As real financial advisers, we're paid for our advice, right? That's why clients come to us and ask for help. They want to know what we think — with one exception.
Clients don't want us substituting our values for theirs. A classic example that came up a lot with my clients involved paying for college. Imagine a client tells you, "I worked my way through college. My kids can, too." You know this client has plenty of money, and you think, "Hey, quit being so stingy and help your kids."
That may be true, but it's also none of your business.
I understand why it's so tempting to "share" our values with clients. After all, maybe they just haven't thought about our perspective. Maybe they'd do something different if they understood ALL their options.
Look, as reasonable as it sounds, our job isn't to be judge and jury of clients' values and goals. Our job is to help them make decisions that align with those values so clients can reach their goals.
For instance, you might not understand why your client wants to take a sabbatical so he can travel around the country in an RV with his family for six months. This goal may seem radical or pointless to you. But as long as it doesn't undermine the other goals of this client, it's your job to help make it a reality.
And even if it calls into question some of the other goals, your purpose is to present the options, not pass judgment.
On paper, so to speak, this sounds so easy, and maybe for you it is easy to keep your values to yourself. But I know more than few dedicated advisers who ended up sharing an opinion that hurt the client relationship. They genuinely believed that a) clients wanted to hear about the advisers' values and b) clients were wrong.
My challenge to you is a simple one. How long can you go without bringing your values into a client conversation? Now, it might be kind of tricky because we sometimes tell ourselves we're just giving clients advice. But think carefully about what you're saying and why you're saying it. Are you trying to get a client to substitute your values for theirs?
If you're willing to share, I'd love to hear your stories. When was it hardest for you to keep your values to yourself?
Carl Richards is a certified financial planner and the author of the weekly "Sketch Guy" column at The New York Times. He published his second book, "The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money" (Portfolio), last year. You can email Carl here, and learn more about him and his work at BehaviorGap.com.