Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Death of Equities...or Not

Some of you grizzled veterans may remember this cover of BusinessWeek from August 13, 1979, that pronounced "The Death of Equities". I do. I was just entering the securities business...and openly questioning my career timing, or lack thereof. Little did I know that it was one of the best contrary indicators that I could hope for.

Therefore, I had a real sense of deja vu, when I saw this article from last week's Wall Street Journal, "Investors Lose Faith in Equities".

Jeremy Siegel, author and Wharton professor, has a good historical perspective on all of this in this recent interview. His quick take: no "new normal" of permanent low-growth, no double-dip recession, and no European Armageddon.

I wanted to share this with all of you. I trust it helps.

All the best!

by Chris Holman

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“Secure your own mask first before helping others.”

How many times have you heard the following?

“If cabin pressure should change, panels above your seat will open revealing oxygen masks; reach up and pull a mask towards you. Place it over your nose and mouth, and secure with the elastic band, that can be adjusted to ensure a snug fit. The plastic bag will not fully inflate, although oxygen is flowing. Secure your own mask first before helping others.”

This pre-flight safety demonstration, as dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), is a speech that many of us have heard frequently. However, to me the most intriguing sentence of this demo is the last one, “Secure your own mask first before helping others.”

What are they saying? “Be selfish”? “Every person for themselves”? “Don’t help others”? In fact, this phrase offers practical advice quite to the contrary. They are saying:

"In the chance of an unforeseen adverse event, it is most important that we are in the best possible shape ourselves…in order that we may help others."

Confronting the Bear Inside of Us
Here we go again! With the markets flirting with a 20% decline, the third “bear market” within the past decade or so, anxious investors are likely to become even more unhinged. For financial advisors, the immediate question may appear to be, “How do I respond to, soothe, and calm the fears of my clients?”

However, before jumping in to help your clients, take a reality check. Ask yourself this question. “How do I address my own fears…first?” (i.e. “Secure your own mask first before helping others.”)

Sir John Whitmore, professional racing car driver, winner of British and European car championships, and performance coach, has a unique perspective on the nature of fear:

“Fear can be attributed to external or to internal factors or both; however whatever the external circumstances are, we are responsible for our reactions to them. We can succumb to them and wimp out, we can deny them and continue as if they don’t exist, or we can take them as a challenge and rise to the occasion.”

What are your fears, market-related or otherwise? What have you succumbed to? What have you avoided? What fears would you like to confront?

"You can observe a lot by just watching.”...Yogi Berra

Since all change begins with self-observation, the first step in addressing your fear(s) is observing yourself. Sometimes, this is easier said than done. Self-observation is definitely NOT the same as self-criticism. You should avoid the little voice in your head that observes, and makes side comments like, “Why did you do that?” or “Smart one, Einstein!”, so on and so forth. Nor should you feel compelled to devise actions before you’ve completed the self-observation. In fact, by not acting, you allow the self-observation to occur unobstructed and without your critical filter.

A practice is a behavior that we do again-and-again with the intention of improving a quality or competence. Practices follow self-observation, i.e. self-observation becomes part of every practice we do. As a sample practice on your relationship to fear, you might consider making a periodic self-observation, using the following questions as an example:
  • What fears have I succumbed to today?
  • What fears did I deny, or avoid, today?
  • What patterns do I see emerging from my fears?
  • What triggered these fears, and what was I thinking when these fears occurred?
  • How could I take on my fears as a challenge, and address them directly?
With this observation and learning, you have taken the first step in “securing your own oxygen mask”. Now that you’ve done this, you should be much more able to help others.

All the best!

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Smallish Obstacle-Biggish Impact

Ever have one of those days where the smallest little setback seems to set a negative tone for the rest of the day?

You’re not alone. It can happen to all of us. Regarding the battle of Setbacks vs. Wins, it’s Setbacks…in a cakewalk!

I’m reading a terrific new book, The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.

Amabile and Kramer cite extensive research that indicates that the emotional effect of setbacks to diminish happiness is twice as strong as the power of progress to boost happiness.


  • The power of setbacks to increase frustration is more than 3X as strong as the power of progress to increase frustration.
  • The connection between mood and negative work events is about 5X stronger than the connection between mood and positive events.
  • Negative team leader behaviors have a much broader and critical influence, than do positive team leader behaviors.
  • In general, people expend much more cognitive and emotional energy on bad events than good ones. (When looking at diary narratives, researchers found that the recounting of negative events, was much longer and more detailed than recounting of neutral or positive events.)

So, what's the answer?

  1. Be aware that this bad event vs. good event asymmetry is pretty typical for most people. Don’t think that it’s just happening to you.
  2. Try to ensure that good events outnumber bad events. (Obvious!) Put yourself in situations where good things are more likely to happen to you.
  3. Remove any obstacles that might impede the progress of yourself and/or your team.
  4. Make sure that YOU aren’t the obstacle!

Hope this helps. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Be the Quarterback!

I stole this title from a good article written the other day by Thomas Coyle, provided by Dow Jones Adviser. (Link not available.)

The gist of the article is how financial advisors might position themselves towards investors who work with multiple financial advisors.

In the article, Coyle cites a number of financial advisors who place themselves in the conversation with their clients who have significant assets “held away” with other financial institutions. They have done so by positioning themselves as the “quarterback advisor”, i.e. the advisor who takes a broad, holistic view of the entire field of play; or all of the client’s assets, regardless if they are held/managed directly by that advisor.

As one of the financial advisors in the article says, he meets “very little resistance” when he asks his clients to discuss investments that he doesn’t manage directly.

However, another advisor cited in the article takes a cautionary note. He says that most financial advisors
do not do enough to earn the trust of investors, in order for them to reveal their held-away assets.

This whole concept of “earning trust” is an interesting one. To continue the quarterback metaphor, let’s consider the importance as to why the quarterback must earn the team’s trust. No surprise, but it is imperative for a football squad to trust their quarterback implicitly. (Google “quarterback+trust+team" and see how many articles come up!)

For financial advisors who are working to build trust with their clients, one approach might be to first engage the client in an expansive discussion about the client's goals and dreams. As the advisor guides the discussion with thoughtful questions, e.g. What are you really trying to accomplish financially? Can you paint a picture of the way you want your future to look? When you visualize your future, what is the one thing that concerns you most?, it will become obvious that more information will be needed for the discussion to be completely honest and helpful.

Indeed, in order for the client to finish painting the picture of their desired future… the advisor will need a complete picture of the client's entire financial life as it exists currently, in order to help them in a professional and comprehensive manner.

