My Expense Budget Was Slashed!
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
I work for the investment arm of a much larger financial firm. Our parent company isn’t in the investment business; they have other lines that are more important to them.
We’re being asked to cut expenses across the board. In our world we have to take clients out to dinner and spend money to make money. I’m being told I have to stay in a Holiday Inn and get two signatures if I want to take a client to dinner and it costs more than $50 (for both of us!). This is ludicrous, but when I talk to my boss about it, she says that we don’t control the decisions coming down from on high. It’s like she isn’t even willing to fight for what we need.
Is there a way I can appeal to her so she will take some action on our behalf? I don’t see how I can continue to be successful if we have these constraints.
Why do you, by default, assume you cannot be successful under these circumstances? I’m going to guess you are good at what you do, and that buying nice dinners is not the only reason for your success. As a first step, whenever people face obstacles, consider what can you control or influence and what’s out of your control. In this case, it sounds like this decision is completely out of your control. So consider what you can do differently in order to be a team player.
You also might be a bit unfair to your boss. You don’t know whether she has fought the good fight and been beaten down on this topic and doesn’t want to fight it anymore. Many leaders will not let their staff see the challenges and battles they endure. They don’t want to share negative experiences and have staff thinking they are not effective in their own roles. So they try to do what they can, but when they are also stymied, they find it best to tow the company line. Your boss is likely frustrated too, but may know that showing her frustration to you, or anyone else, will be unproductive. If she can’t do anything, she can’t do anything and she possibly has tried.
Sometimes firms are trying to weather a certain time period where they may be behind in profitability goals, or having to present updated numbers to stockholders or their board and they put out a mandate like this on a temporary basis to get through the troubled times. It doesn’t always last forever and often the firm does realize that the cost cutting measures are actually backfiring (I’m sure there are other things besides your hotels and client meals that are being cut).
The best thing is to work within these constraints for a period of time. Don’t make your boss’ life any more difficult than it is. Find other ways to show your value to clients. Sometimes clients will take advantage too if they know you have an open expense account. It isn’t a terrible thing to have a few no-cost meetings with them to remind them your value extends far beyond a great meal!
I’m not saying that it doesn’t often take money to make money. But until things turn around at your firm, show that you support the initiative and try and make the best of it.
We are about to lose one of our largest clients. The patriarch of a large family recently passed away. He originally chose our firm years ago and has been loyal to us for many, many years. But for some unknown reason to us, his oldest son is not a fan. He has been vocal over the years about his displeasure with some of our decisions. While his father always backed us, the son has rallied his three siblings and four cousins (their father passed away many years ago and we have managed their money under their uncle’s direction) against us.
I know we should learn some lessons about how to work with the remaining family members. But I am so disgusted with the eldest son because he doesn’t know what he is doing and he is influencing the rest of the family in negative ways.
My team wants me to fight to keep this account. It is quite significant to us, but I want to say “good riddance” and focus on finding new business. Am I in the wrong? Is there even anything we can do at this late stage?
It isn’t my role to tell you if you are right or wrong. If you can’t work with and tolerate someone, I don’t think it is a good idea to push yourself. At some point you will reach a breaking point and say something you regret or get into a bad place with this son. No one benefits as a result.
That said, there are lessons for you and hopefully the rest of your firm to learn. When these issues were raised over the year, even though you had the patriarch as your main contact, it was time then to sit down with this eldest son and understand his concerns. Don’t debate him, but honor the fact that he is entitled to his own opinion and learn what’s underneath it and address it. In addition, expanding relationships to others within the family would have been important. You could have minimized his impact a bit with the others if you had established strong relationships with each one of them individually. If they knew more about you and understood why you make certain decisions in their portfolios, it could have built up a confidence to override the negative view of the eldest son.
In too many cases advisors will have one strong relationship – be it in a couple, or family or large family such as your situation – and they won’t reach out to establish equally strong relationships with everyone in a decision-making role. It doesn’t mean it will always work. The other people may reject your desire to work more closely with them, but you have to make the effort.
With this son, learn to manage your emotions when a client disagrees or is being “difficult.” The reaction is often to avoid the person, fight back or stew when they communicate their displeasure. But if you learn to be objective and understand why he feels the way he does and why he believes what he believes and not get offended or take it personally, you might find you could win him over. It doesn’t mean you should work with people you don’t like – your option of just saying goodbye is not necessarily wrong. But before you let the assets walk out the door, try and approach him differently and see whether you can shift the relationship just a bit. It might be too late, but it is good practice for the next client who comes along that irks you!