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Helping People: The Best Part of Our Business

This is a great business! You can earn all the money you need to fund your ideal life, you have time freedom, and you help people.

While all three matter, this article is dedicated to the best part of our business: helping people. I know we’re not the Red Cross or the United Way or some other pure charity. But, we’re also not Coke and Pepsi fighting for sugared-water market share, McDonalds trying to sell another billion of crappy hamburgers, or some video game company using compulsion loops to addict you to their game regardless of the adverse impact on your health, happiness, or success.

Helping people make smart choices about their money in alignment with their most important goals and most deeply held values matters. I asked a few FAs to share some of their fondest memories about doing what they do. I’m sure you have a few of your own.

Confidence that the children will not have to stress about the details.

Many of our clients have a sticker inside of their wallet or purse that says, “If anything happens to me, please call Ted or Kate at this 800 number.” One day a paramedic called me and said, “We don’t know why we’re calling you, but we have a patient with this sticker in her purse. Who are you?” I said, “We’re this person’s financial advisor.” They said, “Well, she just had a major cardiac arrest. We’re transporting her to Hoag Hospital. Apparently, you need to know.”

I thanked them and immediately called her daughter. She was about to board a plane for a two-week wilderness trip in Maine. Fortunately, she was able to switch airlines and fly to Huntington Beach. When she arrived I asked, “You don’t happen to have your mom’s healthcare power of attorney, do you?” She replied, “Oh no, I don’t even know where those documents are.”

We accessed her mom’s electronic vault, printed out the POA, and went to Hoag Hospital. We arrived at her mother’s room, where she was sedated, and the charge nurse asked, “Do either of you have a healthcare power of attorney?” Our client’s daughter said, “Yes, I do,” and she handed him the POA. Right before our eyes, they called the orderly and moved her mother up four levels of care. That’s what happens when healthcare professionals know they are working with family members who have their act together. — Ted & Kate G.; Huntington Beach, CA

Confidence that somebody cares.

I got a frantic call at 4:30 this morning from a 93-year-old Ideal Client. She was having shortness of breath, dizziness and couldn't walk. She didn't call 911. She didn't call her daughter who lives nearby. She called her Trusted Advisor. (Of course, I did all that as soon as we hung up.) As I sit in the ER, I've never felt such a deep connection with a client as I do today. — James H.; Prescott, AZ.

Confidence to live the life that’s truly desired.

I have worked with Mark, a pathologist, for 16 years. His financial house was in good order and, as a result, he was content. One day, we completed a Financial Road Map® interview in which he, for the first time, expressed his deep desire to leave his high stress job and retire. He dreamed of not working in the pressure cooker that was his pathology position at the hospital and devoting more time to his charitable endeavors and his love for music. He stated unequivocally, “There is no way I could actually do this as I am only 47!” Our team worked out the details of precisely what he needed to do to leave his job and retire fully, with no additional earned income. We established, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he could do it and laid out a specific plan to ensure he never has to re-enter the workforce again.

I asked him recently if he had any apprehension about leaving his medical job. His response was, “I am counting down the minutes to July 1 st ”. On July 1 st , 2015 Mark will fully retire from his medical job at age 48 and start living a life that is, in his words, “true to who I am.” — David J.; Minneapolis, MN

Who’s inspiring whom?

I was referred to a lovely young couple several years ago. The values and goals they relayed to me were well considered, vivid, and were communicated with a significant amount of emotion. I was a little taken aback at their openness. I learned that the wife who had been a happy, healthy, working mother had suffered a brain tumor and had had surgery to attend to that. She was unable to work, the chemo had taken her hair, and the radiation had given her almost constant headaches. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, you could not meet a more grateful, happy human keen to ensure she lived each moment and gave the best possible life to her 3 young daughters. To give you an idea of her character, although gravely ill herself, she spent some of her spare time talking to cancer patients at the hospital to help them through their experience.

From a financial perspective, the family had been “managing” with very little room for luxuries. Looking through their paperwork, I found that with her former employer she had income protection insurance and also Total Permanent Disablement and Death insurance. Our team pursued a claim for them. We arranged back payment of the income protection to the time she was first diagnosed which resulted in a $36,000 lump sum and then regular monthly payments. This was a large amount of money to them and the ongoing monthly payment was the difference between surviving and thriving.

