In my work with corporation executives, attorneys and CPA’s, a significant part of my practice has been helping Wealth Management professionals navigate the unpredictable world of client relationships by identifying and strategizing critical conversations. In that landscape, language and communication style are key: so is understanding the client’s motivations and concerns.
Finding the Right Words:
SCRIPTING™ Your Secret Weapon for Effective Family Wealth Management
Donna LeBlanc, M.ED, NYMHC
Whether you’re an attorney managing the Private Client practice of your law firm, the Director of client Services in the Wealth Management Department of a bank or investment firm, or a CPA working with division of assets, the issues are the same.
Retaining a long-term client often hinges on a single, high value conversation with the second, third, or even fourth generation, over the benefactor’s original intent versus the present client’s vision of entitlement, which may be inflated and out of touch with reality. Much is at stake for both of you so having powerful tools in hand at a moment like this is critical.
Benefactors are often self-made men and women who overcame many hardships growing up. As a result, one of the heart-felt rewards for the benefactor is being able to give their children the things they never had.
As one 25 year old stated at a family governance meeting, “How dare you expect me to provide for myself when you have done everything for me my entire life. If I had a school problem, you made it go away, when I didn’t get into cheerleading squad you made that happen. I didn’t pass entrance exams and got in anyway. Now you are mad at me because I expect to be taken care of?”
Everyone involved in these interpersonal dynamics is innocent. Parents never intend to create adult dependency or in any way handicap their kids. Those grown up kids are only fighting for a quality of life they have come to expect. Unwittingly, they can end up opposing each other and/or their family to get their needs met and inevitably, the Wealth Management professional is in the middle of it.
This context is made immeasurably more complex by the fact that, as Attorney Jerry Wolf, Fellow, and American College of Trust & Estates Counsel says,
“There is another issue that may impact trustee's’ ability to navigate these situations successfully; the beneficiary may have the contractual power to replace the trustee. This can leverage a trustee (other than a corporate or professional trustee) to do whatever it needs to do to keep the client.”
For example, the trust document may include a provision that allows a beneficiary to remove and replace the trustee. This authority could give the beneficiary certain leverage in getting the trustee to do things the trustee may otherwise not be willing to do in order to preserve and protect the relationship.”
He continued, “Assume the benefactor has provided guidelines to the trustee for how the trust income and principal is to be used to “incentivize” a beneficiary, but the beneficiary, says ‘I don’t care what grandpa provided - I want $5 Million for a house and if you don’t give it to me, I will fire you and get it from your successor.’ The Trustee could talk about the benefactor’s objectives, intentions, reasons, etc. - but if the client says ‘fine and good, but if you don’t exercise your discretion in my favor, you are gone.”
In my work I’ve seen tremendous strides made by visionary families and relationship managers to avoid these problems by educating themselves in high level conflict resolution, negotiation and listening skills. Because it is a relationship manager’s demeanor, empathy and above all, their timing and choice of language that is critical path for even the best-schooled benefactors and the professionals that help them. As one executive stated:
“I’ve worked with executive coaches in the past to help me navigate working with clients, however, I learned that being well-intentioned when talking with clients is not enough. What I have learned since is that it is all in the ‘scripting.’ Its through understanding our client’s hidden needs and underlying emotions that they aren’t even aware of that we can skillfully script a positive client conversation. Without these key insights and planning, an advisor can inadvertently sabotage themselves and may well walk away wondering ‘what did I do wrong I don’t understand.’”
Susan Hartley, Director of Fiduciary, BNY Mellon, N.A.
The bottom line is this - delivering short-term solutions to a client whose “wants” wildly exceed original intent is a trap. The client’s demands will only increase and at some point, management will be transferred to a competitor unafraid to take the current level of largess and promise still more.
Bringing clients gracefully into alignment with the benefactor’s original intent is therefore, not only, a worthy goal but also the most productive one for you, your firm and the clients you serve. Here’s how to do it.
Donna LeBlanc, M.ED, NYMHC is a conversation strategist and private counsel for advisors and their clients. She is a communication and conflict resolution specialist. For over twenty-five years she has coached advisors and family members to navigate high value conversations with powerful dialogue and pinpoint, character insight. Ms LeBlanc, a licensed psychotherapist, is also the best-selling author of two books. Her book, The Passion Principle provides a powerfully intuitive profiling system, which can be used as a relationship management tool. She is the founder of The Power of OneTM and The Family Network Method.TM She is a contributing writer in Trusts & Estates Magazine. Her most recent publication was co-authored on Avoiding Family Feuds. Donna has a global clientele and is located in New York City. She can be contacted at www.DonnaLeBlanc.com.