What can a 19th-century Russian literary giant teach 21st-century financial managers? Plenty, it turns out.
The author of such perennial college classics as War and Peace and Anna Karenina also had some perfect advice for our profession. Count Leon Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Those words ring true in our field. Because Tolstoy understood that before someone can change anyone or anything else, they must first change themselves.
For us, it means changing the way we approach dealing with our clients. What worked in 2001 doesn’t necessarily work in 2021. As a famous car commercial a few years back reminded us, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Nor is today’s market environment your father’s financial management.
Until now, we have hinged our value to our clients based strictly on our investment management expertise. And that remains true. We must always master the nuts and bolts of the financial system in order to continue providing the best service we can to those whose finances we handle. That is our bread and butter; it is the reason we exist in the professional world.
But for too long, we stopped there. We believed that if we did a good job managing the dollars and cents, that was good enough. But that’s just not true anymore.
Our clients—and what they now want in a financial manager—have changed. So, what is it about us that needs to change as well?
The answer is straightforward: We must give value to the services we provide. And we must take the additional step of making sure our clients are aware of the value they are getting from us. This involves:
Understanding Why We Do What We Do, and What Our Unique Value Proposition Is – This sounds incredibly simple, but it’s not. We’re not in business just to successfully manage our clients’ funds. We do what we do to help them achieve their financial objectives. The goal varies from client to client. For some, it’s retirement. For others, it’s paying for their children’s college education. Still, others dream about buying a vacation home or starting their own business. We do what we do to help them make their dreams come true.
For the relationship to succeed, the client must understand the value of the services they are receiving from us. And that involves how value is perceived, experienced, and delivered. This leads me to the next point.
Realize This Depends on Our Technology and How We Work with Other Services – To both produce and deliver the value that our clients (rightfully) expect from us, we must fully utilize technology. Admittedly, that can be intimidating. We got into this business because we enjoy finance, not because we love computer gadgets. Yet, the technological revolution has not only arrived in full force; it has put down roots and is here to stay. Which requires change on our part.
Is the latest technology available to your team? Are they using it? Do they even know how to use it? Not every team member is at the same place on the technology learning curve; do you work with everyone to make sure they’re fully able to use the new tools of our trade? And do you provide continuing education classes to make sure your team’s skillsets are up to date? Doing so will go a long way in delivering our unique value proposition.
Communicate This Directly to the Client – Finally, it’s not enough to do all these things. We must also take the additional step of communicating them one-on-one to each client. That way they will have a better grasp of all we do on their behalf, which will lead to both a richer understanding of the services we provide and a greater appreciation of them. Which, in turn, makes it easier for the client to accept the existing fee schedules.
Count Tolstoy probably never imagined that the advice he penned in the late 1800s would be directly relevant in the 2020s. But it is. Before you change the world, try changing yourself first. You and, more importantly, your clients, will be glad you did.