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How Well Do You Really Know Your Clients?

Really understanding your client is a good thing; here's a unique tool to help you do it better.

David J. Drucker, 08/17/2006

Sir Winston Churchill said, "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."  That's precisely the opportunity Jane Wollman Rusoff offers your clients with Family Star Productions'   Legacy Profiles.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Financial advisors are taught to put the client first, find out his life goals, and help him attain those goals.  It all sounds so simple, but it's not.  Sure, if you plunk a questionnaire down in front of your new client and he puts his goals in writing for you, it may seem simple.

But I can tell you what he's going to write and I haven't even met your client.  He's going to say he wants to provide a good education for his kids and he wants to have a comfortable retirement.  Those have been every client's professed goals since the College for Financial Planning long ago told us how important goals are.

The College was right, in theory, but wrong in practice.  How important can goals be if every client has the same ones?  The College's process was oversimplified but it enabled product folks to appear more legitimate in their quest for commission dollars.  Today's professional advisor goes beyond questionnaires and perfunctory goals.  Heck, he actually talks to his client.

And that's what Rusoff does too, so maybe advisors should take a look at her process.  "I had specialized in writing for consumer electronics publications for many years until I did some stories in the 80s about how celebrities were using new electronic products, like big screen TVs and computers.  With those new contacts, I started doing profiles of comedians for a wide range of consumer publications and, from there, began specializing in entertainment profiles."

Of her five books, Rusoff co-authored three with the late, famous comedian and creator of the Tonight Show, Steve Allen.  Her hundreds of celebrity interviews have covered the field from Ray Charles, to Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens), to the now-infamous Mel Gibson.

Even I have had the honor of being interviewed by Rusoff for the "Profiles in Success" article that Research magazine ran on me in its November 2003 issue and, if I learned anything from that experience, I learned that interviewing is a skill.  In just 20 minutes, Rusoff had all the facts she needed and portrayed me convincingly in her article.  Heck, even I found me interesting!

Says Rusoff, "One Legacy Profiles client told me, 'My mother felt very comfortable talking to you and she doesn't usually open up to anyone.'  I have to have ways of getting people to reveal themselves.  It's all about building rapport.  They feel comfortable with me and trust me.  I'm empathic.  I listen listen listen.  Sometimes someone will say something that answers my question but then she adds information; if you listen, can get a whole other story."

From Rusoff's interviews, a reader could learn things about me -- or Charles, Reubens or Gibson -- that he never knew... things that explain the why of our actions yesterday and tomorrow.  Because what Rusoff has learned from a lifelong career of interviewing some of the world's most famous entertainers and celebrities is that we often don't know everything there is to know about a person until we invite them to tell us the stories of their lives.  Her Legacy Profile is a complete and accurate portrait, in the client's own words, of his childhood reminiscences, family life, romances, the challenges that led to his successes in life and, perhaps most important for the advisor's purposes, his values.

"Legacy Profiles grew out of celebrity interviews but they're not for celebrities.  The idea is to make someone in an ordinary family a star, treat them as I do celebrities in a celebrity interview.  Everyone has a story to tell, and their story is fascinating to someone... their friends, their family -- maybe their financial advisor.  It's interesting to these people to know what the person's life has been like.  But the story has to come from the person.  It's much more emotional and compelling to have that person's own words."

What does a Legacy Profile look like?  It's generally a leather-bound book or an album or a DVD.  If it's a book, it has the person's name in gold or silver and her photo on the cover.  Photos and other mementos of the person's life are interspersed with her life story, all in chronological order.  If the client wants a video, then Rusoff's interview with the client is captured, as well.

"My interview technique isn't just a series of questions," says Rusoff, "it's establishing a relationship.  For advisors who take the time to get to know their client, having the client go through my process is a good way to get more insight into what that client is about."

So here's what I'm thinking... advisors who believe what the client professes to be his goals is incomplete until the advisor knows the client's life history and values will find the Legacy Profile an indispensable tool to really understand each new client and begin the rapport-building process.  If I were an advisor striving to create with my client an enduring advisory relationship and, what's more, a client experience she couldn't get anywhere else, I'd consider Rusoff a partner who could help reveal a new client's history that I might otherwise never hear.

Having done that, I might be able to help my client express and then pursue those goals that really mean something.

David J. Drucker, MBA, CFP, an independent financial advisor since 1981, now writes, speaks, and consults with other advisors as President of Drucker Knowledge Systems.  Check out his new, indispensable practice management portal -- Practice Lifecycle -- at www.practicelifecycle.com and Virtual Office News -- the only monthly practice management/technology newsletter for financial advisors -- at www.virtualofficenews.com.

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