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Is Trump a no-go in client conversations?

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Avoiding talking about politics with your clients in the Trump era? You may want to reconsider.

Even in this hyper-partisan era, it may be beneficial for your practice to engage with clients about this controversial subject to identify related financial concerns and behaviors, according to a new study from Spectrem Group.

"Politics is such an integral part of people's mindset right now that it's a mistake for advisors to sweep it under the rug for fear of offending clients," says Tom Wynn, director of affluent research for Spectrem Group. "People want their advisors' interpretation of the situation in Washington to help them make decisions."

Indeed, the political environment and government gridlock were the primary concerns among clients surveyed by Spectrem for its report "Politics, Taxes and Investors' Changing Attitudes.” More than 52% of those surveyed said they cared more about politics now than in the past.

Advisors generally agree that although it may seem counter-intuitive, discussing politics with clients can be beneficial. With Donald Trump in the White House, many say, the subject often can't be avoided.

"We're told that good advisors stay away from politics, but I disagree," says Andy Berg, principal of Atlanta-based Homrich Berg. "I think it's healthy to know how clients feel about politics. How it affects the economy and their money is totally on point."
Being able to discuss politics candidly also helps cement a bond between advisors and clients.

"It's hard to build trust with clients without both parties being candid," says Derek Holman, managing director of EP Wealth Advisors in Los Angeles. "You have to be able to communicate openly, not just about politics, but about life, which can include politics."

Steve Prostano, head of family wealth advisors for Bank of the West Wealth Management, agrees. Talking about politics doesn't change the advice he would give clients, he says, but it does help to "get to know them better as people."

The Spectrem report, however, does suggest that knowing a client's politics may influence, or at least inform, how an advisor interacts with them.

Asking a few questions can assist advisors "in trying to understand issues clients may be concerned about due to their political leanings," the report states.

For example, investors describing themselves as Democrats are "much more concerned" about the economy than Republicans or Independents, and they are "more worried" about market volatility and outliving their assets, according to the survey.

With Donald Trump in the White House, talking about politics often can't be avoided.

Such differences can influence the way you interact with clients, the report states. “If you anticipate they lean towards more liberal issues, focus on retirement income and socially responsible issues. Take an educational approach. If you think they are more conservative, presume they feel they know a lot about investments and focus on the results."

Advisors shied away from endorsing these generalizations, but did cite some practical benefits of discussing the political climate with clients.

The day after the November 2016 election brought a flood of calls into EP's offices, Holman recalled.

"We fielded a lot of calls from clients who felt strongly about the election on both sides," he says. "Some wanted to be more aggressive with their portfolios than they probably should have been and some were more conservative than they should have been. Our job is to take the emotion out of their decision and help them invest more pragmatically."

Knowing a client's politics can also help avoid an embarrassing faux pas, Berg points out. "The more you know about the client or prospect, the less likely you are to put your foot in your mouth," he says.

Today's tense climate has spurred some advisors to take a direct approach to talking politics with clients.

"For the first time in my professional career I have started expressing my opinion about the current president," says Linda Lubitz Boone, president of the Lubitz Financial Group in Miami. "If all we do is bitch about something and don’t take any action, we then are part of the problem. So, for right now, my way of being active is to have conversations with clients who want to [talk about politics] about my fears of the direction our country is heading."

Others, meanwhile, make a point to avoid the topic altogether.

Michael Zeuner, managing partner for New York-based WE Family Offices, says he will talk to clients about issues like tax reform, but sees little benefit in "direct political discussions."

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