The three main benefits for investors to consolidate holdings with one advisor are:
  1. Better asset allocation,
  2. Streamlined reporting,
  3. Reduced portfolio risk.
The last point is especially meaningful for those investors who have the misguided sense that having multiple advisors is a good means to achieve portfolio diversification. (Quite the opposite is true. I've addressed this before. See this link.)

However, cagey and wary investors will not appreciate these very real benefits of portfolio consolidation...if the financial advisor hasn't earned their trust.

Making the effort to see the entire field of play, and engaging in a thoughtful, curiosity-filled discussion that compels the client to think about what they really want to a good first step.

by Chris Holman

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Like...does this make sense?

“Fillers” are the empty words and phrases that slip into our speech…that minimize the impact and import of all the other good things that we say.

In English, “um”, “er”, and “ah” are the starter fillers …that many of us use without any thought. Amongst the ‘kids’ today, “you know”, "whatever" and “like” still seem to be the go-to fillers for the Millenial generation. (Who remembers “Valley Girl”? Frank Zappa and his daughter, Moon Unit, were mocking “like” and other valley girl-isms way back in 1982.)

For those of us in business and professional circles, we have our own Filler Favorites. “To be honest…”, “At the end of the day…”, and “If you will…” are three meaningless phrases that seem to pop up like weeds, even among those of us who are reasonably articulate.

This all hit close home to me when I read this essay by Jerry Weissman on the HBR blog yesterday, “Never ask ‘Does this make sense?” I happen to know that “Does this make sense?” happens to be in my own personal bag of fillers. As Weissman accurately points out, this phrase sends out two negative messages. It creates uncertainty on the part of the speaker about the credibility of the speaker’s content, and it casts doubt about the ability of the listener to comprehend what the speaker said. Neither of which is good.

A much better question (which I will try to incorporate) is the nonjudgmental query, "Do you have any questions?"

So what?
Why not use fillers? As linguists point out, fillers can ease the flow of conversation. So, why not use them?

In the first place, fillers are meaningless. Presumably, for those of us who are communicators, we want to delete meaningless words and phrases from our speech…leaving that which is meaningful.

Here’s another reason to delete fillers from our lexicon. They’re selfish. Here’s what I’m talking about.

During a two-way conversation, we often speak by taking turns. When someone thinks that it is their turn to talk, they do. Otherwise, they listen (or pretend to.) Inevitably, there are short periods of silence as the speaker pauses to let the other person take over. But, sometimes the speaker doesn’t want to give up the podium…and inserts a filler to signal that they want more time to speak. When the listener hears the “filler”…they continue to listen rather than start talking.

As a coach, I often listen to replays of my coaching conversations, as a means to continually improve how I communicate, coach and listen. I have noticed that, when a speaker is comfortable with silence, they don’t seem to have the need to insert the “filler” words. (There is no better way to improve your conversational speech and “kick the habit” of lazy, interruptive, or bad speech patterns…than by listening to yourself!)

Like I said...does this make sense?

by Chris Holman

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Financial Advisory Paradox: Where Are All the Women?

You may know the ancient Wall Street anecdote about the wide-eyed visitor to a brokerage firm, who was looking down admiringly at all of the brokers' and bankers' yachts that were docked on the Hudson River. His naive question, "Where are all the customer's yachts?"...was an inadvertent illumination of one of Wall Street's inherent contradictions.

With the dismissal of Sallie Krawcheck this week, we might paraphrase this old saw with... Where are all the women (in financial services)?

Consider the following:

  • According to a study by Catalyst, within the financial services industry women account for just 19.1% of executive officers, 17.4% of board directors, and 2.7% of CEO's. (With Krawcheck gone, the 2.7% number is even smaller now!)
  • Looking at the 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of women who are financial advisors is 30.8%.
Contrast the above, with this:

  • Women control about 60% of the wealth in the U.S., according to a study by Allianz Life.
  • This percentage is likely to increase as there is a growing education gap too, as defined by gender. In 2009, 57% of bachelor's degrees were earned by were 60% of the master's candidates...and 52% of PhD recipients. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Education)
  • Due to significant differences in life expectancies, women are likely to be in charge of much of the $41 trillion that is expected to pass between generations over the next 50 years.
  • In a 2010 study of female investors by the Boston Consulting Group, 55% of those surveyed said that wealth managers could do a much better job of meeting the advisory needs of women.
We don't presume to have any answers to this obvious disconnect in the marketplace. Yet the question remains:

Women control 60% of the wealth in this country, yet only 30% of financial advisors are women?

What's wrong with this picture?

by Chris Holman

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Handing Over the Keys to Your Business

None of us will retire leaving a legacy quite like Steve Jobs.

However, with the hubbub and hoopla surrounding his retirement announcement last week, I have been thinking about the succession issues that surround many financial advisors and entrepreneurs.

What do you want to leave after you've gone?

Coincidentally, there’s a list of 6 Succession Planning Tips in a recent edition of Financial Planning, which provides financial advisors with a good start in framing this issue:

  1. Plan ahead and leave enough time for your departure. A 5-year window is a good time frame to shoot for.
  2. Have a strategic vision for how you want to exit the business, as well as the legacy you’d like to leave.
  3. Use a trusted, outside advisor to provide objective input on what’s best for you, your family, your firm, and your clients.
  4. Identify internal candidates to lead the business when you’re gone.
  5. In order to secure your best employees, find ways to link their success to the future success of the firm, e.g. equity ownership.
  6. Practice what you preach and spend some time thinking about your own retirement goals. Don’t leave a void in your life where your career once was.

For those of you who are members of Horsesmouth, there is also this thoughtful discussion authored by Helen Modly and Sandra Atkins, “How long can I work as an advisor?” (Subscription required.) As they point out, many financial advisors assume that they will/can work well past the age of 62. However, given that studies indicate that once we pass 60 years old, the likelihood of dementia doubles every five years, what’s the health risk for those of us who desire longer careers? (The recent sobering news on Pat Summitt reminds us that it can happen to the best of us.)

For those financial advisors who intend to sell their practice as a means to fund their retirement, there are a host of additional important issues.

Many of these are related to the fact that there is a
very-real demographic bulge of financial advisors in the U.S., who are in their mid- to late-fifties, who hope to wind down their careers and sell their practice in the next 5-10 years...all at the same time. With the large number of financial advisors with this same intention the question needs to be asked…What are you selling, and to whom?

It seems probable that, in the coming years, buyers of financial practices can be very choosy because they will have many businesses to choose from. Therefore, as the owner of your financial business,
what have you done with your business that creates sustainable value, post-departure, such that you can command a premium sale price today?

