It can be quite a task to evaluate the expertise and experience of a wealth manager before you work with him or her. Even then, it may be tough to discern whether you’re getting the advice and solutions you truly need in order to maximize and protect your personal wealth in accordance with your goals and objectives.
This challenge can be amplified when you don’t know whether there are issues with your existing plan or whether you are missing opportunities to do even better. For example, say your estate plan proves to be inadequate after your passing. You won’t know there were problems, of course—but your loved ones surely will know and be impacted. Likewise, your asset protection plan can be determined to work well only if you are in the unfortunate position of being taken to court. And if you find out then that it doesn’t work as expected, it’s too late to do anything about it.
To achieve your most important financial goals and objectives, one of the most important decisions you can make—often the single most important decision—is selecting and working with the right primary wealth manager.
Three key criteria
To choose and work with a truly high-caliber wealth manager, assess all potential candidates in three key areas (see Exhibit 1):
Integrity must be at the very top of the list when sizing up wealth managers. To protect or enhance the wealth you have created, a wealth manager must be scrupulously honest.
A high-caliber wealth manager never employs services and products that are illegal or even the least bit unethical. For example, evading taxes by using an offshore structure is reprehensible. Insider trading or fraudulent conveyances are nonstarters. Any tax strategy, for instance, must be a bright-line transaction. This means the strategy is designated well within the parameters set in the tax code.
To size up a candidate’s integrity, consider a number of factors such as these:
- Has the wealth manager run afoul of regulators? If so, what is the issue?
- Has the wealth manager been sued by clients? If so, why?
- Can he or she provide powerful references from other professionals and some clients?
Important: Finding out that a wealth manager has been sued is not an automatic reason to exclude him or her from consideration—not in today’s litigious culture. For example, clients have been known to sue their financial advisors when the clients themselves caused their own economic hardships. But it does mean a more detailed examination of the facts is required.
These two questions can be particularly helpful in assessing a wealth manager’s integrity:
- Under what conditions would you fire a client? If a prospect or client absolutely insists on taking actions that are legally questionable or outright illegal, the wealth manager should fire that client without reservation. It is important to understand a wealth manager’s thought process when it comes to how he or she would address this matter.
- What will you not do? The objective of this question is for you to determine where the wealth manager sets his or her limits. Those limits should be clearly on the right side of the legal and moral divide. Some people believe that the people they hire will do most anything “for the right price.” You need to make sure that there is no price your wealth manager thinks would justify jeopardizing your financial future.
It is crucial that every solution you use to help you become and remain seriously wealthy is ethically sound and legitimate. This is only possible if your wealth manager is completely honorable and honest—morally and legally solid.
You clearly want to work with an exceptionally competent wealth manager. Everyone wants to work with the best, right?
Competence can be segmented into two areas:
- Technical competence in key areas such as investment management and wealth planning
- The ability to build strong relationships with others
To achieve optimal results, a wealth manager must be adept in both types of proficiencies.
To evaluate the wealth manager’s level of technical competence, consider the person’s:
- Educational background
- Professional licenses and designations
- Association with industry organizations
- Publications and speaking engagements
- Recognition from peers in the financial and legal communities
Referrals from other professionals you are already working with (and trust deeply) are another way to assess a wealth manager’s level of competence. Many times, these other professionals (because of their fields of expertise) can effectively evaluate the expertise of
the financial advisor.
Also keep in mind that a wealth manager cannot be a one-person band if he or she is going to be effective for clients. In working with successful families and individuals, there will be numerous times when specialists need to be called in. Therefore, it can be useful for you to
- Who these specialists are
- Why the wealth manager chose them, specifically
- Their areas of expertise
- Their credentials and backgrounds
- How everyone works together—the process they use to collaborate and get results
- How everyone is compensated
By having even a rudimentary understanding of the depth and breadth of a wealth manager’s team, you will be better able to gauge his or her technical capabilities.
Another important technical competence distinction between high-caliber wealth managers and the rest of the pack is that they think holistically, rather than in terms of specific products and services. Their approach is focused on clients’ financial situations and agendas. High-quality wealth managers make a point to understand their clients on a very deep level. Only then do they seek the ways to help you reach your goals by providing the appropriate solutions. The idea here is that wealth managers can’t decide what solutions would be best
for you until they really know you.
Building powerful relationships
The ability to connect and communicate effectively with people is essential for a wealth manager in order to be able to help clients become and remain seriously wealthy. Think about it: All the expertise in the world is pretty much useless unless it can be applied. Without
a solid rapport between you and a wealth manager, the results are likely to be far less than ideal.
The wealth manager you work with must clearly understand your self-interests. Achieving your desired outcomes is all about matching up wealth management solutions with your agenda. Failing to develop a deep understanding of what matters most to you, what matters
least and everything in between can unfortunately result in not getting the best wealth management solutions.
Being able to effectively explain wealth management recommendations and the alternatives is tied directly to the insights your wealth manager gained regarding what is important to you. He or she needs to explain solutions in a way that makes sense to you based on your
level of technical sophistication and interest. This is why technical proficiency isn’t enough. Some wealth managers might be technically brilliant, but if they can’t build and enhance their level of rapport with their clients, the results are rarely exceptional.
Along with being scrupulously honest and exceptionally competent, a suitable wealth manager must be experienced in working with people like you—other clients with whom you share common traits. For your wealth manager to be able to effectively help you manage and
protect your wealth, he or she must understand the goals, objectives, interests, concerns and other key characteristics of accomplished individuals and families with those same goals, interests, concerns and the like. Insist that your wealth manager possess a track
record of achievements in working with people like you.
Take the example of successful entrepreneurs. Business owners have many unique issues. Their working environment and financial affairs are entirely different from those of other accomplished individuals (such as corporate executives or celebrities). While wealth management is applicable to many types of successful and wealthy individuals and families, the particular world that entrepreneurs live in makes it essential that they work with professionals who are attuned to their specific issues, concerns, problems and opportunities.
Some questions to ask a wealth manager that can prove useful when evaluating experience include:
- Why do you like working with [fill in your source of wealth]?
- What percentage of your clientele are people like me?
- What services or products do you tend to provide them?
- How do you tend to work with them and their other advisors?
Experience means not only spending years working with clients like you but also being knowledgeable about and able to adeptly deliver state-of-the-art wealth management services and products to that group. Knowing the experiences of a wealth manager working with individuals and families in a similar situation proves very insightful. It gives you perspective and helps you understand how the relationship is likely to develop in the coming years and decades.