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Financial Advisors and the Recession

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In the wake of the recession, people are finding financial advisors, especially good ones who have really deep relationships with their clients, more necessary than ever. Many advisors are greatly weighed down by their own internal panic about what happened and therefore have very little capacity to deal with their clients' fears and concerns.

This crisis has called on all of us to re-evaluate our lives. I think it's starting to become clearer to all of us that the endless accumulation of material wealth is not a sustainable way to live. We need to refocus our values and beliefs on things that are ultimately much more satisfying and attainable. We need to focus on what we can do and give to the world rather than what we can just take from it.

My own understanding of the power of giving came about many years ago, when I was going through a personal "recession" of my own. Back in 1997, I was just starting out as a financial advisor, trying to support a wife and two kids on less than $20,000 a year, falling months behind with the mortgage payments, scared and unsure of my future. I hid my car every night in a different part of the neighborhood because the finance company told me they were coming to repossess it. The debt collectors were calling every day. I had credit card debt, mortgage debt, car loans. Things looked pretty bleak.

One day, I was getting out of my car and about to walk into a prospect's house to try and sell a term life policy. I was way behind on my bills, and my mind was going on and on about how much I needed the sale. Desperation poured out of me as I caught my reflection in the car window. I stopped, looked hard at that reflection and said to myself, "Who would want to buy anything from you? Look at how desperate you look!"

I decided in that moment that I needed to drop my desperate, needy attitude and walk into this prospect's house with the confidence of someone who didn't want anything. I took one last look at my reflection and saw that I had taken on an air of serenity, and that's when I began to realize that I really didn't need anything, that deep down there was nothing for me to get. I dropped my need to make a sale. I became still and quiet.

I soon began to approach more of my clients this way, putting all my attention on them, without any desire or expectation for myself personally. And to my amazement, my meetings really started to transform and my success as a financial advisor grew exponentially.

Although it sounds like a bit of a cliché, I was able to see firsthand as I was going through my own crisis around wealth and success that the more I gave to others; the more I received in return. In turn, I quickly began accomplishing more in the world and my income grew substantially.

In the wake of this most recent recession, it's going to be very difficult for advisors who do not have the complete trust of their clients to continue to make smart decisions, and many have and will continue to lose business. My number one piece of advice is this: under any and all circumstances, be honest. It's critical that we maintain a very open and honest relationship with our clients, as the worst thing any of us could do would be to mislead them right now.

I believe that now is the time for extra special service. We need to be calling our clients before they call us. We need to be out there in front. We need to show our clients that we're confident in the direction we're moving. Any lack of confidence in our own ability to navigate the current investment climate is going to make it really difficult for them to follow us.

Too many of us spend our lives waiting to get something from the world so that we can show up as the person we always knew we could be. Deep in our hearts we think there's something missing. But when we flip that mindset, we can discover that by becoming a giver rather than a taker, we can become agents for change in the world. In the end, it was only through giving to others that I was able to find the kind of happiness that I was really looking for.

Partly adapted from Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity © 2009 Jeffrey L. Gitterman. All rights reserved. Published by AMACOM Books www.amacombooks.org. A Division of the American Management Association for The Business Leaders Book Club, Lessons Learned from The Recession www.thebusinessleadersbookclub.com