This time we hear from Preston McSwain, managing partner at Boston-based Fiduciary Wealth Partners. He recalls how a client’s casual comment helped him understand the most important services he provides.

I’ve spent the better part of 25 years in the industry, with the vast majority of that time devoted to helping develop, market and sell complex investment strategies and models.

Five years ago, I started my own independent firm centered on the idea of building strong relationships with clients. But it wasn’t until a client concisely described what he most valued that I fully understood how to explain the true value of our approach.

Not long after starting my own firm, I met with a client I had worked with for many years, across several different firms. He was sitting on the couch with his wife beside him as we discussed his portfolio.

Unexpectedly, the client stopped me. He thanked me for helping his family develop and implement the investment plan, and said he was very happy with our service in those areas.

“But do you know what I’ve come to realize that I really pay you for?” he asked. “Transparency, simplicity and peace of mind.”

That phrase really struck me. It was such a clear, concise explanation of what I was hoping to provide to clients.

Preston McSwain

From the beginning, we had similar words and phrases woven throughout the writing on our website, but this client’s spontaneous comment really boiled it down to the basics: transparency, simplicity, and peace of mind.

“If you don’t mind, I’m going to use that,” I told him. That phrase is now a registered trademark of ours and we feature it prominently on our website.

After that conversation, I changed my approach to early meetings with new clients. Rather than jumping into technical details, I made a point of asking them what kind of thumbprint they hope to leave on the world.

When I ask that question, I can often feel the clients exhale. Framing the conversation around values and high-level goals really changes the conversation. Instead of talking about the details of standard deviation, correlation and beta, I’m making it clear our firm prioritizes the client relationship.

I also make a point of explaining concepts in clear language so that clients can actually understand their investments. Doing so has had a secondary benefit. Clients who have a good sense of what they’re invested in and why are less likely to change course during short-term market corrections and instead stick to their long-term wealth plans.

Historically, our industry has emphasized products over client relationships, in part because certain business models are built that way. But in my experience, clients want to know that their interests and goals are at the center of the relationship and that you don’t have a motivation to focus on a particular product. Even if that’s how we’re running our practice, we need to find a way to make sure our message is getting through to our clients.

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking your clients what they most value in the services you offer. Their perspective can provide a whole new angle and help you frame your value proposition in a way that is meaningful to them.