You are failing your financial family clients–and sabotaging your multi-generational client retention–if you’re not encouraging good communication. That’s one of the big picture lessons I learned from “Five Solutions for Mixing Finance, Families and Fiduciaries,” presented to the Boston Estate Planning Council on Nov. 6 by Bonnie Brown Hartley, president of Transition Dynamics Inc., Richard Narva, partner, The Roseview Group, and Mike Hartley, chairman and CEO, DKE Inc.
A case of poor communication easily resolved
Advisors to financial families often avoid bringing up sensitive issues. This is a big mistake.
Take the case of the family with an unsigned buy-sell agreement for their main asset, a large corporation. Their beloved daughter-in-law was the only holdout. But nobody knew why. Not the family patriarch. Not the family attorney. Not even the husband. They were too scared to ask, as Bonnie Hartley found out through gentle probing.
Imagine the family members’ surprise–and relief–when Bonnie learned the daughter-in-law’s objection could be easily removed. With permission from the patriarch and the husband, Bonnie asked the daughter-in-law why she wouldn’t sign. The answer: “I won’t sign an agreement that doesn’t make me a trustee if my husband dies before my children reach their majority.” As a mother, she didn’t want to leave her children’s future in the hands of strangers. This objection was easily addressed, so the agreement was signed.
The family wasn’t the only beneficiary of this good communication. A stronger relationship resulted between the family and the advisors who brought in Bonnie as a consultant.
More hints for good communication
Try running “fire drills” to test “what if” scenarios” such as the death of a key family member of the sale of the family business.
Deepen your relationship with the younger generations.
- Train them in how to be good trustees and beneficiaries.
- Communicate with them using the methods they prefer. That could mean foregoing meetings in favor of e-mail, texting, or communication through a family-advisor intranet. Family-advisor intranets, available through DKE Digital, are particularly well-suited to multi-generational families whose members and advisors are geographically dispersed.
- Assign members of your firm to mentor younger family members–and go outside your firm to find mentors if necessary.
- Include younger members of your firm in meetings with multi-generational clients.
- Use genograms to get a better understanding of your client families’ dynamics.
For more insights from the Hartleys
If you’re interested in more insights from Bonnie Hartley, you can sign up for a quarterly e-newsletter at the bottom of The Hartley Group’s website.
On a personal note, it was a great pleasure to attend this presentation because Bonnie and Mike have been valued clients.