I added one more unscientific
element to the process. Any advisor I
wrote about had to pass “The Mama
Test.” It goes like this: As I spoke to an
advisor, I asked myself one and only
one question: Would I want this person
to handle my mama’s money?
The Rule of 1
After the dust settled that first January,
I had a conversation with an advisor
who told me he planned to have 500
client meetings that year.
“How is that even possible?” I asked.
“It’s taken years,” he said, “And I
never would have made it without gain-
ing the trust of my clients who then are
glad to give me referrals.”
“How’d you gain their trust?”
“One way is how I treat people in
those client meetings. When someone
walks through those doors, that may be
the only time they meet with a financial
advisor all year. So it doesn’t matter if I
have 50, 100 or 500 client meetings in
a year. When they sit down across from
me, I treat them like that meeting is the
most important one I’ll ever have.”
During my eight years as editor of
Retirement Advisor, I treated it as the
most important job I would ever have.
I sincerely hope that came through on
these pages. Until next time. RA
As I write this — my last column — I’m flooded with memories of the state of
the industry when I took this job in January 2008.
In short, the industry had a trust problem.
This was before the great market crash later that year. While the mainstream
media would find a myriad of villains from the fallout of that catastrophe, they
didn’t have their Bernie Madoff yet. Instead, they found their whipping boys in
retirement advisors, particularly the ones who favored annuities as a safe product
for aging Americans.
“Dateline NBC” was figuratively at the doorstep when I started. My bosses
pulled me in from day one and said, “They’re planning a story about annuity ad-
visors. We don’t know what they’re going to say. We don’t know when it will air.
We only know it won’t be flattering. For the sake of our industry and the advisors
who are doing the right thing, we need to get out in front of this story.”
A day into this job, I didn’t know the advisors. I didn’t know the industry. I
Googled “annuities” and didn’t like what I found. Story after story hammered
annuity advisors, claiming they were “out to get grandma.”
Meet the parents
In those early days, I tried to get my head around the trust problem. When I
spoke to industry folks, they admitted that, “Yes, there are a few bad apples out
there, but you have bad apples in any industry. The problem is the media makes
headlines out of our bad apples.”
I read past issues of our publication. The magazine did a great job of produc-
ing stories about successful advisors. These advisors had been vetted by Steve
McCarty’s team at the National Ethics Association, who conducted background
checks on our cover subjects.
Our guys were shiny red apples with great success stories to share with other
advisors. And yet, amid all the rags-to-riches tales, there was something missing.
The stories talked in great detail about the money top producers made, but they
rarely spoke about trust.
In “Meet the Parents,” Jack Byrnes (played by Robert De Niro) talks often
about “the circle of trust,” an unbreakable bond that binds loved ones together.
When Byrnes becomes disappointed in his future son-in-law Greg Focker (Ben
Stiller), he tells him in a threatening way, “I’m waaatching you!”
With the media plastering negative stories about annuity advisors — even if
they only focused on the small sample size containing bad apples — consumers
paid attention. They were wary of strangers with retirement promises. They were
“watching you.” And what they were looking for was someone they could trust
with their retirement money.
The Mama Test
We decided we’d tweak our coverage of advisors. We’d continue to run success
stories. We’d explain the strategies successful advisors used to win clients, with
one very important addition — we’d also talk about trust, how it was gained,
how it could be lost.
Oh, and we’d talk about the clients as well. With the advisor-client relation-
ship, two parties are at stake and we’d hear about the client’s success story, too.