“Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one”
– Ethan Hawke, from his book Rules for a Knight
A Super Performer
On February 1st, 2015, the New England Patriots played the Seattle Seahawks in one of the most entertaining, and closely contested Super Bowl games in recent history. Late in the 4th quarter of that game, with only 6:52 left on the clock, the Patriots took possession of the ball deep in their own territory, losing 24-21. This was crunch time for the Pats – if they were able to mount a long scoring drive, the odds were good they would win the championship. If they came up empty and turned the ball back over to Seattle, it was likely the Seahawks would run out the clock and take the victory.
New England’s Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady stepped into the huddle to start the drive, and except for the players on the field that night, nobody really knows exactly what he said to his players when they took the field. However, there is one thing I can guarantee he did not say. He didn’t have to take time to explain to his offensive linemen who he was, what his credentials are, and that he is Tom Brady, one of the winningest quarterbacks in history. He didn’t need to tell them that they should do what he says because he has 3 Super Bowl rings and 2 Super Bowl MVP’s, and is the ultimate, last minute comeback player. He didn’t have to announce his greatness to inspire confidence in his teammates – he just had to behave like a great quarterback, tell his troops what to do, and execute with greatness. He didn’t have to explain that he is Tom Brady, he only had to be Tom Brady.
(By the way, Brady proceeded to lead his team down the field on a surgical, 9 play drive, culminating with his touchdown pass to Julian Edelman, helping to win his 4th Super Bowl ring.)
The lesson? As Ethan Hawke suggests, those who are great in any field don’t need to explain or brag about why they are great. They just act that way. You can tell by a person’s behavior and demeanor if they are great at what they do – they just walk into a situation, act like a real pro, and operate at the highest standards.
A Useful Measuring Stick
This lesson can be helpful to remember when choosing or evaluating people to trust in your life as well. You can judge a potential friend, business partner, CPA, lawyer, or financial advisor much more by the way he or she behaves, than by what he or she “announces” about him or herself.
This is particularly true in the financial services industry: for any family that plans to delegate the key decisions about their financial future to an advisor, trust is of utmost importance. Although there is no shortage of marketing messages out there from Wall Street firms that “announce” how trustworthy they and their advisors are, unfortunately not everyone in the industry “walks the talk” and behaves in a trustworthy manner. In recent years, and especially since 2008, the financial advice industry has suffered from a major decline in the public perception of trust.
So how are you to know? What standard can you apply to make sure that your advisor is worthy of your trust? How can you find that rare advisor who has both the competence and trustworthy character to guide your family’s wealth planning? How can you find someone who will actually care as much as you do about your family’s financial well-being and quality of life?
It’s simple: observe whether he or she behaves in a trustworthy manner. Here are a couple of important ways you can tell if your advisor fits the bill:
Do they take their craft seriously?
Make note of how long they have been in practice, as well as any professional designations or other evidence that they take their profession seriously and are dedicated and committed to a lifetime of learning and staying current. Also note the kinds of services they provide and how client-centered they are. At a minimum, be sure that they offer regular review meetings and accessible client contact.
What is their business platform?
There has been a recent trend in the industry in which advisors are departing from business platforms which may have hidden conflicts of interest, in favor of a more transparent, objective and conflict-free model. Many have decided to eliminate conflicts altogether by becoming independent investment advisors, embracing a fiduciary standard. Of course, there are trustworthy advisors in every firm and platform, but finding an advisor who embraces the fiduciary standard is one way to screen possible candidates.
Are they focused on YOU?
A great advisor makes it ALL ABOUT YOU, so take note of the questions that your advisor asks. I always chuckle when a personal finance magazine or web site scares you into thinking that you need to have a whole list of technical questions for prospective advisors. The truth is that trustworthy professional advisors reveal more about themselves by the questions they ask you rather than how they answer the questions you ask them. The best advisor is someone who wants to know all about YOU – your values, your goals, what is important to YOU — and is not shy about asking you. You should always walk away from a meeting with your advisor with a feeling that your relationship with him or her is all about you, a feeling reinforced by the questions directed to you.
A trustworthy and competent advisor who passes these tests is worth entrusting with all of your money. Follow his or her financial advice completely. Be grateful that you have found a lifetime partner in your family’s financial success, and then go out and use all that time you once spent worrying about your money to do the things that really matter.