Unfortunately, she eventually passed away. I attended the funeral where her husband mentioned me in the eulogy as being pivotal in having supported and enhanced the final years of the family’s life together. During the last phase of her illness they were even able to pay for some treatment they could not otherwise have afforded.

Upon her passing we arranged the payment of the death benefit and this allowed the family to grieve without further stress. Six months later they used some of the money for Dad and the 3 girls to go on a family trip of a lifetime skiing in Canada in memory of their mother. The memories were so great, they are going again this year and the dad recently emailed me some pictures and a thank you for making the holiday possible. — Brett G.; West Gosford, Australia

A family tragedy avoided.

My team and I discovered that one of my client couples had a lethal combination of investment assets, homes, various life insurances, and an out-of-date estate plan. If my clients had passed away, their children stood to directly inherit over $4M each on their 21 st birthdays. This was never their intention and they agreed that this would have ruined their children. They were VERY happy to make the adjustments to reduce that burden on their children. They updated the documents to put assets in trust until their children are of a certain age and performance milestones are achieved. — Debbie P.; Walnut Creek, CA

Confidence to achieve life goals.

My latest Ideal Client is 78 years old and lost her husband last September. He handled all of their finances and, although she is in a good financial position, her financial knowledge is negligible.

In one of our meetings after her husband had passed, I asked, "Apart from wanting to maintain your lifestyle and live in your home forever, what other goals do you have?” She told me she couldn't think of any. I asked again in a slightly different way, "Suppose you're looking back at your life, reflecting on everything that you achieved, what else would you like to have accomplished?” This time she said, "I'd like to have visited my brother who I haven't seen in 20 years.” Her brother lives in Pennsylvania and the thought of a 24-hour flight from Sydney did not appeal to her. So I asked, "How much would you like to see your brother?” Not surprisingly, she replied that she would really like to do it before she dies.

I told her that unless her doctor says she can't travel, that she can go to the US to see her brother, but instead of travelling in coach, as she and her husband always did, she'll be flying Business Class. She started crying at the thought of seeing him at least one more time before she dies. On the 19th of October she’ll be enjoying her first business class flight to see her brother for 3 weeks. — Rod D.; Sydney, Australia


One of my favorite memories of being an advisor was a money intervention with one my bigger, but more neurotic clients. Susan was single, in her 60s, and had $6M. She lived like the wolves where at the door, spending just a fraction of what she could afford. I’m all for being fiscally responsible, but this was truly absurd. She had inherited her money from a controlling father who instead of teaching her about money, instilled fear about it. She survived on $35k a year and would not spend any money on deferred, inexpensive home maintenance. She was convinced that spending more would be a disservice to her children who would someday inherit the family fortune. None of her children lived in the area and I knew that, Kate, the daughter who lived in London, was the most influential. I called Kate, introduced myself, and asked how she felt about her mother’s self-imposed austerity program. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she and her siblings didn’t care about the inheritance and had been begging their mother for years to spend more on herself. Kate and I hatched a plan that the next time she was in La Jolla we would hold a money intervention with her mother. I remember telling one of my colleagues about this and his response was indicative of the unenlightened FA, “but if you convince her to spend more money you’ll make less on her account.” Moron. The intervention was a tearful success and Susan agreed to increase her spending by $1,000 per month. What a difference that $1,000 a month made! She did basic improvements around the house (like paint and new drapes), bought a few new clothes, and improved her day-to-day lifestyle. Eventually, she made a few more, easily affordable, home improvements. What fun it was for her children and me to watch her transform from scared of her money to actually enjoying her life!

It’s interesting to note that when asked to reflect on their best client service memories, nobody sent me stories about beating a performance benchmark or paying a few bucks less tax. Your most rewarding experiences in this business have very little to do with money and more about the impact of your advice on the lives of your clients and their families, don’t they? Perhaps the biggest benefit of the robo-advising era is putting investment management in it’s rightful place as a commodity so we can all get back to delivering the real value of truly comprehensive financial planning.