what level of advice do entrepreneurs need?

maze with word "plan" at the centerhelp them navigate the maze of options.

by anthony glomski

the financial services industry has failed some of your clients who are entrepreneurs. a big gap can exist between what they pay (and the services delivered) versus what they need.

more: three approaches to investment consulting | the role of the personal cfo
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we can agree that your clients will usually need an investment management solution. but how can you help your client sort through the different advice options to get them aligned with the right professional?  how can you determine who is the right fit for your practice to develop a working relationship? the diagram below is the hierarchy of advice available:

diagramremember, level 1 and level 2 represent over 90 percent of advisors. and this is okay – it’s appropriate for many types of people. however, those with complexity, specifically your business owner clients, really should be at a level 3 or level 4.

titles can be very confusing. as mentioned earlier, an awful lot of people in financial services call themselves “wealth managers.” but research shows fewer than 10 percent of them really provide consultative wealth management services that include all aspects of advanced planning and relationship management. mostly they just focus on investments and one-off advice (which places them on the lower tiers of the hierarchy).

level 4 – the virtual family office

this is a game changer. thanks to advances in technology and changes in legislation, all of a sudden, families with $10 million net worth and up can access the same tools and resources that used to be reserved exclusively for billionaires and families with $500 million-plus net worth who had full-blown single-family offices (sfos).

in my experience, some business owners greatly underestimate how much their businesses are worth and may even plan to shut them down upon retiring if they don’t have a trusted family member to take the business over. that’s a huge missed opportunity. there can be an appetite for businesses of all kinds – even those with very low ebidta. some companies are now commanding much higher multiples than they would have as recently as three years ago. different market cycles will change demand, but there can be value for your client’s business – sometimes substantial value – and you should help your client unlock that value.

there are all kinds of buyers stepping into the picture. some that might not be immediately obvious to you. for instance, with the expansive growth of family offices, many are looking at all kinds of “bread and butter” companies for their clients to acquire.

here’s another thing you should understand about your business owner clients. research shows that 85 percent of owners hope to sell someday, but only one in eight (13%) have done any type of planning around a sale. as a savvy cpa, you can add massive value in a transaction, both on the tax side and otherwise.

vetting of professionals you’re considering adding to your expert team

questions to ask anyone who manages money:

  1. are you a fiduciary?
  2. how do you get paid?
  3. do you get paid directly by the client or do you get a commission on investment products you select?
  4. do you have any revenue-sharing on investment products you select?
  5. do you get any 12(b)-1 (marketing/distribution) fees on any investment products?

if the advisor you’re considering is at a “wirehouse” (e.g., morgan stanley, ubs, major banks, etc.) they’re going to have some type of revenue-sharing arrangement. by the way, that doesn’t mean they’re bad advisors. but as your client’s most trusted advisor, you need to be aware that a conflict of interest exists.

for instance, if the advisor can put your client into investment a and get paid more than they would for putting your client into investment b, then which investment do you think they’ll recommend? investment a is often the answer. and who do you think pays those extra fees? your client.

by contrast, fiduciaries are prohibited by law from receiving any type of revenue share or compensation for the investments they recommend to their clients. sometimes they’ll end up recommending the same type of investment for a client that a wirehouse advisor recommends, but instead of fund a or fund b, it will be fund i, which stands for “investor class.” that means it’s the exact same fund, but costs the client much less because the fiduciary is not getting paid by the fund administrators to recommend it.

again, there’s nothing wrong with partnering with advisors at the morgan stanleys and ubss of the world. just make sure you are crystal clear about how they get paid, how they make their selections and the total cost structure of investing with them. you also need to ask the following:

  • what are the fees going forward, once the portfolio is built?
  • what are the underlying fees?
  • what are additional commission and transaction charges?
  • what’s the total cost – all in – for the portfolio they’re recommending?

as your client’s most trusted advisor, your job is to assess where they are now and where they should be – and how you fit into the plan for getting them there. for clients who have complex situations, you want to align them with the right level of service based on their needs. if they’re entrepreneurs, they should be at level 3, if not level 4. your involvement – whether as a full personal cfo of the firm that builds the client’s virtual family office, or just as an integral support in the framework – will drive massive results for your clients.

ask the following questions when meeting with potential strategic partners on your short list:

  1. can you give me a case study about the steps you took to help a client with asset protection?
  2. tell me more about the steps you took to help a client with a tax mitigation issue.
  3. can you give me specific steps you took to enhance a client’s charitable giving plans?
  4. how about the steps you took to optimize wealth transfer for a client?
  5. what is your ongoing systemic process for ensuring clients are being covered with respect to asset protection, tax mitigation, wealth transfer and charitable giving?

