Defining Value Series Part 1: Listening

Posted on August 15, 2017

Author Name By Mike Welker, CFA

defining value

So much in our lives is defined largely by perception. Did you enjoy the latest summer blockbuster or find it boring? Did you find dinner satisfying or lacking? In these examples, one needs only to check his or her expectations and decide from there. Was the movie critically acclaimed? Was the restaurant highly rated on Yelp? This “hype” can often lead to disappointment unless the product or service lives up to expectation. Beyond movies or meals, however, defining value and assessing the expectations you have for your financial consultant/advisor is fundamental to ensuring they are delivering where it counts for you most.

The unfortunate truth is, plan sponsors and individual investors so often do not understand how to define success when working with their consultant/advisor. Do they know specifically what they should be looking for in their financial consulting service provider? Moreover, do they even know what success looks like? Without answering these questions, there is no yardstick to measure whether a financial services firm is meeting or surpassing YOUR expectations.

Tenets of Service

For a firm to truly add value, they must always strive to perform above and beyond what they have done in the past to meet your needs. Variables that affect your plan are constantly changing, and your consultant/advisor needs to be looking for new opportunities and solutions continuously. That being said, there is a method to the way financial services firms should approach defining value and setting expectations. Three key tenets of service allow firms to deliver value to clients: listening, understanding and exceeding expectations.

Let’s address the first tenet: listening.

Interviewer: Describe yourself in one word.
Interviewee: Great listener.

This joke is a classic. Unfortunately, its humor comes partly from how close it is to reality. For example, while service providers in all industries may say they understand what your needs are, they rarely start by listening. Without listening first, how can they truly understand your needs and objectives?

Though it may not seem like an “actionable” item, listening is anything but passive. Your consultant/advisor should actively listen to understand your exact, unique needs–from serving as a full-service extension of staff to solving potential issues, such as the correction of past bad investments, improvement of governance, generation of more investment ideas or added trustee education. Financial services run the gamut; your consultant/advisor needs to listen intently in order to gain a better understanding of your specific needs.

A consultant/advisor must listen first and understand what they learned before they can translate it back to you as actionable items and priorities that will provide the desired results. It is important to recognize that this isn’t possible without a supporting company culture behind it that empowers your consultant/advisor to go the extra mile and find outside-the-box solutions. More conflicted models not only limit the consultant/advisors options but handcuff them to a small list of preferred selections instead of finding what is right for the client.

Financial relationships are built on trust and take time to establish. Only by first listening can you increase the probability of achieving true value and getting the benefits you desire with your financial consultant/advisor partnership.