One of Steve Jobs most remarkable legacies is the 313 patents that are linked to his name, including the ornamental design on the staircase of many Apple stores. While it is unlikely that any of us will leave a footprint as deep and as long-lasting as Jobs, it is also likely that many of us want to leave some small trace of our good work.

What have you planned for?

by Chris Holman

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Modern-Day Recession Babies

My mom was a Depression Baby. Depression Babies were born in, and around, the 1930’s…and grew up during a decade of sacrifice and want. Like many depression babies, my mom was frugal, and saved everything. One look in her refrigerator gives a good clue. (She still calls it the “icebox.”) The refrigerator shelves are chock-full of leftovers…of indeterminate provenance.

My mom was sneaky too. Once, during a holiday visit, I spied a small bowl of ambiguous brown bits in the fridge. It looked like it might have been ground beef…accept for the whitish-grayish film that obscured the top. I mentioned this to my mom. She thanked me for the “heads-up” on the past-due leftover. That night for dinner, she made spaghetti, and the bowl of unknown substance was mysteriously gone…as was my appetite!

New Study on Investment Behavior
There’s an interesting study coming out of Stanford on how our economic experiences affect investment behavior. Stefan Nagel, a professor of finance at the Graduate School of Business, has demonstrated that personally experiencing an event like the Great Depression has a significant impact upon how we invest our money.

If you are a financial advisor, as you read this you may be saying something to yourself like, “I sure don’t need a Ph.D. in Finance to tell me that!” (Which Stefan Nagel has, by the way.)

Yet, surprisingly, until now there has not been hard research that economic events can actually change investment behavior. What Professor Nagel did was to compare 47 years of household asset allocation data and stock-market participation figures from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finance…and cross-correlated this against the investor’s economic experience.

Among his findings:

  1. Individuals who had experienced high stock-market returns throughout their lives were less risk adverse, and more likely to participate in the stock market. (For example, older investors, who had memories of the better market returns of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s were more likely to invest in stocks as compared to those investors who experienced the low returns of the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s.)
  2. Alternatively, those who had experienced high inflation were less likely to invest in bonds, preferring inflation-proof cash-equivalent investments.

Recession Babies?
What makes Professor Nagel’s research especially timely is the remarkable market volatility of the past few weeks, and recent articles like this from this past weekend’s NY Times, Small Investors Recalibrate After Market Gyrations…which leads to investor beliefs like the following, “I don’t think there’s a reason to buy on the dip because the dip isn’t done.”

Indeed, one wonders if the 4% daily swings in the market aren’t helping to create a new generation of
risk-adverse, Modern-Day Recession Babies.

Beliefs and Risk Preferences
For financial advisors, Nagel’s research might also be instructive in learning more about your client’s investment beliefs and risk preferences. Advisors might consider incorporating some of the following questions as they strive to achieve a deeper understanding of the investment concerns and expectations of their clients:

  • How have your own market experiences affected your investment beliefs?
  • How well, or poorly, do you think that the stock and bond markets will do over the next 10 years? (This is their belief.)
  • I’m curious, based upon your market belief, how might this affect what you are willing to do from an investment standpoint? (This is their risk preference.)

If nothing else, I would think that these questions would stimulate a thoughtful discussion on return expectations and risk tolerance.

by Chris Holman

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When “Active Listening” Beats “Action Bias”

Recently, the US women’s soccer team lost the World Cup final to Japan…on penalty kicks.

The penalty kick is an interesting microcosm of split-second decision-making. Standing 36 feet away, the kicker strikes the ball and sends it rocketing to the goalkeeper at about 80 m.p.h. The goalkeeper has just 0.2 to 0.3 seconds to respond. Stopping a penalty kick is considered one of the most challenging feats in sport. Not surprisingly, 80% of all penalty kicks score.

A few years ago, Professor Ofer H. Azar, of the Ben-Gurion University in Israel, conducted a study. Professor Azar is not a footballer. He’s a lecturer in the school of management, and he thought that penalty kicks would be a perfect way to test his theories of split-second decision-making.

After collecting the data on 311 penalty kicks, what Professor Azar found was instructive. Goalkeepers who moved to their right had the worst chance of stopping the ball…just 12.6%. Those who moved to the left were marginally more successful…14.2%. Those who did nothing, i.e. stayed in the center of the goal, had the best chance…a 33.3% success rate.

As might be expected, the desire to do SOMETHING…as opposed to NOTHING (known as “action bias”) can extend to many fields beyond the soccer pitch. Financial advisors, and investors, know this urge all too well.

For investors, the impulse to act may have deep psychological underpinnings. In one of his brilliant studies, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman probed the quirks of investment decision-making. He discovered that investors had more pangs of remorse when they lost $1,200 because they chose to act, than those investors who lost $1,200 because they left their investments untouched.

For those readers of this column who are financial advisors, I presume that you have handled 1-2 calls from fearful investors over the past few weeks, who have had a bias toward “action bias.” In their eyes, doing something is better than doing nothing.

As a financial advisor, how do you react to this?

Active Listening
Rather than acquiescing to the clients’ frantic instincts, you may want to make sure that you have practiced “active listening” as you attend to your client and their agenda.

“Active listening” is one of the International Coach Federation’s core precepts that all ICF-certified coaches practice in order to gain complete learning and understanding about their client(s). It is the ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires. Active listening summarizes, paraphrases, and mirrors back what the client has said to ensure clarity and understanding… and that both the coach and client are absolutely on the same page. Active listening allows the client to vent the situation (without judgment from the coach) in order for the client to move on to the next appropriate steps.

Active listening is a dynamic commitment to understanding how your clients feel and how they see the world. It means putting aside your own prejudices and beliefs, anxieties and self-interest, so that you can step behind your client’s eyes and envision their perspective.

Of course, “active listening” may not be a financial advisor’s sole response to concerned clients. Additionally, financial advisors might dial up their proactive client communications; ensure that their clients are aware of all of their efforts (including active portfolio monitoring), as well as making tactical changes that are consistent with the client's overall investment plan.

From the client's perspective, the key is their understanding is that "active listening" is not synonymous with inactivity...but rather an intentional response to a client's desire to be heard.

by Chris Holman

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to Change Relationships 10 Seconds or Less

I recently finished reading a fabulous book…Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success in Work & Life, One Conversation at a Time, by Susan Scott. The central premise of this book can be summarized with this sentence: “Our work, our relationships, and in fact our very lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”

I’ve mentioned this book before, as well as an experience that resonated with me. Another experience has happened that demonstrated the power of just one conversation. One even more powerful. I wanted to share this story with you.

