An exacting client left a trail of advisors in the dust before finding an RIA that understood just what he needed

January 3, 2013 — 4:42 AM UTC by Brooke Southall


Brooke’s Note: Recently I observed an intense and positive encounter that made me understand the satisfaction that so many advisors express regarding their jobs.

Joe Parker stepped tentatively into his RIA’s office, looking a bit like a caged lion.

He had the bearing and authority of someone used to calling, and for good reason: He had owned a company that he had sold. He had sold it in time to gain a nest egg that needs professional management.

When Parker, a burly, bespectacled 75-year-old, spoke, there was an intensity in the air. His portfolio is heavily invested in bonds, and he had arrived at the RIA with an urgent need to know whether he should buy bonds headed into 2013 — and if not, why not.

The firm’s bond advisor guided Parker into the soundproof conference room, where an animated conversation took place.

After about a half-hour, the two men emerged from the room. The advisor, a polished man in his 40s who had gone to the right schools, and the client, with a strong regional accent and straight-at-you way that I used to experience regularly in my days as a business broker in Boston, exchanged brief goodbyes that included what sounded like an apology from the client.

A demanding prospect

Parker had literally walked in off the street into the office more than a decade before after a little article had appeared in the local newspaper about how they were setting up a different kind of advisory firm to compete with stockbrokers.

A little due diligence on the prospect revealed anecdotally that Parker, despite his significant net worth, had a reputation for being hard to keep happy — and in fact no advisor had. See: 10 reasons for advisors to just say no to less-than-ideal clients.

The advisors in the RIA soon learned what some of Parker’s former stockbrokers were talking about. He was a voracious consumer of information regarding investments in general and about the complex bond market in particular. One day recently, for example, Parker had demanded a high-level report on a foreign bond market, which had caught his eye.

This was a sticky situation that was defused by doing some work.

“There’s no way we’ll be buying [those] bonds, but we came back with research and talked it through with him,” says Roger. “We grew up on the institutional side, and you had to answer hard questions. [On the retail side] You come back with answers and people are shocked and amazed.”

Up for the challenge

Another example Roger gave occurred a few years ago when Parker came to him after some auction-rate securities sold by and held by a stockbroker had “blown up.”

“We researched it and in a couple of meetings we said: 'Here’s what you have to do.’ He wasn’t getting it from the broker who sold him the s**t.” See: Shame has a role to play in ending reckless conduct by stockbrokers.

But Roger added that as much as Parker likes to get answers, he is just as pleased to get intellectual pushback.

In fact, Parker’s eyes welled up in appreciation during the conversation after he dished out some criticism and Roger accepted it with aplomb.

Roger says he’s grown to enjoy the repartee. “It’s good to be challenged,” he says.

Roger adds that of all his firm’s clients, Parker is the one who consistently gives the partners a truly significant Christmas gift — both in dollar value and in the thought he put in to it — this year a gift certificate to a nice restaurant around the corner.

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