Group I work with, avoided 91% of the correction. That is what the client wants to know. How did working with you improve my results. The market loss is out of our control, but protecting our clients by avoiding the losses, is our value added. Reposition your story around what you did, not what was done by forces beyond your control.

Fourth Change: Exponential Outcomes – Future Proof Your Practice

The future will be quite different on the other side of this. Too many companies are relying on their past success and have failed to innovate. Entire new industries will rise. They will disrupt the previous leaders. Here’s a list of some companies started during the 2008/09 financial crisis. Airbnb, Uber, WhatsApp, Slack, Square, Groupon. Each of these disrupted a major industry that failed to innovate. Over the last decade these companies carved out a significant slice of the market. Industries that thought they were safe from competition, were wrong.

Innovation and creativity are hallmarks of success. The greatest leaders and companies innovate new solutions. We too need to innovate to remain competitive.

Be the lighthouse in the midst of the darkness. You must become the financial architect of your client’s future. Only then will you future-proof your practice and avoid the risk of being blindsided. You do not control the loss, you control the avoidance of loss. Do not talk about what you don’t control, learn to talk about what you do control.

We stand at the edge of the greatest opportunity of the last fifty years. If you are willing to adapt and change your conversation with clients and prospects. Avoid advice and embrace the principles of coaching. Build a collaborative space for clients to design the life they desire. Learn how to use the other tools in your tool box to better manage your assets. Take the necessary steps to review where you are right now. Ask five simple questions:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • What needs to improve?
  • What needs to be removed?
  • What is the next physical action to take?

These five simple questions, when asked on a regular basis, can transform your life and your practice.

Over the next four weeks we will continue the conversation on my blog. Each week we will examine one of these four changes in greater depth.  I will show more ways you can add value to your practice: 

  • how to gather more assets
  • improve your teams productivity
  • how to trade like a professional for better returns
  • how to create an intentional life and future-proof your practice

Presented to Moody’s Analytics – May 7, 2020

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