Very often, we financial planners convey the impression that getting your financial life into shape is easy. And that we're in control of our finances.
If we had a bit of humility, we’d admit that we share the same frustrations as our clients.
Like dealing with low interest rates on checking accounts in combination with high banking fees.
“You get interest on this account,” the customer service representative from my bank said. This was about a month ago. I had called the bank upon receiving my monthly statement.
“Yes," I replied. "I got a penny last month. A penny. And now you want to charge me $25 a month to have a checking account?”
She had to laugh.
I was calling to ask why a $25 charge had shown up on my formerly free checking account.
She asked if anything had changed. It had. I had paid off all my big debts. I was in much better financial shape.
Well, that explained it.
Now that I had repaid my loans to the bank, apparently my relationship with it wasn't sufficient to earn me free checking. I was no longer paying the bank large amounts of interest, so it would start charging me this monthly fee. That is the way it works.
If this makes sense to you, you must be a banker.
Okay, that was a low blow. But for me, it's an example of why so many clients have a bad attitude toward financial services institutions and professionals.
It’s not just the malcontents, it’s everyone. The surveys confirm that the public does not hold financial services institutions in high regard.
Many of my clients been burned before. And they’re probably still getting burned by such ridiculous tactics as fee-ing the customer to death or the inability to get a new mortgage or a small business loan without a dossier three feet thick that proves you do actually pay your bills.
I told the woman on the phone, “I just opened two checking accounts at another bank for my twin daughters. The other bank is going to charge $12 a month for each account. And as soon as my girls go show their college IDs, the accounts will be free. So tell me why I should pay you $25.”
I spoke politely, without a trace of anger.
Eventually, the customer service representative found a way to give me some credit for direct deposit of my paycheck. And she switched me to an account that will ding me only $7 a month.
Of course, if the bank had wanted to provide the best deal for a longtime customer, they could have recognized this direct deposit before. But they hadn’t. They had just slapped a fee three times larger than on my new account, perhaps hoping I wouldn’t find out how I could save some money.
Cynicism? Anger? The emotions that I feel are the same ones that people have when they approach me as a professional. As a certified financial planner I have much larger ideas that I need to convey to our customers and the general public than “I won’t cheat you or slip in something that benefits me and not you.”
But it’s tough to get through all that dreck first and get on to the important ideas.
I told the customer service representative that I didn’t mind giving up the penny in exchange for a lower monthly fee.
When I told this anecdote to one of my partners, he just had to raise the ante. “Last month, I got three pennies,” he said.
Another happy financial services customer.
Harriet J. Brackey, CFP, is the co-chief investment officer of KR Financial Services, a South Florida registered investment advisory firm that manages more than $330 million. She does financial planning for clients and manages their portfolios. Before going into the financial services industry, she was an award-winning journalist who covered Wall Street. Her background includes stints at Business Week, USA Today, The Miami Herald and Nightly Business Report.