Knowing the Drill: Setting Up Teachable Moments with Your Clients

A few weeks ago, I wrote about “Snowmageddon 2011,” our freak October snowstorm on the East Coast. Three weeks after the storm, the  Wall Street Journal noted that 830,000 people in CT are only now getting power back.

In the post, I mentioned that years ago, my wife prompted, pushed and cajoled me into buying a backup generator, proving once again how much smarter she is than me.  In  There’s Snow Time Like the Present to Plan for 2012,” I discussed how to use snow days or unexpected cancellations to their fullest, rather than wasting that precious commodity of time. I received a lot of comments from the post via LinkedIn (I often post links in groups of which I’m a member, and people comment within LinkedIn itself – pretty smart of LinkedIn, actually). I got some really good jokes about the poor weather in the Northeast and a few questions on what type of generator I have and how we have it installed.

I also got a great comment that I thought I would share from Steve Stanganelli, CFP®, a fee-only planner with Clear View Wealth Advisors, LLC.


“It’s always good to take some time to reassess. Using a snow day certainly makes it more productive. In between running around making sure the generator has gas, I’ve been thinking (a dangerous thing). We can use this as a “teachable” moment for our clients. Preparing for the unexpected is part of our job. I know folks who have no backup plan when events like this occur. Whether a blizzard, hurricane, flood or earthquake (and we’ve had them all in the Northeast – except the earthquake – knock on wood), it’s good to reassess. Now’s as good a time as any to check on home, auto, flood and liability coverages with your clients. Having a back-up communications plan for reaching out to clients and having them contact you is important – maybe a broadcast email. Having a back-up office for business continuity of operations – I have a couple beyond the use of the local Panera Bread. These are things that should be included in an emergency review. While it’s not related to investment performance, it is part of our job and duty to our clients to be prepared and prepare them, as well.”

Setting up lifeboat drills

I thought Steve’s comments were right on point (and I told him as well). It is our job as planners to help prepare clients for unforeseen problems and issues that may arise. I think it was Nick Murray who used to call them “lifeboat drills.” Nick would say that when things are going smoothly, sit down with your clients and prepare them for the times that the seas are rough. The best time to have the discussion is now, before there is an emergency or they are panicking. When the inevitable challenging times come, you can point to your drills to remind them how you agreed to act.

How do you prompt “lifeboat drills?” Easy. Pull out the newspaper or look at the news online to use as talking points with your clients. There are countless stories of tragedy and struggling. Use them, as Steve said, as a teachable moment:

  • Storm or flood? Discuss your clients’ homeowners and property casualty insurance.
  • Celebrity death? Talk about estate planning and the need to update wills and trusts.
  • Scandal or fraud? Discuss the safety and security of the assets they have with you.
  • A local bankruptcy? Talk about your backup and continuity plan and how the operations will continue.

By the way, the same thing goes for you and your business. Do a “lifeboat drill” with your staff.

As for the local Panera Bread, I have been known to frequent that place and its free internet, but I’m sure they won’t be thrilled with all of us settling in for three weeks while we wait for the power to come back on.

Looking for me on LinkedIn? There’s only about eight thousand John Andersons, so I should be easy to find. Or you can just click this link to connect to me on LinkedIn.

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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