Advisor Michael Morrow considers all his clients to be friends, some of them even “super-good” friends. In that spirit, he regularly invites one client or another to breakfast, to an event or even on a trip.
That keeps him hopping. Between households and businesses, Morrow’s clients number about 200 and the large majority is on his outreach list. But he gladly does this because he views relationship-building as a key part of his practice. He also views friendship as a key essential in his personal life.
Morrow, is president of Morrow Financial in Thunder Bay, Ont., and runs IdeasForAdvisors.com, a practice management website serving advisors in the U.S. and internationally. He spoke with InsuranceNewsNet as part of a look at the role friendship plays in an advisor’s life and business.
The topic of friendship doesn’t get general session treatment at industry meetings. However, the subject does come up in hallway buzz between advisor colleagues, including several group conversations where this reporter has been present. Friendship, it seems, is one of the linchpins of a successful advisory practice, giving differentiation and value to the firm.
It’s extremely important
Morrow has concluded that friendship-building is extremely important to the cultivation of loyalty among clients.
There was a time when that wasn’t so clear-cut for him. “For instance, for a while, I didn’t want to show my (web)site to my clients,” he said. But as he improved the site and thought about the relationship-building aspects of his work, his opinion changed.
Today, Morrow said, he believes he can talk about anything with his clients, much as occurs in close friendships. Most clients welcome the warmth and caring, he said, although a few just want advice and that’s it. Friendship notwithstanding, though “I am their advisor first and their friend second,” he said.
What Morrow has learned is that, when there is friendship, there is caring. “I really want to know my clients, and they see that. They don’t feel manipulated. They feel I’m interested (in them), because I am,” he said.
That goes two ways. “If I know my clients care about me, I’m going to try harder for them,” he said. “Besides, for people to become clients, they must like you, trust you and think you are smart.”
Friendship is important for personal as well as business reasons, Morrow said, explaining that most people need and want friends to discuss their challenges and triumphs. For this kind of support outside the practice, he said he turns to family and his friends at Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) as well as to Facebook friends.
“I feel my friends are part of my life,” he said.
Make the time for friends
Brendan C. Walsh of Walsh Financial Group, Detroit, Mich., cautioned that It’s risky to let work or other responsibilities crowd out friendship.
“If you go-go-go all the time, always working in the business and not on the business, you might let friendship fall by the wayside,” he said.
It may sound silly, he allowed, “but it’s important that we put intentionality around having friends. We’re in the business of connecting, and selling insurance is a by-product of relationship with clients.”
Like Morrow, Walsh said that some of his very good clients have become friends. Also like Morrow, he said he takes care to delineate between the two roles. “I put on my ‘friend hat’ when we’re connecting as friends, and my ‘advisor hat’ when providing professional services.”
When working with clients, it’s all about the client, Walsh emphasized. Remembering this helps guard against letting “the line between personal and business life get blurred.”
But advisors need relationships with other people too — and other friendships, he added. “We need people in our lives who know about and care about us. You need that outlet, or things will get bottled up.”
Those caring relationships naturally include those with one’s spouse and children — “You need to go home and spend time with them,” he emphasized — but also with couples who are friends. Other friendships, built through social activities, are important too, he said, noting that he has his “friends time” at an athletic club, and his wife has her own “friends time” at her book club.
That’s in addition to “alone time,” where people connect with their inner friend, the self.
Get in balance
There will always be people whose nose is to the grindstone and who don’t build and maintain friendships, pointed out Sam Baldwin, vice president, Spencer Financial, Sudbury, Mass. But to his way of thinking, “everyone needs a work/life balance. If they don’t have it, they are not tapping into their full potential.”
That’s one of the key messages from the “Whole Person Concept” developed and supported by MDRT. “Every day, you need to break up the day” with exercise, time with family and friends, and other activities in addition to work, Baldwin said.
The Whole Person Concept encourages balance between seven aspects of life: health, family, spiritual, education, financial, community service and career. To help keep the balance, it is recommended that people set goals for each 12-week period in categories such as: personal finance, business, family, travel, friends and extended family, health and fitness, fun and adventure, spirituality, education, and home projects.
“Ours is a seven-person practice,” Baldwin said. “We work on processes, not products. We stress work/life balance and going home at 5 p.m. We try to encourage that, especially in the summer.” His own “friends time” is at a local gym. “I go there every day. This has become so important that, if I miss, I feel grumpy.”
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, or perhaps it’s osmosis, but most of the clients at Baldwin’s firm fit into that model. “Most are families who are well balanced and work hard,” he said. “They have a little time to meet with us, so when they come in, we have an efficient proactive process in place to be sure we are delivering value.”
The message from researchers
Having friends at work or clients as friends may pose thorny issues if such a friend starts shirking responsibilities. However, researchers generally find many positives for people who maintain deep friendships, whether at work or elsewhere.
In its much publicized research on job engagement, for instance, the Gallup Organization has found that those who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. In addition, “they are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher wellbeing, and are less likely to get injured on the job,” according to researchers Thomas C. Rath and Jim Harter.
By comparison, those without a best friend at work have just a one in 12 chance of being engaged in their jobs, Rath and Harter said.
Job engagement has health benefits too, Gallup has found. For instance, engaged employees are less likely to have health problems, according to the research. Specifically, on a monthly basis, actively disengaged employees have 2.17 unhealthy days, compared with 1.25 unhealthy days for engaged employees, the researchers said in a December report.
Along the same lines, a 12-year study by researchers at Lafayette College and Fordham University found positive health correlations for those having close friendships.
For instance, widowed women who had a friend as a “confidante” spent an average of just two days sick in bed over the preceding year, the researchers wrote in a 2014 paper. Meanwhile those having no close friend as confidante spent an average of 12 days sick in bed. Depressive symptoms were lower for those having confidantes too, according to the paper, which was published by American Psychology Association.
A number of insurance and financial services executives have, over the years, told this reporter that they have no close personal friends at all. Some blame this on the demands of their high level positions or on pressures stemming from meeting work and family responsibilities. The question arises: Might juggling everything go more smoothly for them if they took the time to develop friendships that help sustain and support?
InsuranceNewsNet Editor-at-Large Linda Koco, MBA, specializes in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at [email protected].
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