Sex and money are probably the two most difficult discussion topics for most people-whether they are just getting to know each other or they've had a relationship for some time. Both are personal subjects that, even in the best of times, elicit behavior ranging from extreme discretion to outrageous exaggeration. In reality, despite the humor many people can bring to these important subjects, the chances for dissatisfaction are high when honesty and communication are lacking.

So when a professional relationship is based on the oversight and care of someone's assets, the sensitive and emotional nature of the service must be acknowledged and managed through a variety of market cycles and conditions. When investments aren't performing as the client expected or was led to believe they would, regardless of the root cause, the possibilities for disenchantment are numerous.

Earlier this year, the senior editors of Private Wealth, Hannah Shaw Grove and Russ Alan Prince, reported that clients are likely to blame their advisors when financial markets are unsteady and their portfolios suffer. In March, a whopping 71% of affluent clients they surveyed cited plans to move money away from their primary advisors. In a related study conducted in July, 68% expressed similar plans (see the sidebar for more information on the Grove and Prince studies).

Walk First, Talk Later
You might think that when an investor is dissatisfied or concerned with you or your service they would speak up immediately. Actually, they don't. Investors are like customers of any other service-though some get furious, the overwhelming majority will simply not complain when things aren't right in their estimation.

And like other customers, investors who actually follow through on their threats and leave their advisors will rarely give honest feedback about why they are no longer willing to be clients. Many, if not most, will simply leave. They'll give weak excuses about why they are taking their money someplace else. They'll lie, claiming different priorities, a relocation or a change in their personal status rather than having an awkward confrontation with their advisors that sheds light on the real issue.

This doesn't mean they won't talk. In fact, they'll remember everything bad about the relationship with their advisor and tell all their friends and family to not use this firm. And many will, in fact, exaggerate. They might say, "He never returns telephone calls," which is undoubtedly not true.

The Two Sides Of Misperception
Who's to blame for this sad state of affairs? The answer is complex, and certainly the way much of the financial services industry operates contributes to the reason customers simply leave rather than giving businesses a chance to keep them.

For someone to trust you enough to take care of their money, you need to convince them that their money is safe with you. And that means convincing them that, even if the economy is tanking, their money will be safe in your hands-that, in fact, it will grow. After all, we know that money can be made in both an up or a down market-or at least this is what TV, radio and magazines would have you believe. In reality, however, a lot of investors lose money in a difficult economy. But it looks like the advisors and their companies continue to make their commissions and fees.
And that feels inherently unfair to the investor.

Sometimes the problem is compounded because the person who starts the relationship isn't the person who eventually handles the investment. And customers nurse a feeling of resentment that lots of attention is paid to them in the beginning of the courtship, and then their advisors don't return their calls in a timely manner once their money has been transferred. At least, it often feels that way to the customer.

There's an equally complex point of view from the advisor's side. No one likes to take responsibility for something going wrong. Advisors want to feel like heroes, and a hero doesn't make someone poorer or impede their long-term financial plans. So, understandably, advisors are emotionally torn. They don't really want to talk with their clients when news is bad. The clients are generally fraught with anxiety when they know, say, their once-substantial nest egg is shrinking or their estate plans have been derailed, so they aren't real fun to talk to under these circumstances either. So advisors probably like it when their clients don't call to complain. It's simply easier for everyone.

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