“Be creative. Use unconventional thinking. And have the guts to carry it out.” — Lee Iaccoca

Typical brokers, advisors, and wealth managers are connoisseurs of the Wall Street Kool-Aid, working for vendors with the goal of making you comfortable.

The result is mediocrity — ultimately leading to your frustration.

The better choice: Hire a personal financial advisor. Being intentional means daring to be different about how you hire this person. You can no longer simply rely on a referral from your neighbor, colleague, tax accountant, or attorney. You must seek out a personal financial advisor who:

  • Works with your peer group.
  • Gets the context of the market.
  • Has built a practice that strives to deliver results you value.

But banks and wire houses have largely become vendors and have dismantled the practice of many of these advisors; only agents remain. As such, you may require a boutique group with experience and expertise focused on your niche peer group.

Here are a few key traits to seek out in your personal financial advisor as you search for a fit. 

No. 1: Recognizing What You Count, Counts

A personal financial advisor will stand out by first recognizing what families count.

What Wall Street Counts

Portfolio Success
Standard Deviation

What Economists Count

GDP Success
Unemployment Rate
Job Growth
Crime Rate

What Families Count

Health of our Children
Our Intellectual Capital
Our Social Capital
Our Financial Capital

Through understanding what you count — your what and why — your personal financial advisor will structure order out of chaos.

No. 2: A Disciplined Approach

A good personal financial advisor should build their approach according to four steps:

  1. People: Get the right people on the bus, in the right seats, and aligned to your purpose.
  2. Strategy: Build the strategic assets and frameworks that will get you there.
  3. Execute: Lead and align the people and strategies to achieve the result.
  4. Results: Measure results and adjust strategies to align progress to goal.

No. 3: Targeted Competency

How do you sift through the agents working for vendors to hire a personal financial advisor who can competently advise you according to your individual needs? Interview them.

I ran a top 10 Merrill Lynch branch out of 636 branches between 2006 and 2011. During that time, I hired more advisors than any of our families combined. I built a toolkit — an interview — that allowed me to organically connect with each applicant. It provided me with a structured way to understand how they would get results, how they would fit culturally, the strategies they would employ, their level of finance/technical abilities, their leadership history, and other elements fundamental to the job.

The 80-20 Rule

I can tell you that your angst in this process is valid and warranted. The 80-20 Rule is alive and well: The way I see it, around 80% of agents working for vendors don’t get the current context of the market. Of the 20% who do get it, only 20% of those are willing to do anything about it — leaving you with 4% of competency that could effectively fill the role as your personal financial advisor. Once you identify the top 4%, it’s simply an E-Harmony component for you to determine whether you can sit across the table from this person and build a trusted relationship.

A personal financial advisor will reveal themselves as the top 4% through their specific capabilities and answers to your questions. You want to understand how they solve for your what and why — your purpose.

The Interview

Below are some of the questions I use to guide these interviews myself. They map out into five key categories.

1. Beginning Questions

  • Why are you interested in working for my family?

2. Results-Oriented Questions

  • What is your greatest achievement in your role?
  • What are the most significant weaknesses in your performance?
  • What have been your greatest challenges/failures in your role?
  • Tell me about a time when, because of your analysis, there was a major change in direction of key decisions in your organization.

3. Team-Oriented Questions

  • Provide examples of working within a team of advisors. What was your role? What was your contribution?
  • What is different about the way you and the family that most recently hired you used their advisor?

4. Cultural-Fit Questions

  • What qualities do you look for in a family client?
  • What is your leadership style?

5. Functional-Experience Questions

The questions here center around four key areas:

  • Strategy
  • Partnership with Family Leadership
  • Finance/Technical Abilities
  • Leadership

For a list of questions within this final section or for a complete copy of my interview, contact me.

The bottom line: I encourage you to hire a personal financial advisor rather than an agent at a vendor. And if you’re not sure if your current advisor is an agent or a personal financial advisor, conduct another interview and essentially re-hire him or her. It’s well worth it.

Set up an appointment with Pulliam Family Office.

Any opinions are those of John Pulliam and are not necessarily those of Raymond James Financial Services or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. This information is not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security referred to herein. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee the foregoing material as accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Diversification and asset allocation do not ensure a profit or protect against a loss. Investing involves risk, and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected.

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