I was talking to one of the best-known and most respected attorneys in the family office space a few weeks ago. He told me that one of the biggest challenges he faced over the past several decades was learning to build relationships with his clients that allowed for regular dialogue and interaction. Too many people think lawyers exist simply to solve problems (most likely an image created and reinforced by Hollywood's portrayals of litigators), but being a private client attorney is different. To offer your clients the best counsel while staying abreast of their changing circumstances and a fluid regulatory environment requires continuous involvement. In many ways, it's much closer to the way physicians work with their patients: a relationship that unfolds over time as patients confront illnesses, hospitalizations, annual physicals, pregnancies, inoculations and deaths. When a doctor knows his or her patient, each new piece of information about that individual gets added to a data bank that becomes much richer and more informative, and ultimately makes it easier to provide appropriate diagnoses and recommendations.
The same should be true for private wealth managers. As practitioners that steward clients' financial and personal affairs, our output is only as good as the input. Without ongoing interactions, it's impossible to know when and why clients lives and businesses change and how those changes can be best planned for or accommodated. The ideal role for a private wealth manager (or a private client attorney, a private security consultant or most other high-end experts) is one that keeps the professional and the client in contact and helps both parties understand how they can work together most effectively. It's about providing counsel that enables clients to secure their hard and soft assets, plan for the future, make arrangements for their heirs and beneficiaries and structure their holdings in ways that accomplish their goals. For instance, dealing successfully with a taxable event is much easier if you know about it before the event occurs. Fewer surprises mean fewer decisions that get made without sufficient consideration.
Despite Americans' propensity toward obesity and other health hazards, they have a general desire for physical well being (they wouldn't leave a broken arm untreated, for instance). Unfortunately, the same is not true of similarly important issues that factor into financial well being. It's easy to let tax filings slide or wait a few more months to set up trusts or finalize a will. As the family office attorney so cleverly put it, "If people dealt with their doctors the way they deal with their lawyers, they'd be dead." While this attitude may require a different approach to service than you've taken in the past, it's one worth contemplating. The higher your level of engagement with clients, the better your knowledge of them will be and the more connected they will feel to you and your colleagues.