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Does Your Advisor Have the Skills and Willingness to Act as a Consigliere?

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Does Your Advisor Have the Skills and Willingness to Act as a Consigliere?

“I am tormented by the guilt of inheriting millions of dollars.” I heard this statement from a young man who had inherited his parent’s fortune. He was being interviewed by George Kinder, founder of the Kinder Institute, at a training session in 2000.

I remember that moment clearly, not so much because of the statement but because of my reaction, which was one of disdain, disgust, and envy. How could anyone who “had it made” come up with such an incredulously heartless, self-centered view of his lot in life? I wanted to shout, “You need to get a grip and grow up. I would love to have the problems you do!”

At that time I was only beginning my own exploration of the emotional issues that complicate our relationships with money. I have since learned how deep and painful these issues can be, regardless of someone’s level of income or net worth.

Yet for many people, the idea that wealthy people may have problems related to money is laughable. A case in point is the reaction to an article about financial therapy published in The Guardian on October 17, 2015. The author, Jana Kasperkevic, focused on the emotional challenges of having wealth.

Because I remember my own early negative reaction to the idea of the wealthy having problems around money, I was not surprised by the vitriol of some of the responses to the article. One in particular caught my attention. Helaine Olen, author of Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, flamed financial therapists in a post on Slate’s MoneyBox blog on October 19, 2015.

In her post, titled “Why You Should Never, Ever, Ever Take “Wealth Therapy” Seriously,” Olen referred to the financial therapists interviewed by The Guardian as “a bunch of consiglieres to the super-rich, who gave a load of quotes that made me very, very, very sad that Marie Antoinette didn’t have access to their advice before she commissioned an imitation peasant village on the grounds of Versailles.”  

Given the context, she obviously didn’t mean “consigliere” as a compliment, but I had to look it up to be sure of its meaning. The word means “advisor” or “counselor” in Italian, but in English is commonly used to describe a top aide to a Mafia crime boss. Seriously? Between organized crime and Marie Antoinette, that one sarcastic sentence contains enough money scripts for a week-long financial therapy workshop.

If you believe a money script that “all rich people are crooks,” as Olen apparently does, perhaps it’s logical to see their advisors as “consiglieres.” Ironically, Olen’s disdainful rant unintentionally reinforces the point of Kasperkevic’s article, that money is often a barrier to connecting with other people and can foster isolation and loneliness.

However, in my research I also found a consigliere described as a diplomat, a trusted counselor, and one of the few who can challenge or argue with the boss. Apparently, this is the advisor who, even within the dangerous world of organized crime, is expected to speak the truth.

That’s actually not a bad description of one aspect of financial planning and financial therapy. Helping clients address emotional challenges around money requires supporting them in uncovering and acknowledging emotional truths even when those truths are painful.

Before engaging financial advisers, then, it’s a good idea to explore whether they have the skills and willingness to act as a consigliere. Ideally, planners won’t expect you to blindly follow their instructions. Nor will they blindly follow yours. Instead, they will have the ability to help you make financial decisions that are in your own best interest.

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