I have a morning ritual where I stop in a local coffee shop about 6:00 AM or so and order the same thing…a medium macchiato. The regular barista knows this…and usually has my order going before I’m halfway through the door.

However, once a week, there’s a fill-in barista. He doesn’t know the drill yet. In fact, he has a behavior that has really annoyed me. It so much irritates me that I’ve been socially blocked from chit-chatting with him with the routine small talk.

Each time that I have ordered my usual from the fill-in barista, he has given me this same rap… “Now, you know that our macchiato is not like the kind that you get at Starbucks. We don’t give you the vanilla syrup and caramel sauce. That’s a caramel macchiato. You know that, right?” Five times! He’s told this same rap to me five times!

I listen patiently, but I’m annoyed inside. Silently I say, “Look pal, I know this. I’m here every morning. You’ve told me this before. I think I know what I’m doing, and I would NEVER order a coffee with syrup in it!” I leave the shop muttering.

Last week, I was telling this story to a friend of mine.

My friend: “You know what, that kinda sounds like Nick (not his real name). I believe he works in that café. In fact, that IS Nick…and you know who he is too.”

Me: “I don’t think so.”

My friend: “Yeah, you do. Remember Ben’s play that we saw a few years ago? Remember that awkward-looking young man who played the soldier wearing sunglasses? That was Nick.”

Me: “Ummmm…vaguely familiar.”

My friend: “Yeah, Nick has Asperger’s Syndrome. That repeating thing that he does with you…that sounds like it might be some Asperger’s quirk.”

Me (Stunned and chastened by this revelation): “Ugh…you’re kidding!”

Yesterday, Nick was filling in at the café again. Thankfully, he doesn’t give me the macchiato spiel this time. I dive into the conversation:

Me: “Is your name Nick?”

Him: “Yes it is!”

Me: “Were you in one of Ben’s plays a few years ago?”

Him (Beaming!!!): “Why yes! That was four years ago. How can you even remember? I was wearing sunglasses.”

Me: “Yes, I remember you.”

Him (With his hands crossed over his heart): “I can’t believe you remember that. That’s so great! You don’t know how happy that makes me feel!”

Me: "See you later, Nick."

Him: "This is incredible! I really can’t believe it."

Truthfully, I don’t think that this exchange will alter the course of my life…or Nick’s. But it’s certainly changed our relationship forever. Without question. And it took ten seconds.

Just one conversation.


by Chris Holman

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Coaching Clients Through Dark and Gloom

Been reading the headlines lately? Bleak stuff, isn’t it?

Regardless of one’s political stripe or economic belief, the news has been difficult to stomach of late. Each new day seems to bring a different outrage or unspeakable horror.

Sadly, with the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., it’s possible that it gets worse before it gets better.

For financial advisors who’ve been in the business for any length of time, it might seem like déjà vu all over again. It was just three years ago that the financial debacle seriously corroded the trust that investors had in: the financial markets, the regulators, investment firms, and their advisors. Only just recently has this trust and confidence been regained, if at all. Indeed, the World Wealth Report 2011 indicates that only 44% of high-net-worth investors have any faith in the oversight regulators today, and 33% actively distrust these institutions.

If you are a financial advisor, I’m assuming that many of your clients are freaked out by the headlines too. Personally, I don’t think it would take much to scare the living daylights out of many investors…to the point where they crawl back into the cave that they just emerged from…and push the rock back over the entrance.

Here’s the thing though. We have observed that times of “investor stress” are really interesting periods for financial advisors to engage their clients in highly-personal and honest discussions about what concerns them most, e.g. their fears and concerns about money, their legacy and future, family, their values, etc.

If you’d like to engage your clients differently this time, here’s a thought. Act like a coach. Although the best coaches out there undergo years of coaching, learning, and thinking before they reach top proficiency, I would refer you to the 11 Core Competencies as outlined by the International Coach Federation (ICF). These core competencies are the foundational elements that buttress the special relationship that coaches create with their clients. Although not all of these competencies are equally germane to the financial advisor-client relationship, many have a high degree of relevance.

For example:

  • An essential core competency of the ICF-credentialed coach is the ability to co-create a trusting (and intimate) relationship with the client by building a safe supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.
  • Another core competency is active listening… which is the ability to focus completely on what the client is saying (and is not saying), in order to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.
  • Still another is powerful questioning…which is the skill of asking open-ended questions that evoke discovery, insight, commitment, or action (including those questions that challenge the client’s assumptions.)

Finally, if you are really interested in becoming more coach-like in how you interact and partner with your clients…get a coach. There is no better way to model coaching behavior than to observe close-at-hand the practiced mastery of a highly-skilled coach.

For those financial advisors who’ve seen this movie before…what’s your learning from the last time? What would you do differently?

Remembering the oft-misquoted words of the philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952): "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

If that quote doesn’t grab you, try this one: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life…some of which actually happened.” …Mark Twain (or maybe not)

by Chris Holman

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Survey Says!

Marketers have long known that Client Surveys are a good thing. They are an effective tool that positively influences customers and clients.

In a seminal study by Paul Dholakia and Dr. Vicki Morwitz, published in Harvard Business Review, 1000 customers of a large financial services company were tracked for one year…following a simple 10-minute customer survey that was conducted over the telephone.

Here’s what Dholakia and Morwitz found:

  • Survey participants were 3x as likely to open new accounts with the firm,
  • Survey participants were less than half as likely to defect,
  • Survey participants had a significantly higher profitability profile as compared to the control group, and
  • Moreover, Professors Horwitz and Dholakia believe that the positive spillover of the client survey last anywhere from 3-8 years.

Unfortunately, there is some evidence that not all financial advisors have not yet embraced client surveys and the positive impact they have on client profitability and loyalty. Recently, our firm, ClientWise, polled a large group of top-performing financial advisors…and discovered that only 20% were surveying their clients on a consistent basis.

This is a missed opportunity. In fact, we think that individual financial advisors can implement a very personalized client survey that is even more effective than the previously discussed results of Horwitz and Dholakia. We call this the “ClientWise Conversation” …a series of 5 straightforward and thoughtful questions that get to the heart of the client-advisor relationship.

Recently, one of our coaches reported on the learning that one of his clients gained through a ClientWise Conversation with his top clients.

