Fill the Voids in Your Clients' Financial Lives
This time we hear from Wendy Ann Payne, founding partner of McLean, Va.-based Centurion Wealth Management. She talks about how she learned to seek out ways to make a difference in clients’ lives.
I started out in the financial services industry as a client service associate. The office I worked in was fairly small, and I was able to develop a rapport with most of our clients. I’d visit with them while they waited to meet with advisors and chat with them on the phone about their lives.
I knew I wasn’t ready to become an advisor yet, but I wanted to do whatever I could to make a difference in our clients’ lives. Through talking with them and listening in on their conversations with advisors, I came to see that a lot of them had concerns that weren’t necessarily covered by our services. These were things that were related to their finances but not typically addressed by financial advisors.
For example, we had a new client who had recently gotten married. All of her accounts were still in her maiden name, and she was frustrated by the process of trying to change them. Even though we weren’t going to be managing most of these accounts, I told her I’d be happy to help her get in touch with the necessary people and fill out the paperwork. It was a small thing for me to do, but it wasn’t part of my job description, and I could tell the client appreciated the help.
Over time I started taking on more difficult tasks. One client had recently lost her mother. She didn’t want to hire an attorney to navigate probate, but she didn’t know how to do it herself. I told her I’d never gone through the process myself, but I’d be willing to partner with her so we could try to figure it out together. She agreed. It took a lot longer than it probably should have, but we made it through probate successfully. We both learned a lot in the process, and the client was extremely grateful.
A few years later, the firm took on a client who had just lost his wife to Huntington’s disease. He’d discovered that she had a secret safe deposit box filled with stock certificates in her grandparents’ names. I volunteered to help him determine how much the stocks were worth and to whom they legally belonged. Some of the stocks dated back to the early twentieth century; there were even a few from the old Standard Oil Company, from before it was dissolved. To make things even more complicated, these assets would have to be divided among the client, his brother-in-law and his wife’s four cousins. It took me 18 months to figure everything out, but in the end the client inherited $250,000 from those stocks.
When I started building a practice of my own, I promised myself that I would continue to look for opportunities to help clients beyond the expected scope of my services. I think of this as filling the void. It’s about seeking ways to make a difference in your clients’ lives, and empowering the people you work with to do the same.
One of the areas where I’ve found myself putting this idea into practice again and again is estate planning. A lot of the tasks associated with estate planning fall into a gray area, where an estate planning attorney or a tax professional may or may not help. I make it a focus to educate my clients about estate planning so they can make the decisions that are best for them and their families and avoid the drama that too often arises when dealing with matters of inheritance. And so much of what I know about estate planning I learned from helping out clients before I became an advisor.
For me, it’s important to think of advising as more than just managing investments and developing retirement plans. I’m always looking to fill the voids in clients’ financial lives, wherever they may be. It can be tempting for advisors to narrowly define their list of client services, and to stick to what they already know how to do. But by taking on all sorts of tasks, I’m displaying my investment in my clients’ well-being — and I’m also learning things I can then apply when working with other clients. It’s a win-win.