Backing up the hearse
It is disconcerting meeting prospective clients who do not actually want to work with you quite the way you want them to.
It is akin to having square pegs and trying to fit them into round holes. These days I have some choice about the people I work with. However, when I first started out on a self-employed commission-only basis, my need for income demanded I had less choice about which clients I worked with. I had to make square pegs fit into round holes. It was not any better as an employee.
I am not suggesting it is right for everyone, but my style of working is to be highly collaborative, inclusive and educational. Whether clients like it or not, I seek to inform them so that they reach their own conclusion as to what to do. I guide and educate them, rather than making decisions for them. It is more time consuming, but my preference is to have clients making informed decisions rather than having blind faith in me. It is not necessarily the correct way, but it is my way.
Yet I frequently meet people that do not want to be informed, or at least not very well informed. Some people just want me to make all the decisions for them, whether they decide to act on them or not. They will come to my office, dump everything in my lap, and take off again. That is not so bad, except when I am ready to explain the solution, they only want to be told what they should do. Then they will either do it, or they will not do it, based on whatever they are feeling at the time I suppose.
I met a couple for the first time this week, and they had been used to working with advisers in just this way. Now in their late 50s, they had never taken out a pension, never taken out a cash Isa and, seemingly, had been on a long-term investment cycle of buying at the top and selling at the bottom. Still, they had not done badly, they had a net worth of almost £1.5m, predominantly in property, predominantly in the husband’s name.
I asked: “Do you have a will?” “No,” they replied. I said: “You should have a will.” They answered: “We’ve been told that before.” I continued: “But you should have a will.” Their eyes were beginning to glaze. I paused, then turned my chair to face the wife. I wanted her attention 100 per cent.
“If you die,” I told her, “he’ll be all right. He’s the breadwinner and the assets are in his name”. I paused for effect. “But if he dies, you’re in trouble”. Then using words, diagrams and a large helping of emotion I explained why. Which is why they are now going to a solicitor to make their wills.
They said: “No one ever told us why we should make a will. They just said we should. We didn’t understand the consequences”. Telling people what to do is one thing, but sometimes you have got to ‘back up the hearse’ and let them smell the flowers. Something that will happen less and less the fewer advisers there are – regardless of what those in their ivory towers think.
Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning