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Embrace change with a positive attitude

Gregory Smith

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Smith shares important lessons gleaned from Fiduciary Fred.
I had just told a client about difficulties I’d been experiencing in my personal life. I was vulnerable and looking for comfort — maybe even pity — while I unloaded all my trauma as if I were speaking to a therapist. The client, whom I’ll call Fiduciary Fred, responded with a grin and a happy clap of anticipation. “I am so happy for you!” he exclaimed.

Huh? I was shocked, wondering if Fred was listening. My first thought was, “Have you heard anything that I have been telling you? I just laid out what I thought was the worst time in my life, and you’re happy for me?” I asked what he meant.

“You are about to undergo such personal growth and change and insight; I can’t wait for you to come back and tell me how this all ends for you,” Fred exclaimed. “It’s all so exciting!”

The power of perspective
Though confused at first, I recognized that Fred, a Holocaust survivor whose parents and family members had been killed in Nazi concentration camps, had experienced so much more tragedy than I had. Both Jews born in Poland, Fred and his wife had gone through a painful and years-long process of relocating across multiple countries and continents, and he’d supported his family in a new place through work ethic and entrepreneurship.

There was no comparing Fred’s experience with mine, but I realized that Fred knew it wasn’t his place to provide answers and that I would have the strength to gain perspective.

Anytime I met with him, it always involved a meal of some sort. He required we first break bread, then conduct business. The meal, of course, was designed around conversation. It was a ritual for him. Most times, the meal ritual lasted 40 to 50 minutes. On occasion, it would last even longer. My actual financial business portion of the meeting would be five or 10 minutes at most.

Fred never allowed me to move on until we first spent time finding out more about each other. He made sure we updated each other on what had transpired in our lives since the last time we met. He did not want to fill out a checklist.

Fred knew that the more he got to know me, and the more I got to know him, that acting in his best interest would never be in question.

Why clients want you there
I came to realize through this client that the business wasn’t the reason I was there. I was there because they had entrusted me as a family confidant, and so, in some way, I became a part of their family. That included being a part of non-financial issues as well. Whenever it came time for financial business decisions, the answer was always: “Do whatever you think is best.”

I always knew that I was in a fiduciary relationship with Fred. What I had never realized, though, was that Fred was taking fiduciary care of me. He didn’t recommend what was in his best interest. He didn’t insist that I do things his way, or any way, for that matter. He didn’t try to sell me anything. What he did was instill in me the courage and strength to grow out of my darkest periods and to embrace that growth and change with a newfound excitement.

This is at the heart of what most fiduciary relationships are based upon. That interest becomes very real and very deepened when the time is invested to truly understand your client and develop a mutually deep relationship.

Fred’s legacy
Fred died several years ago after a bout with prostate cancer. I had visited with him on a regular basis. He didn’t dwell on his pains, although I am quite certain that there was a considerable amount of that during his final days here. Fred did not leave a lot of money. He was a modest man of modest means. Fred did leave a significant legacy though.

As many of us experience regulatory change, this is an opportunity to choose to see the world like Fred. I am so very, very happy for advisors going through this. They are about to undergo such personal growth, change and insight. It’s so exciting!

5 lessons from Fred about client connection
Smith shares several simple but effective insights gleaned from his interactions with a memorable client.
  1. Break bread with a stranger and he will no longer be a stranger.
  2. Take the time to know and grow your client relationships.
  3. The more you know about a client, the more you will be able to do what is best for them.
  4. Always do what is best for your clients, and do it for the right reasons.
  5. There is never a right reason to do something wrong. There is never a wrong reason to do something right.

Gregory Smith is a three-year MDRT member from Louisville, Kentucky.

Gregory Smith


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