The Private Wealth Specialist, Part 2 

The role of the private wealth specialist and how client-focused relationships actually work.

October 18, 2007
by Lewis Schiff

In Part One of this series I elaborated on the ability of private wealth specialists to add value to your existing client relationships, forming specialized teams to solve investment, estate planning, taxation, insurance and business-ownership issues for your high-net-worth clients. Here, we take a closer look at the role of the private wealth specialist, and at how these client-focused relationships actually work in practice.

When advisors need a private wealth specialist, they call Arthur Bavelas, president and CEO of Resource Network LTD in Radnor, Pennsylvania (and a principal of Advanced Planning Group, a private wealth specialist firm). In addition to having access to a range of experts, Bavelas views his primary function as a facilitator and coordinator of the team of professionals selected from his network to solve a client’s financial concerns. The team members change depending on the client situation.

At the start of a project brought to him by an advisor, Bavelas addresses three questions so the group can work productively: What does the client need to accomplish; which of his network of specialists is going to tackle each aspect of the case; and what is the time frame for providing a solution that will meet the client’s needs?

READER NOTE: Lewis Schiff will be holding workshops to introduce the newest solutions for your high-net-worth clients at select U.S. cities. Fall 2007: New York City, Chicago. To reserve your spot for these workshops, click here.

Bavelas sets the program into action based on the responses to these questions. He says that the first inclination of many high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients is to turn to their closest financial advisors to address these complex challenges.

Unfortunately, based on his experience, these efforts slow down the process, or often cause it to fall several steps short of completion. Since Bavelas and his network have worked on hundreds of cases, they know the roadblocks to implementation — including those created by the client as well as a myriad of technical challenges — and can avoid them, while also compressing the time it takes to reach completion. The longer plans and documents linger without moving on to the next stage, Bavelas says, the more likely clients will lose interest.

Thinking First of You

As a CPA, you can make clients think of you as a problem-solver by constantly demonstrating ways that you are adding value to the client relationship. For larger clients, Dahlquist will tap extra resources that can improve a client’s perception of his practice and the range of services the group is capable of providing. For example, even if an initial review of a client’s situation identifies some basic planning issues, Dahlquist will go to a specialist he’s used in the past and ask him to look at the situation and identify any other exposure or liabilities or anything else the client should know.

“The client looks to us as someone that’s going to think of those kinds of solutions, and that’s going to be one of our differentiators,” he argues. “For example, we have external relationships with groups that specialize in personal property and casualty insurance. We look at the client’s exposure and liabilities like we would look at a corporation.”

The Team Approach

While the strength of your relationship with a client is the basis for your work together, financial professionals and private wealth specialists who work with this level of clients always speak of the need for flawless execution on service-related matters. For CPAs, positioining yourself as the leader of a group of experts, as opposed to being simply a solo practitioner, is critical to getting to the next level of success. Especially with more affluent clients, they value the notion that a team is working on their behalf. It helps engender greater confidence that their needs will be addressed thoroughly.

In his early conversations with a client, Dahlquist makes sure they agree on the unique needs the group must address, the special service requirements and who on the team will provide them, the preferred form of communication, and the financial concerns they’ll work on together. “If we do that well,” he says. “I think that’s a plus for us, and they know what to expect when they’re working with us.”

Efficiency and thorough implementation — areas where traditional planning processes often stall — are two key elements of how top private wealth specialists work. Next month, I’ll discuss a third key element — high performance collaboration.

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Lewis Schiff is the principal of Advanced Planning Group. His forthcoming book, The Middle-Class Millionaire, will be published in January 2008.