Financial Advisors, Attorneys & Accountants Working Together to Build A Unified Financial Plan

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team photoDo you feel you’re receiving the most accurate and honest financial advice from your current advisor(s)?

You wouldn’t be alone if you answered “no.” But then again, how could you be entirely sure? Our financial system is so convoluted it’s no wonder the majority of Americans are poor at managing their money. Consequently, we turn (ideally) to experts that manage it for us. In other words, we hand over our hard-earned cash, our future—our well-being—to someone we don’t know and place a lot of trust in their knowledge of a bloated financial system.

Here’s a follow up question: would you rather your hard-earned money and future livelihood be handled by a single advisor…or a team of specialists? After being asked in the manner that it was, most readers are probably answering with a resounding “team of specialists!” And for the most part, you’d be right.

Why a Team of Advisors is better than a Single Advisor

Let’s use a quick metaphor.

Imagine you’re the head coach of an NBA team. How long would your tenure last if you decided your team would consist solely of Lebron James? Yes, he’s a fantastic basketball player (arguably the greatest of all time), but he’d never be able to compete with the skillset of the entire Golden State Warriors starting lineup; a daunting mix of highly-skilled specialists at each position working together to reach a common goal.

Financial planning is much the same.

One advisor cannot provide the same quality of service as a team of specialized advisors; they simply don’t have all the technical expertise necessary to produce the best result for the client. Your CPA advises on tax planning and filing tax returns; your attorney helps on any number of issues, including setting up a business, litigation, business succession, estate planning, or divorce; and your financial planner leads the charge in helping achieve your financial goals. An effective group of advisors will bounce ideas off each other, work together—just like a well-trained team of basketball players—and uncover the best strategies for achieving their client’s goals.

Why Financial Advisors & Accountants Should Communicate

One example of this is how a CPA and CFP can work together. Now, you may already employ both advisors and be in frequent communication with each one…but are your advisors in frequent communication with each other? They should be. For example, there are six circumstances in which a CPA and CFP should always bring their heads together (Kiplinger offers an in-depth look at this important relationship in this article):

  1. Comparing taxable and tax-free investmentsDeciding between owning or renting real estate
  2. Deciding between owning or renting real estate
  3. Projecting estate taxes and formulating strategies for reducing themFiguring out when to harness tax loss harvesting and when to take gains
  4. Figuring out when to harness tax loss harvesting and when to take gainsFiguring out the best way to approach required minimum distributions (RMDs)
  5. Figuring out the best way to approach required minimum distributions (RMDs)
  6. Maximizing deductions of investment advisory fees

That’s a lot of circumstances where money could be left on the table.

patrick wirth

Patrick Wirth CPA, CVA | Partner, Chortek Business Advisors
“Exceptional planning for any client is all about teamwork. When financial planners and CPAs bring together their areas of expertise and work as a team, the result is a cohesive approach that manages the investment portfolio to maximize after-tax returns. From a long-term view, the CPA and financial planner should collaborate to proactively develop integrated strategies for financial, retirement, and estate planning to maximize the client’s wealth.”

Why Financial Planners & Attorneys Should Communicate

The same goes for attorneys and CFPs—especially in situations like estate planning, a divorce, or the sale of a closely-held business—to address all the financial and legal aspects of such transactions. In a survey study conducted by Barbara Belik (an estate planning practitioner and adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern Maine) and George Violette (a Professor of Accounting at the University of Southern Maine), financial planners and attorneys both reported a wish for better communication and collaboration between advisors. The study picked up on three key concepts:

  • That each advisor holds misconceptions about the role of the other advisor in joint client matters.
  • That, consequently, roles and responsibilities of each adviser should be more clearly identified and communicated when working on joint client matters.
  • That communication during joint client matters could be improved if all advisers would participate in joint client meetings.

John HerbersJohn Herbers | Reinhart Attorneys at Law
“When clients work with a team of advisors, each advisor can help the client in two ways: 1) with their own knowledge, and 2) by harnessing the client’s other advisors. Each advisor should be able to work collaboratively with the rest of the team to find the proper solution. When the team is working together, everyone is better off. The client is clearly the winner, but all of the advisors knows that their mutual client is being taken care of. And the team usually creates a better overall solution that is more professionally satisfying to all members of the advisory team.”

