Treading a fine line with clients when politics comes up

Advisers try to stay neutral and focus on portfolios, but it's not always possible in highly charged times

Nov 30, 2019 @ 6:00 am

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Financial advisers may try to avoid talking politics with clients, but clients rarely miss a chance to engage advisers about how the election might affect their portfolios. That starts a delicate conversation.

[More:Billionaires could see tax rates as high as 97.5% under Sanders]

"My clients tend to be very political," said Kyle Jackson, senior wealth manager at Jackson Wealth Advisors in Ada, Okla. "We have political discussions in many of our meetings."

Like many advisers, Mr. Jackson steers clear of advocating for one candidate or party.

"When I talk to clients, I'm very matter of fact," he said. "I see good and bad on both sides, at times."

Justin Brownlee, owner of Brownlee Wealth Management in Woodlands, Texas, said clients often ask him about the election. He doesn't take political sides but rather focuses on how particular policies could affect a client's finances.

[More:Elizabeth Warren health care plan sparks outcry over 401(k) tax hike]

"I don't row the boat in either direction," Mr. Brownlee said. "If it affects your financial plan, here's what we're going to do about it."

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Adam Van Wie, chief operating officer of Van Wie Financial in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., tries to soothe clients regarding political turbulence.

"I try to be as middle-of-the-road as possible," he said. "I try to remind my clients that the market has gone up under presidents on both sides of the aisle. Business will find a way to make money no matter who sits in the White House."

Leon LaBrecque, chief growth officer at Sequoia Financial Group in Troy, Mich., calls himself a moderate. But even that political label has landed him in hot water.

[More:Pete Buttigieg proposes a 'public' 401(k) program]

"I've occasionally offended conservative clients by being too moderate, and, occasionally, have offended liberal clients by being too moderate," he said. "I try to stay neutral. You can't just say I don't want to talk about it. You're not being genuine. Politics does have an effect on your wealth."

It's almost inevitable that some political conversations will go wrong.

"As careful as I am, I still can tend to catch clients at tender moments," said Michael Farr, chief executive of Farr Miller & Washington in Washington, D.C. "And when I do, I apologize immediately and profusely."

Some advisers who are outspoken in their political and policy views say their clients take it in stride.

[More: Trump could cost future retirees billions]

"They know I'm genuine about what I feel and believe," said Carolyn McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla. "For me, it's not ideological. It's a problem-solving approach."

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