The Price of Perfection

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Different advisers present different levels of financial detail to their clients. One adviser might stick to the big picture: “My clients just want to know that they will be all right.” Another adviser may feel the need to provide more detailed data: “My clients expect me to be more up to date on their financial status than they are.”

Consider how three advisers with different attitudes toward detail might handle a retirement income planning conversation. All of the advisers discuss whether the client has enough savings to see him through retirement based on certain assumptions. But each adviser takes a different approach:

  • The first adviser presents an overview of the client’s financial life.
  • The second adviser identifies how much money the client has under management, to the nearest dollar.
  • The third adviser checks the status of each of the client’s holdings, prepares a precise and up-to-date quantitative report, and tracks the client’s cash flow.

So, how detailed should an adviser be? Clearly, advisers’ ideas of how detail-oriented they need to be vary significantly. What one adviser considers sufficient, another may consider sloppy. One adviser’s perfectionism might seem wasteful to another. Although the easy answer might be that the level of detail depends on the client, most advisers would agree that they “train” their clients to expect a certain kind and amount of information.

Can you be too perfect? While it’s important to use an approach that works for you, beware of the costs of being too detail-oriented. Typically, the more you focus on detail, the greater the cost of doing business. Though technology has leveled the playing field considerably, an emphasis on detail typically requires a higher level of employee skills, as well as more of the adviser’s time. Assembling and checking the accuracy of large quantities of data takes time, and time is money.

Of course, some of us are hardwired to be detail-oriented. If you’re a perfectionist, ask yourself: Am I targeting the right client niche and pricing my services accordingly?

How detail-oriented are you? To get a handle on your own attitude toward detail, consider using a statistically reliable and validated behavioral profile instrument. One option is the Predictive Index, but many other assessment tools are available.

In short, be aware of your own natural tendencies toward detail. Then consider what your clients actually need, and be sure your pricing model reflects the level of detail you provide!

Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principle of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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