Advantages & Disadvantages of Each Approach

Disadvantages of a One-Man Shop

The above were just two examples of how an individually-constructed team of advisors can benefit from collaboration. There are many more examples, but—by and large—although there are some advantages to employing a single advisor to oversee every aspect, there are some glaring shortcomings:

  • One-stop-shops tend to be “jacks of all trades, masters of none” because it’s difficult to hire and afford the brightest minds within each specialty.
  • Single advisors don’t offer holistic advice, simply because it’s difficult to hire every component of planning inside a single firm.
  • Single advisors who promise they can do it all rarely can.
  • Exceptional advisors are independent thinkers, something that isn’t normally fostered in large institutions.
  • The best and brightest don’t always play well with others and need to be independent.

Advantages of a One-Man Shop

This all being said, there’s no question that with a single advisor comes certain benefits and that he or she will be a better option in certain circumstances:

  • Typically, cost of services will be less.
  • There’s total accountability. If there’s poor performance, only one person is to blame.
  • Stability. The advisor in a one-advisor operation rarely switches jobs and can only be fired by the client (not a boss).
  • There’s a more personal relationship. Since a single advisor offers guidance across many aspects of your life, it makes sense that a more personal relationship will follow since you’re only talking to one person.

Advantages of an Individually-Constructed Financial Team:

Let’s get down to brass tacks:

  • With specialization comes a higher level of advice for the client. Independent advisors should have a deeper set of experiences to draw from.
  • There’s more transparency. Each independent advisor of a team is transparent in how they bill and for what. Although a one-stop shop has one person coordinate all of the communication and take responsibility for the entire relationship, it can be difficult for the client to discern where the issue lies if performance is poor. Contrarily, since each member of an independent advisor team reports individually, everyone on the team and the client knows who screwed up if there is poor performance.
  • There are typically better results. In the end, this is all that matters, right? In addition to offering multiple sources of specialized knowledge, another key reason an individually-constructed team of advisors allows better performance over a one-stop shop is that there’s virtually no hierarchy, constraints, or bureaucracy which can be typical from a larger one-stop firms.

Disadvantages of an Individually-Constructed Financial Team:

Naturally, there are some circumstances in which a team of advisors can fall short:

  • Sometimes the more basic client scenarios can benefit from one advisor who can truly handle it.
  • Economies of scale. Sometimes one-stop shops (like Goldman Sachs) can achieve a greater economy of scale and offer clients more services than an independent financial team.

How to Get Your Individual Advisors to Work as a Team

By now, you probably grasp the advantages of building a team of advisors and making sure they communicate and collaborate with each other. But how exactly do you foster that communication? Do you invite all your advisors out for a cup of coffee and pastries? A formal dinner downtown? A powwow in your basement? What if they live in separate areas of the country?

Find Advisors that Don’t Mind Working with other Advisors

Well, the good news is that you really don’t need to do any of that, although it’s always good for your team to be in the same room every couple of years, but you don’t need to worry about that right now. Your first step should be to make sure you’re employing advisors who don’t mind working with other advisors. When selecting your team, make it clear that part of your hiring criteria depends upon their willingness to work with the rest of your team.

If you already employee advisors, then your first step should be to remove the weakest links. If, for instance, your CFP tells you he’s made repeated attempts to reach out to your attorney who doesn’t respond…that’s a problem. If a specific advisor doesn’t have time for any of your other advisors, it basically means he or she doesn’t have time for you. Replace that advisor with someone who cares.

Set Expectations Early

As the client, it’s your job to set the expectation of having your advisors work as a team. When you meet with each one, share the contact information of the other advisors and emphasize your expectation that they work closely with each other. You might want to hold a meeting to introduce the entire team and share what each advisor does. If each advisor is located in a different part of the country, use a program like Google Hangouts or Join.me. In this meeting, your team will need to dispel misconceptions, hash out roles, and make sure your goals are understood.

In the end, if there’s a meaningful exchange of information between all of your advisors when it matters most, it will provide a stronger financial foundation and a more efficient path to reaching your goals.

If you are an Attorney or an Accountant and want to know more about Shakespeare’s strategy with our clients, please connect with us here.


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