What Great Financial Advisers and Physicians Have in Common

March 2, 2015

When attempting to find a great financial adviser, look for many of the qualities you would look for in a great physician.

The good physician makes an assessment of a patient’s general makeup and resilience before discussing a serious diagnosis and making treatment recommendations.  The good adviser does the same when guiding an individual or family toward financial security.

If the physician must present an ominous condition to a patient, the doctor must first be able to have the empathy to understand how the patient might hear what is said. Maybe things need to be repeated, with the same or different words. Maybe there will be the need for many questions. Maybe some printed or other visual materials might help, maybe not. Trust between the two will be the bedrock from which the treatment plan is built. The ongoing process of therapy and monitoring of the disease will take skill and caring if it is to be done well.

A family’s financial life and outcome should be handled with the same elements. The trusted adviser needs the empathy to “read” what is important as to life and financial goals. The discovery process should involve the same type of listening and learning on both sides. Trust between the two will be the bedrock from which the financial plan is built. Achieving the financial goals will take decades of close and cooperative work.

Along the way for both disease and money, there are bumps. How one handles the bumps and side paths speaks to resilience.

The patient and client with a great deal of resilience handles the unexpected with calm and acceptance. Less resilience results in more emotion. Emotion is a part of life, but can lead to bad decision making in both health and in finance. It is the job of the trusted adviser (doctor or financial planner) to enhance the resilience of the patient/client with skill.

I have heard some of these responsibilities described as paternalistic. I’ve been told that my job as a physician or adviser is to present the facts and probable outcomes and let the patient/client have the autonomy of choice. I reject that view. I look to my trusted advisers to step into my shoes (and to get to know what my shoes are like!). I want to know what they would do, and why.

Give some thought to your level of resilience in life and in your finances. What type of adviser do you want?