Among other findings, the financial advisor discovered:

  1. That several of his clients were concerned that he wasn’t on a team, and (without knowing his succession plan) wondered what might happen if he left the business unexpectedly,
  2. A surprisingly large number of the advisor’s clients asked why they hadn’t been approached for referrals. (Because they hadn’t been asked, they had assumed that the advisor wasn’t looking to build his business.)
  3. Some retiree clients were concerned about the account fees, while noting that the accounts did not have much trading activity. In their minds, they had been asking themselves, “Where is the value?”
  4. Yet, most all of the clients felt great about the overall relationship, and were delighted that their financial advisors cared enough to ask them how things were going.
Without engaging his clients in the deeper discussion that we call the "ClientWise Conversation", this advisor would have been oblivious to these important issues; some of which were putting his clients "at-risk", and others being obvious opportunities to grow.

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mark Zuckerberg Turns It On

For having the reputation of a “27-year-old multi-billionaire geeky tech guy”, Mark Zuckerberg also seems to have a high degree of emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and can turn on the charm when he needs to.

Pretty fascinating article in yesterday’s NY Times entitled, “Taking a Walk with Mark Zuckerberg”. It describes the process, experienced by a select few “rockstar” recruits to Facebook.

Sometime during the recruitment courtship, Zuckerberg surprises the candidate with an invitation to join him on a walk. (How does one say “No” to this?) At this point, Zuckerberg escorts his somewhat startled guest across the parking lot at Facebook headquarters (see picture) on 1601 S. California Ave. in Palo Alto CA, where they amble along a wooded trail until they reach a Silicon Valley lookout that has a pretty spectacular view of the environs below.

With a sweep of the arm, Zuckerberg discusses the technological history of the area, points out Apple’s headquarters…Hewlett-Packard’s…and the other biggies…and remarks that Facebook will eventually be bigger than all of them…and “If you joined us, you could be part of it all.”

One recipient of this dramatic gesture said, “The entire experience was totally surreal. I really felt like I was on a date.”

Speaking of rockstar recruitment conquests by Mark Zuckerberg, there’s an equally fascinating profile of Sheryl Sandberg, by Ken Auletta in the latest edition of The New Yorker.

Mark met Sheryl at the Christmas party of a mutual friend in 2007. He approached her and introduced himself. They chatted for about an hour by the door. At the time, Sandberg was Google’s 38-year-old VP for global online sales and operations and managed 4000 employees. Facebook was a company without any revenue.

For Zuckerberg, the meeting with Sandberg was wonderfully serendipitous. He knew that he was ill prepared to run Facebook on a day-to-day basis. By fortunate coincidence, Sandberg was ready for a change too. Over a six-week period, Sheryl and Mark met for dinner 1-2 times a week at Sheryl’s 6-bedroom home. Sandberg, who is not a night owl, often had to usher Zuckerberg (who is a night owl) out the door at close to midnight. “It was like dating,” says Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg (CEO-Survey Monkey). They spent long hours asking each other questions like, “What do you believe?” “What do you care about?” “What’s the mission?”

To Zuckerberg’s complete credit, he recognized that Sandberg was a perfect fit for Facebook. Says Zuckerberg, “There are people who are really good managers, people who can manage a big organization. And then there are people who are very analytic or focused on strategy. Those types don’t usually tend to be in the same person. I would put myself much more in the latter camp.”

Mark offered Sheryl the COO spot in February 2008. Within days she was asking questions, and listening, to her new Facebook colleagues…walking up to hundreds of people’s desks and introducing herself by saying, “Hi, I’m Sheryl Sandberg.”

Today, Sandberg meets with Zuckerberg twice weekly, Monday morning and Friday afternoon. Her workstation is a few feet away from Zuckerberg’s in a cavernous room, and also connected to three other senior executives, the VP of product, the chief engineer, and the C.T.O. Says Zuckerberg of Sandberg, “She handles things I don’t want to. All that stuff that in other companies I might have to do. And she’s much better at it.”

Given that the I.P.O. buzz on Facebook is now in the $100 billion range, which would most likely make Sandberg an instant billionaire, and Zuckerberg’s 24% stake continues to grow like topsy, this has been a fortuitous pairing.

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Real Conversations

There’s a coffee shop that I have frequented early in the AM for my morning machiato, 4-5 days a week for the past six months. My conversations with the barista have always been very pleasant, very brief…and very superficial. It was never my intention to be aloof or indifferent to the barista, but I’ve never really stepped outside the exchange of banal pleasantries.

Until just the other day. I don’t remember how the conversation began. But, in a short period of time I learned that the barista is an aspiring elementary school teacher, who has been under-employed during this terrible job market. She was thrilled to tell me that she was recently able to find a summer gig teaching fifth grade in a tough inner-city school. Despite the inherent challenges with her summer assignment, it was obvious that school-teaching is her passion. We spoke for five minutes about her class in a conversation that was engaged, animated, and interesting.

I thought of this experience as I read Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time, by Susan Scott.

What an engaging read! The essential premise of the book is the absolute primacy of the conversation. In the words of Ms. Scott, “While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a business, a career, a marriage, or a life…any single conversation can.”


“The conversation is the relationship. If the conversation stops, all of the possibilities for the relationship become smaller, until one day we hear ourselves in mid-sentence, making ourselves smaller in every encounter, behaving as if we are just the space around our shoes, engaged in yet another 3-minute conversation so empty of meaning it crackles.”

This is not your typical light summer reading fare. However, it is chock-full of valuable insights and observations. Consider her, “7 Principles of Fierce Conversations”:

  1. Master the courage to interrogate reality.
  2. Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.
  3. Be here…prepared to be nowhere else.
  4. Tackle your toughest challenge today.
  5. Obey your instincts.
  6. Take responsibility for your emotional wake.
  7. Let silence do the heavy lifting.

Does your life suffer from an over-abundance of trivial pseudo-conversations? Read this book!

You may not be able to ask, “How are you?” without really meaning it to a random stranger…ever again.

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"The rich are very different from you and I."

Paul Sullivan writes the Wealth Matters column for the New York Times. His “beat” is the wealthy class…from the run-of-the-mill millionaire…to the uber-wealthy, i.e. $30 million and up (POP: 40,000 ELEV: Rarefied) Mr. Sullivan’s articles also appear in The International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, and Barron’s. In September, his first book is due, “Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t”…which sounds pretty interesting too.

This past week, Sullivan wrote an article in the NY Times entitled, “Picking the Brains of the Super-Rich, and Picking Up Tips.”

