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Getting the ‘I’ out of ‘TEAM’

The need for social interaction and cooperation is one of the things we begin to learn at an early age. By the time we get to elementary school, rudimentary skills of teamwork are being developed with dodgeball and “Tag, you’re it!” By the time we reach high school, those with the talent for team sports are confronted with the primary challenge of teamwork: The ego drives us to be the hero of the game, but often the game can’t be won if everyone wants to be the hero.

“Teamwork” in providing advice and appropriate solutions can be problematic. Do I really want to be part of a team? Some will focus on the “I” – if I’ve disturbed the client enough to start taking action about whatever it is that’s financially bothering her, it’s in my best interest to get the job done while it’s still a priority in her mind. “Strike while the iron is hot.” This is what we might call an agent-centric process.

But that approach is almost always shortsighted. The client is not likely served in the best way possible without a full planning process that inevitably will require input, skill and knowledge from experts in law, tax, investment, insurance, employee benefits and retirement distribution. So it comes down to choosing between client-centric and agent-centric processes as the core of my business model.

Especially because we may be more comfortable and experienced with teamwork in a sports context, and with the objective of achieving client centricity to get the “I” out of “TEAM,” here are 10 considerations for working effectively within a team of advisors … for the benefit of the client:

[1] Choosing the captain. It’s understandable that the professional who identifies problems and has solutions will want to be the team captain. But there may be other considerations.  Does the client want to be the head of the team? If not, who has the most trusted relationship with the client? If the tasks involved are relatively simple, is there a need to have a captain?

[2] Don’t forget the client! It’s easy to think of a team as a workgroup with specialized skills, but it’s much more than that. It’s not just about the individuals in the conference room; it’s about the client. What is the client’s view of how the team should work? Have we asked the client?

[3] Commitment. A team assembled for the client’s benefit requires group commitment as well as each team member’s individual commitment. Clarifying this commitment should be one of the team’s first tasks.

[4] Time frame. Another important matter is the early clarification of the client’s timetable. If the tasks cannot be done according to the client’s timetable, the client must be apprised and schedules must be adjusted.

[5] Clarity of purpose. A brief mission statement should be drafted and agreed upon. What will we accomplish for our client? Is that the way the client sees it? Is it in the client’s best interest? Has it been reviewed with the client?

[6] Responsibility. Who’s doing what? For example, it may be obvious that the tax expert has responsibility for assessing the tax consequences of the applicable situation and recommending effective strategies. But others on the team may have specialized knowledge that complements and supplements the expert’s knowledge.

[7] Commitment to peer review. This one takes courage – especially for the insurance agent. The fear is that the insurance solution will be confronted by mythology and misunderstanding of (for example) “buy term and invest the difference” that will undermine the most effective solution. Team members must commit and agree to participate from a position of knowledge and client focus – and to respect each other’s professional competence. On the other hand, artfully expressing concern if it seems that others’ recommendations are falling short of the client’s best interest may require referring back to the mission statement.

[8] Options and consequences. All team members should be committed to reviewing alternatives and ideally having more than one solution from which to choose. How will the results be communicated to the client?

[9] Ongoing service/management issues and obligations. Once the options have been assessed and the decisions made and implemented, how should the plan be managed? If there is an investment policy statement to facilitate management of the investment portfolio, are similar statements implemented to cover other plan components such as life insurance?

[10] Periodic review and reconvening of the team. How often should the insurance or other plan components be reviewed? For example, if there’s a tax law change, does the team reconvene or does the tax expert directly connect with the client?

Life – and planning for it – has become much more complicated in the face of a globalized economy and changing client needs along with complex financial and tax considerations. Clients need so much more than just our specific area of expertise. The best client-focused recommendation we can make is to put together the right team of experts … for the client’s benefit.


Richard M. Weber, CLU, MBA, AEP (Distinguished), is past president of the Society of Financial Professionals. A 45-year veteran of the life insurance industry, he is a consultant to insurers and their agents on the topic of effective and ethical selling. Contact him at [email protected] [email protected].

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