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Steering Clients Away From Boring Old Business Books

By Murray Coleman September 2, 2015

Financial-advice clients thirsty for knowledge about the planning process can turn to books about everything from portfolio construction to estate planning. But advisor Lesley Draper of RegentAtlantic in Morristown, N.J., takes a different approach to helping clients educate themselves.

This summer, rather than emphasizing books that tackle wealth and planning issues head-on, she’s been recommending non-business titles. “Sharing good books that aren’t just about financial topics,” Draper says, “is a great way to grow relationships with clients and create new bonds with families.”

The summer reading list of RegentAtlantic — a firm that manages about $3.2 billion — is posted on the RIA’s site. Based on suggestions from FAs and support staffers, it includes fictional works by Mary Higgins Clark, Paula Hawkins and James Patterson. Also making the cut are non-fiction titles by authors such as Doris Kearns Goodwin and Malcolm Gladwell. “We’re finding feedback from clients to be very positive — beyond our initial expectations,” Draper says.

Books whose authors tackle topics ranging from love and war to murder and conquering life’s biggest mysteries can take professional financial-planning relationships to new levels.

Recently, after noticing a large collection of history and sports books lining a client’s walls, Draper asked the financial-services executive if he had read The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. The book chronicles how nine young athletes overcame huge odds to win the gold medal in rowing at the 1936 Olympics.

Lesley Draper

The client was interested, so she sent him a copy. He later called her to express his appreciation, and she told him about the firm’s complete summer reading list. Even though he’d been a client of the firm for more than 15 years, the ensuing discussion revealed to Draper interests in battlefield strategies and behavioral psychology she’d never heard about in the past.

His wife was also drawn into the conversation, bringing to light a passion for contemporary biographies and mysteries. “I’ve got a better feeling now of what really gets them all jazzed up,” Draper says. Over the summer, the couple has been exploring other works on the list — and their FA has followed suit. “A mutual appreciation of books has opened up a world of new ideas and areas of discussion for me to build a stronger, long-lasting relationship with both the wife and the husband.”

Non-business books can also help clients through turbulent markets — like the one we’re in now. Chris Rivers — an advisor at Washington, D.C.-based Armstrong, Fleming & Moore, which manages about $900 million — has started bracing jittery investors by telling them about The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.

Written by literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall, it explains how works of fiction can spur activity in the brain that’s similar to the body’s chemical reactions to actual events. This can help clients understand they don’t have to fixate on news about every market gyration.

How so? According to Rivers, once people understand that reading a good novel can produce emotional jolts similar to those produced by monitoring actual stock movements, “they start to understand the behavioral side effects” of being “too into the moment.”

In fact, he suggests that investors can prepare themselves better to control their urges to sell — and so undermine long-term investment plans — by reading fiction. “As markets become more volatile, this is a book that reinforces something I’ve been telling them for a long time: Don’t get too caught up in short-term storylines, and keep focusing on your long-term goals,” says Rivers.

San Asato is an advisor affiliated with Raymond James in Bloomington, Minn., whose practice manages more than $200 million. He also recommends unusual books to teach lessons about wealth management. One of his favorites is Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood by Wayne Muller.

For clients going through difficult transitions in their lives, Asato likes to encourage them to read Harold Kushner’s classic When Bad Things Happen to Good People. And he has high praise for Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Besides getting a deeper glimpse into a client’s interests, Asato believes swapping non-business book ideas has a nice side benefit. “By revealing what’s on my own bookshelf, they get a better glimpse of who I am as a person,” he says. “And that shows I’m not just a number cruncher — I’m really listening to help figure out what matters most in their lives.”