Character counts: Advisers should tout their integrity

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It would be hard for a prospective client visiting her office to not understand that Shelly Church, a CFP and senior vice president for Raymond James in Naples, Fla., has endured more than most people.

Her son was born with a congenital heart disease, and, 11 years ago, when he was just 18, he died after enduring multiple surgeries.

Church’s office has many photos of him.

“I have a whole wall devoted to them,” he says. “He was a very big part of my life, and my clients knew that.”

But those clients and prospective ones also quickly recognize through her stories and other mementos that her son’s condition led Church to a commitment to giving to others.

She served as president of the board of the American Heart Association in Collier County, Fla., from 2001 to 2004, chaired the Heart Walks for Collier County in 1999 and 2000, and serves on a board of Camp Boggy Creek, a facility in central Florida started by Paul Newman and Norman Schwarzkopf to serve chronically and terminally ill children.

The stories about how her son’s illness led her to those high-profile roles help clients understand the depth of her character, so Church shares shares them regularly.

Advisers should never shy away from telling stories that show their integrity, says Margaret “Peg” Eddy, a CFP and co-founder of San Diego-based Creative Capital Management.

But she recommends that advisers also steer clear of appearing vainglorious.

At her own firm, Eddy still lets most new clients know about the time she recommended a mergers and acquisitions firm to an entrepreneurial client who was seeking to sell his business.

The match succeeded, and the client sold his company for a tidy profit. The M&A consultant then asked Eddy where she wanted him to send a $50,000 check, as payment for referring the client.

She didn’t accept the check and instead told the M&A consultant to credit her client’s account.

Eddy doesn’t accept referral fees as a way to avoid conflicts.

“We have always acted in the clients’ best interests,” she says. “Anybody can say they do the right thing, but you’ve got to show you have done the right thing.”

This story is part of a 30-30 series on ways to upgrade your practice.

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