Female clients explain what they value in an adviser

Personal approach beats out performance because respect and clear communication are key

Oct 10, 2013 @ 11:47 am

By Liz Skinner

Financial planning clients want an adviser they trust, who listens closely to them and patiently explains things they have more questions about, two female clients answered in response to adviser inquiries at an industry conference.

These clients, who opened up to advisers at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors' national conference in Philadelphia, said they are content to pay fees as long as they understand what they are getting in return. The two women also said they don't care much about investment performance.

"What I heard is that it comes down to trust and the relationship. Clients work with people that they like," said Liz Moult, director of client service at Lifetime Wealth Planning and Management LLC, after the client panel Oct. 9. "It's not just about having book knowledge, but the ability to bond with people is what differentiates advisers."

Both of the clients, each of whom has had several advisers in the past two decades, said they want their adviser to explain investment and planning issues, and offer them options among which to decide. They also agreed that they could now work with their advisers remotely, but only because they already have established a relationship face to face and have dealt with most of the hard planning questions.

Jo Johnson, a freelance digital medial producer in New Jersey, said she probably wouldn't even know if her investments underperformed a major index in a given year. She said she sought an adviser who would be tuned in to her life and "isn't just trying to fund their Ferrari."

"I want a person who prompts me about things like my aging mother and what I may need to do for taking care of her," she said.

Ms. Johnson said she and her husband value the services they receive from their fee-only adviser, a NAPFA member who wasn't identified, and are willing to pay for that adviser.

"He doesn't ask nearly enough for what he does for us," she said.

The other client, a Tampa, Fla., emergency room doctor who asked not to be identified, said the fees "made me blink," but when she learned what she's getting, "it's not a problem."

She said when she was working with an adviser from a regional brokerage, he mostly pitched products and made her feel like the matters that concerned her "weren't really what was concerning them."

Her current adviser, a NAPFA member whom she didn't identify, asked her a lot of "almost intrusive" questions and took the time to learn about her life — not just the financial issues.

"I like that she will talk to me until I understand the issue," the doctor said.

Both clients said they refer friends to their adviser, but they would not want their adviser to ask them to do so. The women also said they each had worked with male and female advisers, and had no bias toward working with one over the other. Ms. Johnson now works with a man and the doctor with a woman.

"I don't think it's a gender thing," Ms. Johnson said. "The person we have now just fulfills our needs more."

The doctor client said she worked for a short time with a woman on the Barron's Top 100 Women Financial Advisors list, and that relationship was a bust.

"I was a very small fish in her pond," she said.

Dan Klein, a senior practice management consultant with TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., said the client panel at the conference illustrated clearly to him that "it's not the title or credentials that matter, it's the 'can you relate to me?' that attracts clients."

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