It’s certainly true that we cannot take on as clients every person we like who lacks assets, as we would inevitably go out of business. But with asset minimums and net worth thresholds, we could just as easily miss wonderful opportunities for serving some remarkable “whos.” There’s got to be some moral latitude and balance in how we determine who we can and will not serve.

A financial planner in Pennsylvania told me the story of a man who came to him deeply in debt and with negligible assets; in fact, he was upside down in net worth. He told the planner he needed help to plan his way out of his situation. The planner told me that he had always left room in his month for pro bono or lower-priced planning work—especially where he sensed the client’s aspirations. He agreed to develop a plan for this fellow, and the man stuck to the plan. The man was a software engineer working with a tech start-up. Five years later, the man’s company was sold and he was rewarded with a $75 million dollar payday. I’m sure you can guess whom he entrusted assets with. The advisor told me, “I had no idea anything like that would happen, I just wanted to see him turn his situation around.”

Keep the “who” straight, and the “what” will come. Conversely, if you give the “what” precedence, be careful of “who” you might become. In an industry that places great meaning on the “what,” and pressures you to do so as well, it might be best to follow the maxim of Horton the Elephant: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Mitch Anthony is the creator of Life-Centered Planning, the author of 12 books for advisors, and the co-founder of and

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