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Challenging Family & Wealth Management Clients: Beyond Being a Good Listener

Written by O'Connor Professional Group
Published on November 22, 2022

by Bill Messinger

The Dark Side of Family and Wealth Management Client Relations

Working in a family office or wealth management office may seem like a “dream job” for financial and legal professionals. Yet there is a downside: working with difficult or unresponsive clients.  As the primary contact for family members, managers are usually the first to sense that something is wrong with a client. Then, as problems increase, they subsequently experience the client downhill slide to more severe dysfunctions. The client may have addiction problems, be in treatment or an early recovery program, or have other significant mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or simply “fail to launch” and become productive members of society.

how to address difficult family office and wealth management clients

Wealth Managers “Manage – But Don’t Control”

While the management function varies, one common attribute is that the manager often acts in an advisory and professional capacity but lacks control over the source of funds. Control is often in the hands of a trustee, patriarch, or business founder. The wealth manager tends to serve as an intermediary between the source of the funds and the recipient, but lacks ultimate authority over the funds. The end result is that it is challenging to influence a client’s behavior by using access to resources as an incentive to seek help. 

Long-Standing Trusted Relationships for Family Members

Many family members’ relationship with wealth management office staff extends over decades, starting at a young age, and maybe the most significant one in their lives.  They are the people family members turn to when they need money, pay bills, donate to charity, generally manage day-to-day financial transactions and accounting, or seek legal advice. Given the hazards associated with being wealthy or prominent, office personnel may be the client’s most trusted relationship, particularly the staff person interacting with the client on a day-to-day basis. 

Effective Wealth Management Client Relations Goes Beyond Being a Good Listener

Knowing many professionals in the family office and wealth management world, we can vouch for the skills, knowledge, and empathy their clients respond to and rely on. The dilemma they face is wanting to be helpful when a client is has problems while lacking the authority and often the training to be much more than a good listener. Being a good listener is a significant role. And at the same time, it may be rewarding to both the client and managers to move beyond listening to a more enhanced and productive role.  

• One important reason for doing so is to improve client well-being and reduce stress on staff.  

• A second, even more important reason is that, in our experience, addiction and mental health disorders are the number one risk to wealth preservation.  

If families and their advisors fail to be proactive in addressing behavioral health disorders or the Law of Entropy sets in, wealth dissipates over time, and families fall apart. 

Current Treatment has Failed the Affluent and Prominent.

A final point to consider is that the current system of dealing with addiction, namely intervention, in-patient treatment, and referral to Al-Anon and AA, has failed the affluent and prominent and led to many needless deaths. Same for treatment of mental health issues

It’s beyond time for family offices to enhance their learning curve, get up to speed on resources, and start talking about how they can be part of the solution for their clients!

Our blogs, curated discussions, think pieces, and resources are designed to support the family office and wealth managers as they explore how to appropriately respond to their clientele’s individual needs. Learn more about our services for family office and wealth advisors here.

how to address difficult family office and wealth management clients

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