The article itself is a compilation of five different wealth studies that have recently been published:

  • World Wealth Report, by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch
  • Risk and Rules: The Role of Control in Financial Decision-Making, by Barclays Wealth Insight
  • Global Wealth Report, by Boston Consulting Group
  • Global Private Banking and Wealth Management Survey, by PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • Deloitte Center for Financial Services
Mr. Sullivan’s article does a good job at summarizing the highlights of these studies. For those interested in more granularity, you should read his piece.

My three takeaways from the studies are these:

  • The high-net-worth market is getting more diverse…less white, less male, and less old.
  • Financial advisors who want to appeal to this group should be very flexible, responsive, willing to use all of their firm’s resources…as well as highly emotionally intelligent.
  • Ernest Hemingway was right! *

The last bullet refers to the stunning concentration of wealth among the world’s global elite. 103,000 people of the nearly seven billion people on the planet control 36.1 percent of the world’s wealth. Said another way, 00.001% of the world’s population control 36% the world's money. Double Wow!!

* In a most-likely apocryphal exchange between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald purportedly said: “The rich are very different from you and I.” Hemingway responded: “Yes. They have more money.”

by Chris Holman

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Call Reluctance

Ran across this article the other day in the Toronto Globe and Mail, “Entrepreneurs must fight fear of selling.” I found a sentence that was so shocking to me that I had to re-read it two or three times just for believability’s sake.

“…many people say that as much as 50%-70% of entrepreneurial failure relates to the call reluctance issue.”

Wow! Really! In the first place, I’m a bit leery of a statement of purported fact where the source is “many people.” Doesn’t really pass the smell test for me. Beyond that it’s hard to believe that call reluctance among entrepreneurs would over-shadow other catastrophes and blunders in judgment that can lead to business failure, e.g. lack of planning, insufficient capital, poor management, overexpansion, etc.

There’s no denying that call reluctance can be an important obstruction to the success of entrepreneurs and salespersons of all stripes. Think of all the sales motivators, over the years, who have built lifelong careers by dispensing sales advice, tips, aphorisms, and directives, e.g. Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Harvey Mackay…the list is endless.

As a business coach, my observation is that call reluctance (or “sales shame”, or “fear of selling”, or “inhibited social contact initiative syndrome”, or whatever you want to call it) is a complicated grab-bag of an issue that is resistant to easy analysis and solution. If it were a simple issue to disentangle, Amazon wouldn’t have 739 books in the ‘sales motivational’ category.

My other observation is most of us, i.e. 99.999%, have issues that derail the best of our motivations and get us stuck. For entrepreneurs and salespeople, these issues may revolve around call reluctance, or something still deeper. Getting unstuck takes effort and intention…and a self-awareness to ask questions, e.g. what do I really want? As an entrepreneur, whom do I really want to serve? Am I listening to my clients and potential clients? Do I know their primary concerns and problems, and can I help them to provide sustainable solutions?

Without sounding too self-serving, this is where good business coaching comes into play…helping getting us unstuck from the issues that are holding us back.

Oftentimes the best solutions are not on the bookshelf or at a motivational seminar, or on a DVD…but in the mirror. In the words of the great philosopher pictured above (Pogo)… “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Hope this helps.

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Life's Lessons for LeBron and the Heat

There’s a risk in inferring the Lessons of Life from the Lessons of Sports… yet the victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat offers too many opportunities to ignore.

Motivated by Failure
In 2006, Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas lost the NBA finals to Dwyane Wade and the Heat. Indeed, the Mavericks were up two games in that series…yet, ended up losing four straight, with Nowitzki missing a game-tying free throw with 3 seconds to play in one game and drop-kicking the ball into the stands. At the time, Wade called out Nowitzki as a poor leader and finisher…and a whiner. Five years later, Nowitzki has completely recast his image, playing in the clutch with a grotesquely-bent finger in one game, as well as a 101 degree fever in another. The European “softie” has been transformed into a “Champion.” Nowitzki is not the only example of this phoenix-like metamorphosis. Jason Kidd, a gifted veteran player who never has won a title either, quit on the New Jersey Nets in order to get himself traded to the Mavericks. Today, at 38 years old, he is the senior success story of the NBA.

Counting Your Chickens…
Last July, in a dazzling show of bravura and over-the-top showmanship, James, Wade and Bosh predicted a bushel-full of NBA titles. In Game 2 of this series, James and Wade celebrated in front of the Dallas bench with a 15-point lead in the 4th quarter. What’s a good word to describe these predictions and displays? “Premature” comes to mind. "Hubris" is another good one...

I’m not really a LeBron “hater.” However, he seems stunningly (not) self-aware at times. Before Game 5, in a coughing skit, he mugged for the camera along with Wade…in an apparent mockery of Nowitzki’s sinus infection. (Nowitzki denied this motivated him, yet he referred to the incident as “childish” and “ignorant”.) In the post-game press conference on Sunday, James didn’t help his image much with comments that dripped with disdain and defiance, “All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.” You wonder if James really means this? Privately, does he care what his critics say, or is he using his “haters” as a motivator?

There is no “I” in “Team”
Sorry for the trite sports cliche, but this is the big story line of the series. The Mavericks have just one elite player (Nowitzki), but a far deeper roster. James and Wade are both brilliant with the ball in their hands, but rarely showed an ability to be their best at the same time. History can be instructive to the Heat. Michael Jordan, with six championships to his credit, never won a ring before he was joined by Scottie Pippen, and a vastly underrated unit, behind him.

James has not been a strong finisher the last two seasons. (Understatement Alert!) In 2010, he disappeared in Game 5 against Boston. This year, he was an absolute non-factor during crunch time. Overall, the Heat was outscored by 36 points when James was on the floor, and they outscored the Mavs by 22 points when James was “riding the pine.” Interestingly, James is 1½ years younger than Nowitzki was in 2006, when he was given his NBA schooling. Of course, James has the size, strength and skills to turn it around and win the ring. The question seems to be if he can confront whatever issues seem to be standing in the way of his quest…and grow from this experience.

Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks...a testament to great champions getting better with age!

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rules Rule!

There’s a fascinating new report, published by Barclays Wealth that clearly indicates that a high percentage wealthy investors want investment rules. Indeed, 41% of high net worth individuals wish they had more self-control over their financial behavior

The report, Risk and Rules: The Role of Control in Financial Decision Making is based on a global survey of more than 2,000 high net worth individuals, and provides an in-depth examination of wealthy investors from a behavioral finance perspective. It considers the different financial personality traits that exist amongst wealthy investors, and the different self-imposed rules and strategies that they put in place to deal with these traits.

The Benefits of Rules: More Wealth and Happiness
Most interestingly, the report clearly indicates that those who employ a high degree of investment discipline have on average 12% more wealth than those who do not use rules. Better yet, they also experience a 13% increase in financial satisfaction.

