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ROI: Return On Insight

Three Ways “Being Known” Benefits Our Clients

By Bill Thonn
Learn more about Bill Thonn by visiting his bio page.

Last year we conducted a survey with several of our clients to understand how we are delivering value to them and what it feels like to be our client. We heard one overwhelmingly consistent theme – “you know me so well.”

Being known matters to our clients and it matters to us. But here’s something you may not know. The time we put into getting to know you, and the time and effort you put into talking with us, really helps us help you. This is something we call ROI: Return On Insight. Here are three ways that being known delivers real ROI to our clients.

The Art Of Listening

The first time we meet with a prospective new client, we do something that might be considered a cliché – we listen. Yes. I know. Everyone in the financial services industry claims that they listen. But the first time you sit down with us, we apply something we call the 90-10 rule.

We spend 90% of our time talking about you and listening to your goals, dreams, frustrations and hopes. Most Whitnell people will spend no more than 10% of their time talking about us in that first meeting. Usually we only do so to give prospective new clients a flavor of who we are and how we do things.

This allows us to actively listen, not just listen. What’s the difference? A person who actively listens takes notes, asks clarifying questions and eventually comes back with a report that says “this is what I heard you say – did I get this right?”

If you’ve ever spent time actively listening, really absorbing yourself in someone else’s comments and situation, then you know that it takes more energy to do this than it does to talk. Most highly trained professionals are inclined to talk about what they do and why they are the expert. But active listeners do their best to see the world from the other side of the desk – your side of the desk.

How This Benefits Clients

Active listening is far more than an effective sales and marketing strategy. It is the foundation of excellent service. Over the years, I’ve discovered that getting to know our clients really well delivers three major benefits:

  • It allows us to learn what works best for our clients and share this when the time is right.
  • It allows us to proactively recommend solutions based on your unique situation and family dynamics.
  • It allows us to be a powerful resource to our clients in their hour of need.

Understand Affluent Families

There is often a perception that affluent families do not have problems or worries. We all know that this is not true. However, only an experienced financial advisor who has worked with a number of affluent families over the years understands the kinds of problems that wealthy families face.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of serving an affluent family whose child was about to graduate from college. Their son had made many friends in school and was quite popular. Their family had supported him through his college years and his friends had discovered that he always had money. As the son was graduating and moving out into the world of work, his friendships were about to change.

The father was very concerned that his son would soon realize something he had dealt with years before. This was a rather painful experience for the father, and he feared it would be for his son also. He wondered if his friends liked him for who he was or liked him for his wealth?

The father told me a story about his childhood that made his experience very real for anyone who knows small mid-western communities. The town name, the family business’ name and his last name were all the same. One name dominated that community. His family name. There was never any doubt about who he was. He never had the option to be anonymous.

This also meant he never had the option to figure out who he was, all on his own. The father was never quite certain whether his friends liked him for who he was or liked him because of his family’s wealth and prestige in the community.

Because of this conversation we did have a deeper understanding of this client’s values and life experiences. This helped us many times down the road when we looked at both his personal and financial goals. It also allowed us to put the right plan in place for his son.

Understanding Family Dynamics

There is a financial vehicle in the estate planning world that some families find very useful when passing on wealth to children with different skills and aspirations. Instead of complete wealth transfer to heirs, an incentive trust can be structured to provide funds as children achieve certain milestones. We have helped structure these for our clients. To do this, we need to know the family dynamics and children’s personalities very well. Why?

  • Some children are ready to go out into the world and start a business.
  • Some children are ready to be charitable and work for the betterment of humanity.
  • Some children may be a bit on the lazy side and need a nudge.

Incentive trusts are an excellent vehicle to ensure that each child receives the support they need, at the time and level they need, while still holding them accountable to perform and realize their full potential.

It is often a financial advisor who brings a resource like this to the table and recommends it. For this strategy to be effective, however, the financial advisor needs to understand the family personalities, dynamics, wealth picture and wealth-creator’s goals for their loved ones. This is how our intimate knowledge of our clients’ situations empowers us to help them achieve the goals that really matter to them about their wealth.

A Time Of Trial

In the summer of 2008, Lehman Brothers failed and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was upon us. It happened over a weekend. I called everyone in our firm on Sunday and said we need to meet first thing Monday morning. We knew many of our clients would be deeply concerned and some may even want to extract themselves from the market. But we also wanted to remind everyone that they hired us to be there, in their corner, when something bad happens.

Something bad did happen and we took the responsibility to call every client that day – even though we didn’t have any specific answers yet. We reminded each client of why we were there and how the strategies we had put in place were designed to address these types of situations. We wanted our clients to know that we were there for them in a difficult time. We wanted them to know that they were not alone and that our commitment to them was just as strong as ever.

The time we took to get to know them and their families paid off on that day. Our clients responded in an overwhelmingly positive way to our outreach. Even though we did not know how the situation would unfold, the plans that we had built, based on deep knowledge of their personal situation, prepared us for the level of uncertainty we were facing.

More important than the plans, however, is how our clients felt during this time of financial crisis. We believe it is our responsibility to help our clients face whatever life throws at them and stand with them in difficult times. Because we know our clients so well and understand what their wealth means to them, we knew we needed to support them so they didn’t make a poor decision that would have long-term financial consequences.

As a result of this outreach, not a single client made a radical change to their financial plan. And they all benefited in the recovery that followed. Had we not stood with them in their moment of need, I shudder to think of what could have happened to them financially.


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BILL THONN - view full bio

Bill Thonn

“I’m proud of my colleagues’ ability to create fresh ideas and innovative approaches for our clients. My team includes some of the brightest minds in the financial services industry. We are committed to providing the best possible solutions for a wide range of challenges and opportunities facing affluent families.”