This weekend I was able to spend some quality time with old friends. Nothing really planned, it just kinda happened.
It made me think about my many years as a Financial Advisor, when oftentimes, after many years of dealing with a client, at what point did the relationship tip over the “client zone” into the “friendship zone”?
Now let’s face it, most client relationships can never fully tip over into the friendship zone in the same way as your relationship with your bud from high school can. Or even the relationship you may have developed with other moms in the neighbourhood, or parents from coaching softball.
But there comes a time when after many years of advising clients about their money that an intimacy develops between client and Advisor.
In my own experience, I found that the line between client and friend can appear to become blurred. The demarcation of that “line in the sand” between friend and advisor can seem to move, especially in times of distress that the client has. Its during those times that the Advisor is oftentimes the quarterback for finding a solution. Its at those times that I found my work as an Advisor most rewarding. When a client would ask “what do you think?”, and then actually take your advice.
It’s when clients don’t take our advice that it gets hard. I often found that, even if the advice I gave may not have been taken, I often wondered about the nature of the relationship. Just when I thought after all those years of building trust by creating a plan, ensuring it’s execution and perhaps even modifying it as circumstances merited, that I would have earned the right to be seen as a “friend”. As someone who really cared about my client and how things worked out for them.
It became especially tough when a client would leave. It may not have been so bad if it was a client that was not an “A” or “B” client. But if it was a client that was at the top of your list, it hurt.
I had that happen more than once in my career. When I changed firms in my sixth year in the business, I really found out who my “friends” were. Most of my clients did move firms with me, but I will never forget the valuable lesson I learned about being perceived as a “Trusted Expert Advisor” versus a “friend”. Friends are for weekends. Clients are for business. It’s that simple. The secret is in helping them to perceive you as an advisor who cares for them as a friend. That’s what a “Trusted Expert Advisor” understands and is able to function as for their clients.
The big difference between a “friend” and a “Trusted Expert Advisor” relationship is that the latter will tell you things you may not necessarily want to hear. A friend will probably cherish the friendship too much to want to tell you something that you don’t want to hear. “Trusted Expert Advisors” operate from that place of integrity that allows them to use their leadership position in the relationship to spell out the facts and the hidden dangers of any client situation.
Your BFF is not always prepared to lay the relationship on the line to do the same. The advantage the “Trusted Expert Advisor” has is that they operate from a position of authority vested in them by the client. Even though the relationship has a friendliness to it, clients are never really your “friends”.
They are clients first. They need you to understand that. Unfortunately, a lot of Advisors don’t. That’s what separates “Trusted Expert Advisors” from the herd. They know their role and the leadership they need to provide, no matter what the circumstance.