According to the principal author of the report, Dr. Greg B. Davies, head of Behavioral and Quantitative Finance for Barclays Wealth, all investors have a unique “financial composure.” There are two aspects to this: 1) Risk tolerance for the long term, and 2) the degree of anxiety that investors experience for the short term. As he points out, classical finance does a good job on identifying and controlling #1…but virtually ignores #2.

However, it is the latter factor that is most destructive to investment returns over the longer term. Many investors, even though they are very aware of their behaviors, can’t help themselves, i.e. they have a natural inclination to respond emotionally to the markets. The cost of lack of investment discipline is significant. Emotional trading can cost investors up to 20% in returns over a ten-year time period.

Gender Differences
The report also illuminates noticeable differences between female and male investors:

  • Women are more likely to use financial self-control strategies, and more likely to perceive them to be effective,
  • Women have a higher degree of self-awareness to their susceptibility to financial stressors,
  • Men are more likely to be financially over-confident…leading to bad behaviors like timing the market, high-frequency trading, etc.

Opportunities for Financial Advisors
The implications of this study are far-reaching, and readily pertinent to how financial advisors engage their clients. Financial advisors might craft the “perfect portfolio” for their clients, but this assumes that all investors are completely rational and able to ignore short-term market events…as well as the 24x7 fear-mongering that seems to emanate from the financial media. Astute financial advisors might offer significant value by helping understand their own emotional make-up, as well as helping design the self-control strategies that are fundamentally important to achieving good market returns.

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”…Charles C. Noble

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Swimming After a 33-Year Dream

Almost 33 years ago, Diana Nyad was pulled from the waters of the Caribbean. After 42 hours in the water, and desperately off-course, she had failed in her attempt to complete the 103-mile swim from Cuba to Key West. Shivering and delirious from fatigue, with a tongue so badly swollen from seawater that made her words almost unintelligible, she weakly protested, “Can’t I keep going?”

After 1979, Diana Nyad stopped swimming altogether. Succumbing to “swimmer’s burnout” she didn’t swim a stroke for 31 years. She went into broadcasting… pursuing a career as a TV and radio journalist, e.g. Fox Sports News, “The Savvy Traveler”, etc.

Yet, two summers ago as she approached her 60th birthday, something happened. Life, she felt, “was screaming by like a hurricane. I blink and it’s April. I blink and I’m 61.” One day while driving in Los Angeles, she looked in the rearview mirror and asked herself what she regretted most. Her answer…the Cuba swim.

With renewed vigor, she jumped back into extreme training. Last summer, she completed a 24-hour marathon swim (She sang the theme from “Beverly Hillbillies" 2000 straight times to combat boredom.) She has assembled a support crew of 25 experts, many of whom are working gratis in support of her dream. Although she has found a partial sponsor in Secret deodorant, she is $350,000 short of her desired expense goal…and is self-funding the gap.

(Here's a nice article in the Washington Post, by Sally Jenkins, that describes this adventure in greater detail.)

If all goes well, some time in June or July (weather-permitting) Nyad will slip into the water on the northern Cuban coast, and head 103 miles through the shark-infested Florida Straits towards Key West. In addition to sharks, other hazards await… e.g. hypothermia, dehydration, man o’ war jellyfish, cardio-arrhythmia; not to mention the mind-numbing fatigue of 60 hours of continuous swimming.

However, in Nyad’s view, this is a risk that must be taken again…before it’s too late.

Her own words, say it best:

“I was experiencing what millions my age are feeling these days. Disenfranchised, no longer valued, terribly worried that my best days were behind me. Yet the business of life is to live large and you can dream at any age. To me the phrase “60 is the new 40” is not a joke. We baby boomers can put truth into those words. We are far from irrelevant at 60. We’re now emotionally mature, brimming with wisdom and calm, still physically strong. This should be the prime of our lives. Training for this swim has filled me with the heartening, empowering conviction that it’s never too late to chase your dream.”

Good luck, Diana Nyad.

And…Thank you!

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Baby Boomers, Investing, and Retirement Angst

For financial advisors who are targeting the 79 million individuals born between the years of 1946-1964 (How can you “target” 79 million people, by the way?), otherwise known as Baby Boomers, I wanted to recommend a really interesting new study, “Understanding the Accidental Investor: Baby Boomers on Retirement.” Published by Financial Engines, the organization co-founded by Bill Sharpe, “Understanding the Accidental Investor” explores the emotions, behaviors and needs of Baby Boomers entering retirement.

The observations in this report are based upon a three-year long study of Baby Boomers on the verge of retirement, and reveal a population that is rife with distress, fear, mistrust, and overall investment angst.

Reaching Accidental Investors
In addition to highlighting the emotions and corresponding behaviors of near-retirees and retirees, this white paper identified five common needs that, if met, could potentially help Baby Boomers overcome the strong emotional barriers that hinder their investment thinking.

Those needs include:

  • Flexibility. Given the uncertainty of retirement, participants in the study expressed a need to have flexibility and control over their retirement investments. Participants had a high reluctance to be locked into an investment vehicle--especially early in retirement when uncertainties are at their highest.
  • Safety. Due to fear of significant losses right before or in retirement, many participants wanted investments that lowered investment risk or that could provide a steady and reliable source of income over time, and potentially for life. Many participants desired both. In addition, many of the participants also wanted flexibility.
  • Help from an Advisor. Many participants said that they wanted to work with a financial professional they could trust to help them create a plan and decide on the appropriate course of action. At the same time many said that they found it difficult to know who to trust with their life savings.
  • Sponsor Evaluation. According to the Financial Engines' white paper, participants said that having their employer select and monitor independent retirement income providers made them more likely to accept professional retirement help.
  • Fee Transparency. Finally, many participants demanded clear and easily understood fees. They said that they would not act unless they fully understood the fees associated with a given product or service.
As a card-carrying member of the Baby Boomer contingent myself (i.e. my driver's license), I can readily identify with many of the observations of this study. However, I think it's also kinda tricky to paint an entire generation of 79 million people with sweeping broad-brush generalizations.

As Mark Twain said, "All generalizations are false...including this one."

Even still, this study provides many valuable insights...and is worth a close look by investment professionals who desire to connect with Baby Boomers.

by Chris Holman

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tall Clover in Rollovers

Did you see this article in Investment News, "Rollover funds go a-begging"?

If you didn't, and you are a financial advisor who is interested in the rollover market, you should. Today in fact. Unless I am completely mistaken, this seems like it's an incredible educational and marketing opportunity.

