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Wall Street Steward Blog

Know Your Value Proposition

When I first joined Family Trust Federal Credit Union, I was excited to meet with their marketing team.  I had been told that they were both talented and dynamic.

After getting my feet wet…where does that phrase come from anyway…they had requested a meeting with me.  It was quite the scene.

Attending the meeting were myself and 4-5 of our marketing executives.  One of the ladies had a well manicured legal pad with a list of questions along with 3 extra pens.  She wasn’t playing around.  Wire-rim glasses, high end business suit with a white blouse.  She began the conversation:

“Hi Matt, welcome to Family Trust.  My name is Bismack Biyombo (NO, that wasn’t her name.  I am watching the NBA draft and our hometown Bobcats just drafted this dude and I HAD to use his name).  What we would like to do is to get an idea of you, your business, and your value proposition so that we can form a marketing strategy that fits your target market.”

“Ok, great.  Let’s roll.  You have a list of questions for me?”  (I cheated by looking at her pad)

“Are you well educated?”

“No.”  everyone looks up from their pad thinking I was joking

“What?  You have a college degree.”

“Everyone that does what I do has a college degree.  What I mean is that I do not have a masters degree or a PhD.”  they exhaled

“Are you highly credentialed?” 

“Nah, not really?”  sighs of frustration.  Sarah-Palin glasses on ends of noses

“You HAVE passed your Series 7, right?”

“Ms. Biyombo (can’t believe that name), everyone in the investment business has passed the Series 7 exam and most have even passed the Series 65/66 as well.  I have passed both also…what I mean is that I have not achieved the CFP designation yet, or the CFA, CIMA, etc….”  women perturbed, men laughing

“Well, is your process better than your competitors?”

“Nope.  Not-a.”  the tension was so thick you could have cut it

There was 30 seconds of silence.  They were uncomfortable.  I took a sip of coffee and let the silence simmer in.

“Well, then why….” 

I interrupted

“I am sure you are all thinking ‘then why did we hire this guy’ and I would be thinking the same thing if I were you.  You all haven’t asked the right questions yet.  See, it is like this:  in the investment business there is no monopoly on good ideas, but all experienced advisors use a very similar process.  Most of us believe in asset allocation, diversification, and rebalancing, and although some will tell you that their system is better than another, I don’t believe in that.  There is no magical formula, and to try to say that my black box is better than someone else’s would be like telling you that I have a system to bring down a Las Vegas casino.  It just isn’t true.  So, if you want me to lie to you and tell you that I am brilliant, have multiple degrees and more initials behind my name than a Congressman, I can do that….but it is not true.  We are all commodities.”

They sat speechless with their mouths open

Another bout of silence.  This one maybe a minute.  I took 3 sips of my Folgers Black Silk.

Finally, one of them, who hadn’t said a word yet, managed to garner all her courage and ask me in a crackling voice, “Then why you?  Why are you different?  Why should I deal with you instead of the person across the street?”

#ding# #ding# #ding# What do we have for her Johnny?

Finally, an important question.

I relaxed and explained to her what I feel is my value proposition.  This is from memory, but it went something like this:

“I believe in full disclosure.  I will show you where all of the skeletons are hidden – the fees.  I will be brutally honest with people, whether or not they ever choose to become a client.  I will give them advice even if the money is not with me because I believe that is the right thing to do.  My clients will get a financial education unlike any other – I will take a legal pad and place it on my desk facing them and explain every single investment so that they UNDERSTAND it…and I will use their terms, not mine.  They will also SEE it…no, I mean really SEE it – the explanation will be drawn upside down to me, but right side up to them so that they can read it.  I will take care of their money like it was my own.  This is called being a steward, and it is my number one goal in dealing with a client.  Then, at the end, I will stay until the cows come home answering any questions they have.”

“But other than that, there really is no reason to hire me over another advisor.  So, people have a choice.  Do they want initials and degrees or do they want to be empowered through understanding the WHAT, the WHY, and the HOW?  It is their call.”

You could see it in their expressions.  They were stunned.  If I had gone on for another 20 seconds, someone might have stood and began a slow-clap seen only in cheesy sports movies.

I guess they liked IT and liked me because I am still here and our relationships are stronger than ever.  In fact, most of them are clients now.    

I took a risk and spoke my mind.  However, that IS my value proposition.  I do not claim to be the smartest, best educated, most credentialed advisor but I would challenge you to find another one that can explain to Mom ‘n Pop what standard deviation is as well as me.

Not bragging.  Just self-realized.  I know my weaknesses (they are plentiful), but I also know my strengths (there are only a few).