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Don’t Assume You Know Everything

October 6, 2017

This time we hear from Vincent Cucuzza, an Elmsford, N.Y.-based financial planner with Barnum Financial Group. He recalls a time when he moved ahead on a client’s plan only to find that others had even better ideas.

A number of years ago, I had an experience that was really a gut-check for me, and it changed how I do business with all of my clients. In this particular case, I had put together a plan for a client after doing my due diligence with my in-house colleagues. But shortly after I told the client I had come up with a great plan, I learned that the client’s tax accountant had another — and better — idea for how to handle his situation.

Not long ago, one of my firm’s clients let me know he wanted to work on intergenerational planning for his daughter and that he wanted this plan to involve the purchase of property. Sounds easy enough, I thought. After all, I had done this type of thing before. I consulted with my in-house team of tax accountants and lawyers to confirm what I believed to be the best path forward. They agreed with me that it was a good plan.

The client agreed with my recommendation, and we put things in motion. However, the client also sent the plan to his accountant, which turned out to be a good idea. After a thorough review, the client’s accountant came back with a different take on how we should proceed. And that accountant was right. But we both couldn’t be right. So, you know what happened? We both looked silly and confused the client. That was not a good outcome.

When I took a step back, I realized I had been overconfident. That can happen over time when you successfully develop similar plans and strategies for clients. You start to think you know everything, and you look for answers that conform to your experience and to your understanding of the way things work. But that’s a dangerous trap, and you don’t want to fall into it.

Vincent Cucuzza

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. I ended up incorporating the accountant’s advice and reworked the plan accordingly. But the whole experience was a big lesson for me. It was a stark reminder to reach out to all available experts, especially the client’s other service professionals, including accountants and lawyers.

Accountants may have more experience interpreting tax laws and in making those laws work for different clients. It is also important to remember that a client’s other service professionals are also plugged into their clients’ lives and are attuned to what they need. As an advisor, you will certainly know a great deal about your clients and their needs, but you won’t know everything. Reaching out to those professionals can expand your understanding of your clients’ situations — and the more you know, the better you can perform.

With that in mind, I now always double-check with clients about any other professionals they work with. Whenever I’m putting together a plan or making any complex strategic decisions, I always contact those people to get their input. It’s better for everyone.