Choosing a Wealth Manager: Education, Expertise, Experience + Empathy

By Rita Cheng, CRPC®, CFP®
CEO, Blue Ocean Global Wealth

In my August column, I defined financial planning and wealth management. In my October column I shared tips on how to choose the best wealth manager for your business and your family.

Now I’d like to discuss a trait that all the best wealth managers share: empathy.

Clearly, education, expertise, and experience are important, but empathy—the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others—is key because it facilitates mutual understanding.

Empathetic wealth managers can inspire their clients to adopt the positive changes necessary for them to reach their life financial goals.

According to the writings of 8th-century Buddhist scholar Shantideva, the key to cultivating more empathy is to learn to see the complexity of a situation. Even if empathy does not come naturally to us, it’s a virtue that we can develop over time.

Identify an empathetic wealth manager by considering the following:

1. Who does most of the talking during your initial interview with your prospective wealth manager? Remember, it’s your money. You are in complete control of the engagement with your financial planner. You need to feel heard and understood, as opposed to being lectured to or talked down to. Your advisor must understand your time horizon, your goals, and your capacity for risk— and most importantly, you as an individual, not just an investor.

2. Are you offered solutions prior to having all of your questions addressed? Empathetic listening is very similar to what psychologists refer to as “active listening.” Your wealth manager should repeat back to you what he or she thinks you stated to confirm understand that what you’ve said is understood. And if your prospective wealth manager is actively listening, he or she will know not to put forth solutions for you until you have had a chance to ask all of your questions and explain your situation fully.

3. Does your advisor have a genuine desire to understand your financial situation? Traditionally, financial advisors identify a problem and offer a solution. The unfortunate result of this approach is that it sometimes magnifies the problems and impedes the exchange of dialogue. In contrast, empathetic listening encourages a natural flow of information that inevitably takes conversations between advisors and clients in different directions; directions that can provide the opportunity for deeper understanding of your most intimate fears and concerns, hope and dreams. The solutions wealth managers propose from this deeper understanding are sure to be more on-target and helpful.

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy, we can all sense a mysterious connection to each other,” said Meryl Streep.

By being empathetic, the best wealth managers are able to provide their clients with clarity and confidence in addition to sound financial advice. Clarity as it pertains to determining what matters most to you, and the confidence of knowing that you have made smart financial decisions.

Smart financial decisions enable you to adapt readily to life transitions and move progressively closer to your financial goals.

Marguerita M. Cheng, CFP® is the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, which provides corporations and institutions with portfolio construction, investment due diligence, and risk-management consulting services. The firm works with families, entrepreneurs, and executives to help them identify and achieve their financial goals. As a CFP Board Ambassador, she helps educate the public, policy makers, and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning.

A Financial Planning Association (FPA) National Board Member and member of the finance committee, Cheng served eight years on the Board of Directors of her alma matter, The Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland, where she collaborated to increase alumni engagement and developed asset management education programs. She is also the President of the Blue Ocean Economic Empowerment Fund.

Cheng says her greatest joy and passion is touching the lives of others so that they may achieve their “personal financial success.”

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