Whenever I meet a successful private client advisor I am drawn to ask this question. I am consistently surprised by the variety of responses I have had over the years, some of which were completely contradictory! I have worked in the Jersey finance industry for ten years now, first in trust administration and now as a private client lawyer. I have my own list of qualities that I think make an outstanding advisor. My list is drawn from the feedback I've received from my own clients and from being lucky enough to have worked with, and observed, some truly outstanding wealth professionals.
Here are my top five rules:
- Be available
Being a trusted advisor comes with responsibilities, one of which is being available. Yes, we know that in some cases, perhaps all too often, this can impact on life outside the office. Many of us have had telephone calls late in the evening. It is flattering to know that your opinion is respected but "being available" doesn't have to mean being on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or responding to your emails within ten minutes of receipt.
To me, being available means effectively communicating your availability in a way that manages your clients' expectations and needs. If the situation calls for immediate action then, yes, I am sorry, you are going to have to shake yourself awake when the phone rings at 1 am but how often does that happen, really?
In the same way your client respects your advice, your client will also respect that you have a life outside of the client relationship. You may live in a different time zone and you will undoubtedly have other clients to contend with. If you can't respond immediately, give an indication of when you will be able to respond. If your client calls late at night and the matter is not urgent, arrange to follow-up in the morning at a time convenient for both of you.
Make it a goal to always return missed telephone calls the same day. If you really cannot call back, send a text or email to let your client know why and, if possible, give an indication of when you will be available. When you do call, give your client your undivided attention. This will help prevent them from feeling disappointed, frustrated or resentful.
In situations where you know you are not going to be available for a long period (when you are tracking up Kilimanjaro for example let your regular clients know who they can contact in your absence.
- Always be polite
It seems a bit obvious doesn't it? For me, being polite involves addressing the client correctly, being courteous and open in the way you communicate.
I have clients who have asked me to address them by their first name and those that I would never think to speak to with such informality. I try to let the client set the social boundaries.
There are clients that think lawyers are "stuffy people" and would prefer to chat through the issues by telephone rather than receiving a ream of paper. Equally, there are clients who prefer the pen-topaper approach. As a good advisor, you need to adapt your behaviour to your client's preferences.
- Do not patronise
Whatever you do, don't patronise the client. They will not always have all the information available to them to understand your point of view. Equally they may be focused purely on something you have discounted as inconsequential or irrelevant. In order to give good advice, you must first understand their position and aims. The way in which you give advice will depend on the person you are advising.
For me, the art of being a good advisor is wrapped up in being a good people person, reading situations with emotional intelligence and moderating your behaviour to achieve collective goals. It's not a popularity contest but you do need to rely on your interpersonal skills as negotiator, diplomat and peacekeeper.
- Be patient
Patience is not just a virtue; it's a necessity. The antithesis of patience is frustration. So, as an advisor you need to find ways to keep calm and, if you can, keep your client calm. Avoid arrogance and insensitivity.
Difficult people can be infuriating and exhausting. When you start getting wound up, take a breath and change tack. If you are too busy being irritated you may fail to hear vital information that can help you make your point or you will simply fail to get your message across at all.
If your client is becoming irritated, ask yourself why. Are you really hearing what they are telling you? Do you really understand the issues? Show that you understand their point of view and find another way to put your views across.
- Never compromise your professional integrity
I think this is probably the best advice I ever received when I was training to be a lawyer and it's a lesson that really resonates with me as a wealth professional. We all have special clients, who look to us not only as advisor but also as a friend (therapist and relationship counsellor). I have often found that the richest people financially can be the loneliest. It is, therefore, not surprising that what starts out as a trusted advisory relationship can morph into a pseudofriendship. However, the fact remains that you are being paid to do a job. Your clients are not truly your friends and it is important to maintain a degree of professional distance.
I am not suggesting that you should decline to attend the weddings or any other social occasion you are invited too. I'm simply saying that you should never loose sight of your role. You are first and foremost an advisor.
Why do professionals find themselves compromising their professional integrity? I have read the decisions of the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal and all too often it's due to an inability to say "no" (perhaps due to confusing client with friend) or a desire to give a client the "answer they want" rather than delivering a hard truth (for fear of loosing a good client or ones job). How often do we see the phrase "we have a can do attitude"? Loose statements like that always come back to haunt you. Other times it's simply greed, pride, internal or external pressures. Too often professional advisors seem to loose perspective.
A good advisor must weigh up their duty to the client, their organisation, the professional bodies to which they may belong and themself. Often these duties can conflict and it can be difficult to see the "right choice". Maintaining professional integrity will always be a reflective process - both subjective and objective - measured in the light of context, knowledge, experience and information.
Honesty, to yourself and others, is the foundation of good advice.
I hope that if you walk away with any message from this article it's this: To be a private client advisor you will obviously need technical skill, knowledge and experience, that's a given. But to be a good private client advisor I believe you need to take the time to truly understand and know your client, put effort into maintaining that relationship and never compromise your professional integrity.
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