In this short series (see the Introduction), I lay out the four key categories of work that we do on behalf of our investment management clients — four kinds of activities that are difficult for folks without our training and experience to do for themselves. I hope that this series will help explain what we do for our clients, why we do those things, and how we think that these things help explain the fees we charge. As always, if you have questions about these posts, let us know!
After we’ve met with someone a couple of times, and agreed that we’d like to work together, we have to begin gathering detailed information about them — not just things like birthdates and Social Security numbers, but whether their income meets their current expenses with enough margin for savings, what their long-term financial goals are, whether they can stomach the amount of risk necessary to achieve those goals, and so on. We can gather most of this information on our Financial Values Worksheet.
Sometimes these financial discovery questions help clients to look far more closely at their actual financial situation than they’ve been comfortable doing before. Too many of us manage to muddle through the years without thinking much about our money beyond wondering whether we’ll spend all of our paycheck before the next one arrives (more than half of us are living paycheck to paycheck). Those who have come to us for help, though, have already demonstrated a desire to dig in and think a bit more closely about their relationship to money — and to planning for the longer term.
The first part of our client interaction is spent working on those basic financial questions. But once we get the key questions answered, we turn out attention to the ethical questions that we’re known for: we want to help each of our clients to make sure that their investments align with their values, so we walk through our Social Policy Worksheet with our clients, too. Not many investment advisors ask questions of that type, or know what to do with the information if it’s volunteered. But we’ve been working with clients on these issues for long enough now that we know how to draw out the details of a client’s social and ethical commitments, and usually have a pretty clear idea how to embody those in a portfolio.
So we have two parts to our discovery process with our clients: a traditional discussion of their financial situation and risk tolerance, and a close questioning of their ethical framework. In order to serve our clients, in other words, we have to learn a lot about them — more than most advisors, and more than most people can sort out on their own without our help.
Next week: DUE DILIGENCE