PHILADELPHIA— How do you know if your financial consultant is the right one to entrust with your investments?
Confucius once said, “The wheel of fortune turns round incessantly, and who can say to ‘I shall today’ be the uppermost.” Taking control of one’s own fortune is considered a very wise decision in ancient Chinese philosophy.
Trust is one of the most important attributes in identifying a financial adviser. One needs to feel the trust both at the professional level and at the personal level.
A professional level of trust is determined by the depth of knowledge and the breadth of experience that a financial consultant has to offer. A personal level of trust comes from the financial consultant’s ability to understand the client’s financial needs, investment philosophy, as well as culturally based attitude and/or behavior toward financial management in general, such as risk tolerance.
In a recent interview with Susan Werner, principal of TWINBRIDGE Financial Consulting in Wayne, Pa., she discussed a holistic approach to financial consulting that can expand a clientele base and tap into the traditionally underserved clients, such as wealthy Asian-American immigrants.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of recent Asian immigrants have at least a college degree. Many work in high-paying fields such as science, engineering, medicine, and finance.
“Recent Asian arrivals are the most highly educated immigrants in U.S. history,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center. The U.S. census shows that Asian-Americans have a much higher median household income than the general American population as a whole.
Understanding the cultural background and investment philosophy of this segment is the key to financial consultants who want to tap into the Asian-American communities.
I met Werner at the Philadelphia Antiques Show, where you expect to meet people who appreciate history and the arts. I would never have guessed that she is a financial consultant. Our conversation started with our shared interest in antiques. She told me about her collection of Blue Canton, which arrived in America on cargo ships during the 17th and 19th centuries. During that time, New Englanders from Salem and Boston were anxiously awaiting the shiploads of Chinese blue porcelain from Canton, a port city called Guangzhou today, which is near Hong Kong.
It is said that Blue Canton dinnerware and tea sets were George Washington’s favorites when hosting dinners for important guests. Werner said what makes Blue Canton so interesting is that it is Chinese porcelain taking the form of the western dinnerware. Blue Canton is a maritime Silk Road that combines the East and the West.
Like Blue Canton, a financial consulting expert can integrate East and West in an approach to help Asian clients. The eastern part of one’s approach comes from understanding traditional Chinese philosophy on financial management or investment—prudence, equilibrium, and steady growth with an aversion to high risk. The Western part of the approach comes from one’s financial savvy and business acumen accumulated through years of experience in the Western financial world.
Werner said her company provides boutique-style services personally tailored to each and every client based on the client’s culturally influenced financial objectives and philosophy. Unlike financial companies that offer a cookie cutter approach with an underlying “one size fits all” philosophy, she said her primary goal in her business is to understand each client’s unique financial needs and objectives. Werner said this approach enables her to help each client identify the best match of financial managers to meet the client’s needs.
“I like people asking me questions,” Werner said. A financial consultant should be willing to give time, education, and knowledge to clients. Financial consultants should be advocates for every client’s best interests and want to empower their clients to take better control of their fortunes.
She told me she often insists on her clients meeting at least three financial managers as part of the “interview” process. Guiding the clients through each step of the way during the evaluation process is key to enabling clients to make their best and most informed decisions, she said.
Werner said financial consultants should integrate the genuine care of a client’s financial wellbeing into every phase of the client relationship, from reviewing a client’s financial needs to evaluating financial managers; from monitoring financial performances to making recommendations to optimize the solutions. An experienced financial consultant usually has many connections and resources to provide clients, for example access to respected financial managers, estate and trust lawyers, and accountants.
I found some interesting similarities between Chinese culture and Werner’s strategies. She told me, “I want to do business with nice people.” Her statement reminds me of the traditional Chinese value placed on “De” (virtue, or moral character). Before the Communist Party took over China in 1949 and destroyed traditional Chinese culture, Chinese people had long believed that there is “Tao” (the Way) in every profession, including the money business. What constitutes the Tao or the Way is one’s virtue or moral character, which is believed to be the most important quality to sustain one’s life as well as business prosperity.
In ancient China, when selecting people for high posts or important positions, the wise emperors would first look at one’s moral character, then professional competence. They would avoid someone who has very strong professional competence but low moral character—such a person is considered dangerous to society because he could use his competence to do bad things like taking advantage of others regardless of moral principles. The most sought-after people are those who have both good moral character and strong professional competence at the same time.
Werner said her company’s name, TWINBRIDGE, suggests what she does—bridging people and business, bridging clients and financial managers, bridging the East and the West, helping Asian clients realize their American Dream through effective financial/wealth management.
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