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Parenting Advice Can Improve Client Relationships

May 5, 2017

This time we hear from Lou Cannataro, CEO of Cannataro Park Avenue Financial Group in New York City. He recounts how parenting advice helped him improve his client relationships.

For the first five years of my practice I focused on gaining as much knowledge and acquiring as many credentials as possible, because I assumed both were very important to prospective and existing clients.

When I met with clients I put together complicated analyses and sophisticated presentations of investments or estate plans. I thought that was what they wanted to see.

Then one day during that early period I attended a parenting talk -- as the father of five kids, I knew I could use all the help I could get. Among other topics, the speakers addressed parents’ habit of making assumptions about what is important to their children. They challenged the audience to go home and actually ask their children about their favorite memories. They let us know that we might find the answers surprising.

When I did this, I discovered that one of my daughters absolutely loved the days that I brought her to work. It had never crossed my mind that taking her to work with me was cool or fun, but it turned out to be a home run for my daughter. I never would have known how important that connection to my world was for her if I hadn’t asked.

Right away this revelation sparked a concern about my practice. I wondered whether I was doing the same thing with my clients – making ultimately misguided assumptions about what they thought was important. I realized I needed to start asking clients what was important to them.

Lou Cannataro

From then on, when I met with new clients, I began to ask, “What do you expect from us?” The answers differed significantly from one client to the next. One end of the spectrum involves people like the client who wanted to see the big picture and have me explain how all the moving parts of our plan coordinate and work together. At the other end are the clients who prefer dealing with the nitty-gritty details. For instance, one client provided us with a list of specific items she was expecting us to work on. We had already covered most of the items during our initial fact-finding but she had two more items on her list. They included assisting her niece who had special needs and a detailed analysis of how she could financially assist her parents and still retire comfortably.

I’ve also learned it’s important to keep checking in on these types of questions. One client talked a lot about retirement in our initial meeting. I assumed that saving for retirement was his primary goal. But when I asked him again in a subsequent meeting, I elicited a different response. He said, “You know what, it is important to me but I’m even more concerned about being able to buy a new house two years from now.”

When meeting with existing clients, we started doing what we call the “Ed Koch” (after the former New York City mayor) by asking: “How’m I doin’?” Again, the answers helped uncover what was important to the client and where we needed to pay attention – both now and in the future.

Clients have told me I need to improve our online access, or that someone in the office wasn’t providing the service they expected from us. If I hadn’t asked, these issues may have never come up.

Today, 25 years later, these two fundamental questions -- “What do you expect from us?” and “How’m I doin?” -- are still the driving force in determining where we commit our time and energy with each client. If you don’t ask, you might keep making decisions based on incorrect assumptions.