AT HIS PREVIOUS company, Will Platt, CFP, CFS, was told by his manager he should only call people who looked like him.
This did not sit well with the one-year MDRT member from New York, New York, for numerous reasons. Though he has blond hair and blue eyes, Platt is the product of an Italian father and a half-German, half-black mother. He also realized that, “If everyone else isn’t calling minorities and women, they’re not getting calls, and they’ll accept mine.”
He saw this as an opportunity, to say nothing of the issue of basic equality. “I’ll work with people who have just as much money and are certainly decision-makers, and will be much more receptive to me,” he said. “I got more appointments that way than calling people my manager claimed I could relate to better.”
In his practice now (launched in 2012 and focusing on investments and insurance for high-net-worth individuals and money management for universities), Platt prioritizes diversity, both in staff and clients. That includes diversity of thought, education, gender, race and professional background. The staff of 11 advisors and two support employees includes team members with experience in engineering and entertainment, as well as finance.
“When you approach a problem with three very different perspectives on how to solve it, that is inherently valuable,” Platt said. “Imagine if you multiply that by class, having someone from a wealthy or poor background. Compound that with race and you can go further — say, African American from the South or the West Coast or New York City.
“Diversity of opinion is valuable not as a goal to penetrate certain markets but as a strategic decision to relate to any client situations that we come across.”
In fact, Platt found there were many advisors who were being used as the token female advisor or token African American advisor in other organizations, brought in for clients representing the same demographic but not seen as valuable for other situations. Instead, he says, the diversity in his firm, including men and women of wide racial and professional backgrounds, can empathize with any reason a client is being unfairly treated.
That includes being the primary referral destination for a law firm that handles 70 cases per year from the Innocence Project, as people who have been released after wrongful convictions need financial guidance when receiving large settlements. Platt recalled one man who was convicted of rape and murder and spent 40 years in prison before DNA evidence set him free.
“It was really impressive to see someone who was so grounded when you think he would be so bitter,” Platt said. “It’s a situation where someone could easily be taken advantage of; it’s on us to make them feel comfortable and really help educate them.”
Platt’s team expands into other significant niches in interesting ways as well. They have a nationally syndicated radio show that generates 20 calls or emails each week from people looking to become new clients. The advisors also work with several professional basketball and football players as well as a few recording artists, thanks to organic connections made by staff. (Platt’s marketing director used to work for Roc Nation, owned by legendary rapper Jay Z.)
This high-profile clientele can lead to complications, however.
Platt, himself a college football player, recalls a defensive tackle for the New York Giants who seemed to want financial advisors mostly as part of his club-going entourage.
“He expected us to party with him all the time and became distant when we weren’t,” Platt said. “He seemed to be partying with other advisors as well. We realized that where we both wanted to go with the relationship were two different places.”
Of course, differing values can happen with any client. One very wealthy client questioned every single detail of everything Platt did, and it deprived the relationship of trust. Another wealthy client expected an unrealistic level of reporting, needing 20 times more information than other clients received. In both of these cases, Platt’s priorities were clear, and he ceased his relationship with the clients.
“The amount of stress is as important as the money coming in,” he said.
After all, money is coming in from many different places. Platt recently bought a property and casualty book of business, and significant business comes in from the Far East as a result of a managing director (who is Chinese American) spending each summer there meeting with clients who want to invest in the U.S.
Ultimately, it all comes down to Platt and his team deciding what’s best for their practice, and helping clients make the right decisions as well.
“We’re really trying as best we can to say, ‘Hey, we’re your older brother, but we also understand finance.’ And part of our job is saying don’t make dumb decisions,” he said. “We’re going to help you with investing and understanding how insurance and taxes work. Other than that, we just want you to make smart decisions in life.”