the minute you hear a candidate tell you, “i know a guy” or “we have this covered,” you know they’re not executing a systematic process. this is a haphazard approach, not a methodical one, and it’s likely time for you to move on. at this point you have to make a choice: are you dealing with a client who has a certain amount of complexity in their lives? is he or she an entrepreneur with a lot of moving parts? if so, you may be doing them a disservice by not aligning them on the right level of the hierarchy.

the core of investment philosophy comes down to preserving wealth, controlling taxes, controlling costs and controlling risk. regardless of where an advisor is on the hierarchy, he or she should be able to explain to you very clearly how they are addressing each of the issues you raised in your interview. if they cannot show you a framework and defined process or doing so, then you’d better continue your search.

at a bare minimum, they should have a systemic process that includes:

  1. discovery meeting
  2. investment plan meeting
  3. mutual commitment meeting
  4. initial follow-up meeting
  5. regular progress meeting

the collaborative wealth management process


1. the mutual discovery meeting. the first step is to help you accurately uncover and clearly measure what your client wants and needs most out of life today and in the future. without knowing what they want their money to accomplish, even the best financial strategies in the world won’t be of much help.

with that in mind, the initial mutual discovery meeting is centered on a detailed interview process that enables you to define your client’s financial needs and goals, and where they currently are in life. this gives you the information you need to create a comprehensive client profile. this profile is used to create solutions that are customized to each client situation, and to lay the groundwork for working with other advisors (cpas, attorneys, risk specialists, etc.) who may be involved in the wealth management process.

2. the investment plan meeting. this meeting is centered on two key elements:

  • a complete diagnostic overview of your client’s current financial situation
  • presentation of a recommended plan and policy statement for achieving your client’s
    investment-related goals

these elements are based on the information that was uncovered during the mutual discovery meeting. these recommendations are based on the four key drivers of investment success: return, risk, costs and taxes. the plan presented in this meeting becomes the actionable investment plan for your client, which is structured to accomplish two main goals:

  • bridge any gaps between where they are now and where they want to go
  • maximize the probability of achieving their well-defined investment goals

in short, the investment plan serves as the road map that will guide you and your client through the journey of growing, preserving and passing on their wealth over time. having a plan in place will help ensure that rational analysis – not emotional reaction – is the basis for your client’s investment decisions.

3. the mutual commitment meeting. at this meeting, which occurs after you have reviewed the plan carefully with your client, you go over any questions or concerns he or she may have about the plan to determine whether to move ahead and implement the recommended investment strategies. upon your client’s approval, the investment plan is put into motion. you’ll decide on the frequency of your future meetings with your client and the ways in which your client prefers to be contacted.

4. the 45-day follow-up meeting. within 45 days of implementing the investment plan, you will have to send a great deal of legally required paperwork to your client. chances are they’re very busy and may find all the forms and emails a bit of a nuisance. this meeting helps you and your client organize the various statements. it also allows you to help your client understand the financial paperwork involved in working together. and it’s an opportunity to review any initial concerns and ask any questions either of you may have. it’s an opportunity for you and your client to gain continued clarity about exactly what the plan is for preserving their wealth.

5. regular progress meetings. the creation of a wealth management plan is not a “one and done” exercise. it’s an ongoing process. over time, the markets change and, more importantly, your client’s life changes – especially in the wake of a sizable liquidity event. it’s important to review and update your client’s plan consistently. at regular progress meetings, your client’s current financial position is compared to their plan to assess the progress you have made together toward achieving their goals.

included in this plan is a strategy for addressing your client’s critical non-investment goals. this comprehensive blueprint for addressing your client’s advanced planning needs will be developed in coordination with a network of professionals such as cpas and attorneys. at subsequent progress meetings, you can decide how to proceed on specific elements of your client’s wealth management plan. over time, every aspect of their complete financial picture can be effectively managed.

now that you’re oriented toward the top of the hierarchy, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a wealth manager and a virtual family office further. a virtual family office encompasses all aspects of wealth management, plus many additional services. a virtual family office can help clients to “cut the line” and gain immediate access to the best of the best specialists and service providers without having to wait. a virtual family office enables you and your client to negotiate fees with these elite service providers. it gives clients access to services like concierge medicine, life management services and private aviation consulting, based on their unique needs. ultimately, a virtual family office gives clients access to the same services and solutions that billionaire families like the waltons do – without the overhead and expense of a single family office.

most importantly, a virtual family office solves two major challenges for your high-net-worth entrepreneur clients:

  1. it ensures everything is working exactly the way they want it to work.
  2. it ensures they’re not missing out on any opportunities.

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