Investment Firms Digging Deeper into Client Relationships

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Some investment houses are going the extra mile to forge lasting relationships with clients by offering “life planning” advice as part of the investment package, the Associated Press reported.

You've seen the Morgan Stanley commercials where the investment advisor could be mistaken for a spouse, well that strategy is taking hold across the industry as investment advisors talk to their clients about life goals, dreams and values.

Some are going so far as taking their clients away on short retreats to country clubs and resorts to get a better handle on the individual's needs. The results are mixed.

"We've had some clients break down and cry, while others say, 'I've waited 20 years for an adviser to ask me these questions,'" Andy Byer, director of Envision, a program launched in 2003 by Wachovia Securities, a unit of Wachovia Corp., to help its clients identify what they want to achieve in their lives, as well as prioritize and monitor progress toward these goals, told the AP.

"We're talking about culture change when we talk about the wire houses doing this," George Kinder, a Littleton, MA, consultant who is credited with being the father of life planning, told the AP. "Each time there's an economic crisis, advisers go through a period of soul-searching and look for new ways to connect with clients."

American Express took this route three years ago when its American Express Financial Advisors trained 60 percent of its more than 1,000 advisors serving clients with assets of at least $500,000 in what it calls "Life-Based Financial Planning," the AP reported.

The touchy-feely approach includes having clients complete worksheets that ask about the "three people who've had the deepest impact on your life" and the "three peak experiences that have profoundly shaped your life/work direction."

"My initial reaction is that this is certainly a different financial-planning approach," John Boeder, a 63-year-old client of American Express Financial Advisors, which is in the process of being spun off from American Express Co., told the AP. "It expands beyond investments and returns, because it looks at our other interests and what kind of legacy we want to leave."

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