As Registered Investment Advisors, we have a fiduciary duty to put the interests of our clients first. What does that really mean? For me, it means I don't sell commissioned products and I do my best to make recommendations that are suitable to each particular client. But it also goes beyond that.
You see, our clients share the most personal part of their lives with us: their finances. Often, we know more about our clients' private details than their kids or best friends. With that comes an even greater responsibility. I believe we owe our clients the duty of caring about them.
Caring about clients does not mean loaning them money or planning their daughter's wedding. It doesn't even mean your clients will never leave you. After all, they might move away or their son might get a job working for AG Edwards. In any event, while they are clients, I feel it is my job to care.
Let me tell you a story. An elderly widow came into my office and said to me, “My husband told me that after he’s gone, I should come to you. He did all kinds of research and assured me that you would take care of me.” This really struck me. I was certain I never met this man and was not sure if I had even talked to him! Yet, I was instructed by his ghost to take care of this woman, Maggie, so it would be.
A few years later, I got a phone call from Maggie. She sobbed that her son had died in Los Angeles and, due to a technicality, she was not listed as “next of kin.” According to the coroner’s office, she would have to wait two weeks before her son’s body could be released to her. “I just want to be able to bury my boy in San Diego”, she cried, “My dream last night told me to call you – that you would be able to help.” I had two thoughts: How was this part of my job description? And, how could I possibly help her?
I remembered my unspoken promise to her deceased husband and knew I had to try. I called a lawyer friend in San Diego, who referred me to another attorney. After explaining the predicament, she concluded that to petition the court would be expensive and would likely not result in a faster resolution. I was disheartened, but decided to try another angle. I contacted a client in Los Angeles who happens to be an entertainment attorney. Even though this wasn’t his area of specialty (like it was mine?), he offered to call the coroner’s office. After a while, he called to tell me that he couldn’t get them to budge. It was the law and Maggie would just need to wait the two weeks.
Feeling disappointed, I gathered myself for the unhappy phone call I needed to make. Although I knew I had done my best, I still felt that I had let Maggie down. Just as I reached for the phone, the entertainment attorney called back. “I just couldn’t let this go”, he said, “I had to try one more time. I called the coroner’s office again and asked them to please give this poor lady a break.” And they did!
Somehow, Maggie’s dream had come true. I was able to help – with a little help from my attorney client. I didn’t make any extra money from accomplishing this feat. But, the relief in her voice was well worth the effort.
And, so, I ask you this: How seriously do you take your fiduciary duty?