By Jeff Neher, Managing Principal, CNC Financial Group, LLC
Close your eyes for a quick experiment. Think of your business, the signage outside and information posted inside the halls and conference rooms. Is your firm’s mission statement visible? Can you recite it? If you can’t, how can you expect your employees to follow it? And if they don’t know it, how can it affect them, your partners or the decisions that are made daily at your firm?
Writing and publishing a mission statement is the greatest step you can take toward making sure that your practice is in alignment with your values and with your firm's vision and actions. But you must live by it to achieve its full potential.
At our wealth management firm in Washington state, we consider ourselves problem solvers, not just tax or financial professionals. When asked what I do, I usually say I'm a relationship manager. I make an impact on the lives of my clients by assisting them with the tough decisions they face in life.
We have a mission statement, and it’s very simple: To assist our clients on their path to success. We don't pick the path for our clients; we help them see their path and help them with solutions to keep on that path. We don't define what success is for our clients, because for each client that definition is going to be different. We simply act as guides and lead them on their paths.
When we came up with this mission statement, we knew it needed to be client-centric, because our clients are the reason we come to work every morning. What evolved is our agreement that our firm exists to assist our clients to keep their promises to those that they love and make their dreams a reality. Having this statement in writing provides the opportunity for the firm’s partners and our employees to find meaning and significance in our lives. That activity actually comes full circle and provides us with the opportunity to fulfill our own dreams and our promises.
Each partner of our firm arrived with many great values and beliefs. As we started to discuss the firm's values, what they were and what we wanted our culture to look like, we agreed upon nine common values for our firm. Those nine values are written and we hold ourselves accountable to them, and we also hold all of our employees accountable to them.
Mission and Values Drive Action
Those values were reflected very clearly for our employees when we worked with a woman I’ll call Karen. Karen was 56 years old and in deep financial trouble. I met her through an attorney who knew that we were in the business of both financial services and doing tax work. He asked if I could meet with her and see if there's something I could do to help. Immediately, my brain was telling me that this is not the ideal client, but as a favor to this attorney, I said, “Sure, I'd be happy to help.”
So I met with Karen and heard her story. She had become disabled a few years back and was unable to work full time. She had lived with her mother, and when her mother died, Karen inherited the house with its mortgage. The house and some pasture were in a nice location, but the real estate market then was in its downward spiral.
I asked Karen what was she thinking about doing.
“I'm actually thinking that I'm probably going to lose my house,” she said. “I might be able to sell it, but if I do sell it, I don't know that I'm going to have enough money to pay my rent and pay my living expenses for the rest of my life because I've already applied for Social Security disability and I've been denied. I don't know that I'll have the money and I'm really thinking about living in my car.”
With that pulling on my heartstrings, I asked Karen whether she had tried to sell the house. It turned out that she had a neighbor who was an orchardist and he might want her land to expand his orchard. We talked to him and found out that he was interested in the land but didn’t think he had enough money to buy the property. When we were done with the conversation, he agreed to purchase the property and wrote Karen a check for $220,000, and paid her closing costs. Now here’s the best part of the whole story: He had no use for the home and agreed to give Karen a life estate in the house. That life estate completely changed her life. We were able to invest $200,000 worth of proceeds from the sale, and Karen would never again have to worry about mortgage or rent payments.
I know situations like these aren’t always going to have such a happy ending, but we made an amazing impact on her life and now she's an amazing advocate for our firm. We received some financial reward for this, but even if we had received nothing, the experience we shared would have been enough. When we see the positive resolution of hard decisions we've helped our clients make, we're filled with joy and significance. That's why we all get up in the morning and we continue to go to work.
Like all stories within the firm, this one spread quickly. Some employees found out about this and the understanding among some of our younger people in our firm was instant. Before Karen, we had talked about our values and our mission statement and what they meant, but now our staff had a real, live example. They knew that we were serious when we said our profession wasn't about making money. We are about doing the right thing for our clients and if we do the right thing day in and day out, we will make money. Now they had a concrete story to illustrate this mission and that is helpful.
In our profession, every decision we make, every policy we set, every action we take either adds to or subtracts from the client experience. Even if there's not a direct link, there's always an indirect link. It can be difficult to get employees to transition from seeing themselves as tax professionals to relationship managers. They must embrace why you're in the business and adopt your firm values so that they can get the same fulfillment and energy that you get from your practices. Having a clear, concise mission statement is an excellent step in that direction.
Jeff Neher is Managing Principal of CNC Financial Group, LLC, a Wenatchee, Wash.-based wealth management, financial planning, tax and accounting firm. You can learn more about Jeff at www.cnccpa.com.
1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 12750 Merit Dr., Suite 1200, Dallas, Texas 75251; 214-294-5000. Additional information about 1st Global is available via the Internet at www.1stGlobal.com.