In a recent Fidelity Investments Survey of individuals who have left a company retirement plan:
  • 66% of individuals did NOT move assets from their former employer's plan within 4 months of leaving the company,
  • 59% of those that left assets in the company plan did so because of: plan features, services, or access to a specific investment,
  • 27% of those that stayed in the company plan said the money was still there because they "haven't got around to it yet."
By any measure, the 66% figure is a number that must make the financial advisory community gasp! (Is this even correct? Really hard to believe!)

However, if it's close to true, I would think that forward-thinking financial advisors would be inspired to educate and explain as to why leaving assets in a former employer's plan is a grotesque mistake that unnecessarily complicates one's financial life.

Just wanted to pass this on...

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No Ostriches. No Elephants.

On June 1st 2011, Barry Salzberg ascends to the CEO spot of Deloitte Global, the largest of the “Big Four” consulting and accounting firms, with 170,000 employees worldwide in 150 countries.

Although Deloitte’s global headquarters on 1633 Broadway in midtown Manhattan is just a borough away from where Salzberg was born-and-raised in Brooklyn, it is worlds away from where he began in life. His father was a postal clerk who died when he was in high school, requiring young Barry to work to help support his family.
Salzberg was only the second person in his family to attend college. In fact, his high school guidance counselor told him not to bother to go to college because "he couldn't handle the work." Salzberg applied to every publicly funded college in the city. He wasn't able to leave home because his mother was alone at the time, and he needed to work 25-40 hours a week to support them both.

Ultimately, Salzberg earned a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Brooklyn College, a Juris Doctorate from Brooklyn Law School, and a Master of Laws degree in taxation from the New York University School of Law. It's not clear what the guidance counselor is doing today.

Joining Haskin & Sells in 1977, Salzberg got his first lesson in leadership…his 3rd day on the job. His first boss (who Salzberg subsequently named “Bosszilla”) asked him to xerox a tax ruling. Salzberg did so…and also took the initiative of including his own 2-page interpretation.

His boss’s blunt response? “Mr. Salzberg, I asked for a copy of the ruling, not your interpretation. One copy, stapled.”

Mr. Salzberg’s 34-year career at Deloitte, along with his bedrock learning on the streets of Brooklyn, has given him a fresh and unique perspective on how he defines leadership. He calls this principle, “No Ostriches. No Elephants.” This philosophy is predicated on four underlying tenets: Honesty, Respect, Appreciation, and Transparency.

Honesty: In Salzberg’s words, “No burying your head in the sand if there’s a problem, and no ignoring the elephant in the room. Much better to name and tame an issue, no matter how difficult it is. Making the truth told and discussed is the foundation of leadership. Without that, you can’t build trust.”

Respect: Salzberg’s attitude towards his colleagues is light-years away from the attitude of “Bosszilla.” In his view, today’s worker expects to be treated with complete respect, as an individual who can offer valued contributions to an organization. Moreover, workers tend to stay longer in jobs that are built around their own unique needs…not vice versa.

Appreciation: The Golden Rule applies…and don’t forget to say “Thanks!” Let your best people know how much they are valued…especially in tough times.

Transparency: No hidden agendas. According to Salzberg: the idea of a "ruling elite in the clouds of some bureaucratic Mount Olympus." In the past, it would have been unthinkable for the average employee to have direct contact with the CEO, he pointed out. Today, CEOs regularly host employee town halls, in which people are encouraged to ask and say anything. "Our people have to see if that if they disagree [with their boss], nothing will happen -- that there are no [negative] consequences to promotion or compensation."

For more on Barry Salzberg, check out this illuminating article at Knowledge@Wharton.

Ostrich Facts: The Ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest egg as well. Ostriches never actually bury their hands in the sand. Complete myth. Ostriches also have the ability to run at maximum speeds of about 97.5 kilometers per hour (60.6 mph), the top land speed of any bird. (See here.)

by Chris Holman

Thursday, May 12, 2011

No Gripe on Skype

Dr. Eric K. Clemons is a professor of operations and information management at Wharton, and a pioneer in the study of the transformational impacts of information on the strategy and practice of business.

Recently, Dr. Clemons weighed in on Microsoft's $8.5 billion takeout of Skype.
Although ClientWise is an executive coaching firm, and not in the business of providing investment advice, we found Dr. Clemons' comments to be insightful and illuminating...and wanted to share this interview with our subscribers.

Besides...most guys who sport bow-ties these days are worth a listen.

by Chris Holman

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The State of the Financial Services Industry

There’s a pretty interesting interview with Chip Roame of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, who recently hosted the Tiburon CEO Summit, a semi-annual gathering of the renowned leaders and other muckety-mucks within the financial advisory industry.

Roame opines about some of the top industry trends:

Are the Wirehouses Alive, Dead, or Dying? (Alive and well, but how many advisors will they ultimately employ?)

Which Wirehouses are growing? (Of the four Wirehouses, only Wells Fargo has seen growth in advisor numbers. UBS America’s days seem numbered.)

Is the “Breakaway Broker” a real phenomenon? (Real…but not in mass numbers. Moreover, 80% of the advisors who leave the Wirehouses do so involuntarily.)

What’s the future of the independent broker-dealer? (LPL has lapped the field with 12,000+ advisors. For the smaller and mid-sized b/d’s, the future looks far less certain.)

What are the trends in consumer wealth? (Stocks have come back 50%+, housing prices haven’t.)

Is the advisory business generally healthy? (Extremely so. The trend is its friend.)

Speaking of the state of the industry, there was a somewhat engaging article in the April issue of Registered Representative, “The Myth of the Vanishing Advisor.” The article explores the health of the financial advisory industry from the standpoint of advisor population, i.e. given the demographic and retirement trends of the affluent, as well as the advisors themselves, will there be a shortage of financial advisors in the future?

One comment stood out for me. Stephen C. Winks, a Richmond, Va.-based management consultant for financial advisors, estimates that there are 17 million households with more than $100,000 in liquid investable assets. He goes on to say that if each advisor had about 200 clients, it would take about 85,000 advisors to serve the market, a fraction of the current population. (There are about 350,000 active financial advisors today.) “You can do the arithmetic very easily,” Winks says. “We've got way too many brokers.”

Not to quibble with Mr. Winks, but his calculations assume that all advisors, and advisory firms, have a homogeneity of skill sets and have been equally adept at staying current with some of the rapidly changing demands and expectations of the complicated financial lives of affluent investors.

From our vantage point, this is hardly the case.

by Chris Holman