The Right Side of the Table by Scott Fithian & Todd Fithian

Ah Ah! Now I know why I have never found it easy to get on with professional advisers. Read on this may apply to you and it may help you find the team you've been looking for for a long time.  The predictions in this book, published the best part of 10 years ago, were prescient, but what underpins its central thesis is the work that one of its authors started more than twenty years ago. He was indeed a pioneer, but he has left a memorable and valuable legacy for the professions - especially for those engaged in the financial world.

He starts by noting the rapid changes being demanded in the wealth management industry - not least due to the speed with which millionaires have been popping up in the last couple of generations. He also acknowledges that the demands of the complexity, fast-paced change, and near-unbearable scrutiny with which the wealth holder has become burdened generates the need for skills way outside the traditional remit of professionals. [There's a parallel theme here to the TED talk given by Barry Schwartz  called The Paradox of Choice - but that's a different story] The author then goes on to suggest two central themes:-

1) Wealth holders who have created their money through entrepreneurial endeavour have been used to figuring out how things work and how to make them work better. They do not therefore respond well to the traditional process that gathers information and data and then presents them with an either / or choice. That's not their way.

2) The traditional professional advisor comes to the wealth holder with a specific set of skills and expertise to hand. This approach condemns the relationship to a transactional one at best. There's little application of effort or intent on the advisor's part to work out what's best for the client, from the client's point of view. In other words there is no systematic search for context. The client either does or doesn't implement the recommendation - and as a result of that decision, the professional does or doesn't get paid.

The problem is that neither the advisor nor the wealth holder have really got to grips with identifying the fundamental problem that they are trying to solve. Ah Ah! 

What the author proposes is that the whole advisor/client relationship is about to stand on its head. The first thing to do is identify, by discerning questioning, exactly what the goals are, and by goals we are talking legacy issues not tactical tax saving ideas. Once the big picture has been established then the advisor can bring the experts' and salesmen's special skills to bear. Most importantly, they will do this in the context of knowing what the end game is.

The authors use the title as a metaphorical expression of where you as an advisor sit in relation to the wealth holder. Are you a transactional sales guy, a specialist adviser, or the single most trusted person around the table through whom all future transactions will be directed? There's a place for each person, but for the specialist and salesmen amongst us, the trusted advisor will become our clients - not the ultimate directing mind of the owner or corporation.

When seeking professional advice - be careful what you wish for. It's one thing to surround yourself with an all-star cast - but what you probably want is a producer (not you by the way) who can pull it all together. You may well be better off (financially, strategically and emotionally) by first getting someone on board to help you figure out why you want help and to what end, before making any appointments. Better still - get yourself a trusted advisor and hold their feet to the fire as they represent your best interests with relevant best-in-class practitioners to plan, co-ordinate, execute and review the work you want done.