Advisor's Quarterly Update

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Meeting Client Expectations?

Clients rightfully expect that their financial and legal advisors will provide the highest quality professional advice. Fortunately, that aligns with the goal advisors have for the relationship. To meet client expectations, most advisors are proactive in obtaining comprehensive information from their client - not only about their financial history but also about personal values. Yet, some advisors continue to show reluctance to discuss one key topic – client philanthropic interests. And this has not gone unnoticed by clients.

In a report titled the U.S. Trust Study of The Philanthropic Conversation (2015), professional advisors and their high net worth clients disagreed about the frequency of discussions about philanthropy and who initiated these discussions. In the survey, half of high net worth clients who reported having discussed philanthropy with an advisor said that they were typically the one to initiate the conversation, and that their advisor initiated the subject only 17% of the time. Professional advisors disagreed, as most advisors said they discussed philanthropy with at least some of their clients, and one-third of the advisors said they were the one to initiate these discussions.

Discussions about philanthropy are not only relevant for high net worth clients. Many clients for whom sophisticated tax planning is not necessary also have an interest in leaving a legacy.

Why are some advisors reluctant to open a conversation about philanthropy? Being attuned to the sensitive nature of the relationship is understandably a concern for advisors.  Is it a concern about respecting privacy, making the client uncomfortable, or going outside the boundaries of the relationship as an advisor? Advisors themselves usually have a comfort level asking clients about philanthropic interests. But, failing to raise the topic could negatively impact the advisor-client relationship, especially if the client has charitable interests they wish to explore.

Advisors are frequently consulted by clients at the occurrence of a milestone event. It could be the birth of a child or grandchild, the death of a spouse, the graduation of the youngest child from college, moving into retirement, or the sale of a valuable asset. It is precisely when these events occur that clients reflect on their values, their heritage, and the legacy they desire to leave behind for children and grandchildren. For some clients, their legacy means giving back to the institutions that helped shape their values.

As for obtaining information from clients, many advisors are choosing to follow some simple procedures. These advisors are requesting that clients complete a questionnaire in advance of the initial meeting. The questionnaire asks not only about financial history, but also about values and philanthropic interests. Examples of questions that can be asked are:

  • To which charities do you make financial contributions, and why?
  • List the charities you support in their order of philanthropic priority to you.
  • Do you volunteer or have a leadership position at any charities, and if so which ones?
  • Do your family members or others play a role in your charitable giving, and how?
  • Do you have planned gifts with any charities, or have you given that consideration?


Advisors familiar with a client’s charitable interests may wish to offer a valuable service by vetting non-profit organizations on behalf of the client. Many clients are not aware of public information that may affect their own philanthropic decisions and would appreciate their advisor assisting in these decisions.

Those advisors who choose to engage clients about not only their financial goals, but their values and how those values may be reflected in their charitable interests, will in most cases add depth to the advisor-client relationship. Clients will welcome their advisor’s expertise and experience in helping to establish their legacy. By guiding clients along that path the advisor, to a certain degree, is also creating their own legacy.