What do you do when your client is weeping in your office? Michael Kay, the president of Financial Focus, believes planners must be comfortable with emotions and know their clients well. To do this, they must achieve their own emotional clarity, balancing their business and personal lives. Here, some excerpts, from a stimulating conversation with the Livingston, N.J.-based planner:
"We always ask, 'What must happen for you to feel satisfied and successful? And what are you willing to do to get there?' If what they say must happen is impossible, I tell them. I'm really good at naming the elephant in the room.
"We are not therapists. We're more like financial diagnosticians, identifying the problem.
"The key is trust-not the trust that you can create dazzling flowcharts but that you understand who they are and that you are not sitting in judgment.
"The essential elements of successful communication are not easy or natural You need to do what you say you're going to do-consistently. Listen more than you talk, and listen fully and actively. Be aware that people process information differently. Think before you speak. Speak and act in a nonjudgmental manner. Ask questions. Be direct. Remember and understand why you're there. Provide your clients with a sense of control over the process.
"Be respectful. The magic is creating a relationship with clients where they'll tell you the truth.
"It's amazing how many people I meet who are exhausted by the endless race of numbers in their lives. I get it. That was my life, too-until I began learning to help my clients clarify what is most important to them and guiding them through transitions.
"Before I could help my clients, though, I had to help myself. I decided I could no longer use the Wall Street method of picking stocks nor could I actively manage mutual funds. Instead I went to a fee-based model where I picked Dimensional Fund Advisors' index funds through a turnkey asset management program. I simplified my business model and began working with a coach. I went from working on my own to having a staff, and I'm much less frantic now."