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I heard a story at a recent conference that somewhat altered my perspective about how we handle the news that a client or other friend of TAAG has referred someone to meet with us.

A speaker at the conference told the story of a planning firm where he was doing some consulting.  A client mentioned to an advisor there that they had passed along contact information to a good friend we’ll call Joe, and hoped that he would be in touch.  The client mentioned that Joe “made a ton of money, but spends a ton of money,” had five children, hadn’t really done any planning of any kind and could use some advice.  No real savings to speak of.  No college planning.  No estate planning.  No insurance planning.

Of course, Joe didn’t know the advisor the way the existing client did and, while he knew the family financial picture needed more than some minor maintenance, there was just no sense of urgency for Joe to make that initial contact.

It didn’t dawn on the advisor at first that there was a family just a street over from him with five kids.  It didn’t dawn on the advisor at first that the father in that family was named Joe.

A few weeks after learning of this referral, the advisor learned that his neighbor and two of his children were killed in a head-on collision while on a weekend road trip.  It was at that moment, that the advisor made the connection.  He had never heard from Joe.

Since this heartbreaking event, the advisor has done what he can to help the grieving widow and her three remaining children get through the financial aspects of this devastating time.  Sadly, this has meant selling their home, moving in with her parents and facing the fact that the children are likely to take on tremendous amounts of debt if they want to attend college.

It is certainly one of the more tragic stories like this I’ve heard in my career in terms of severity, but it’s certainly not an uncommon one.

The point of this story is not just to alarm, but to emphasize that having at least some kind of financial plan in place, while seemingly not urgent, is vitally important.

Had Joe and his spouse done some initial planning, they likely might have had some term life insurance.  They might have reined in their spending a bit and focused on some basic college, retirement and other savings.  They might have made any number of minor adjustments to their lives that could have lessened the financial burden that exponentially compounded an emotionally devastating loss.

There are any number of reasons why people reach out to a firm like ours to seek professional advice around investments, financial planning and other areas related to personal finance.  One of the more common reasons is because of some kind of life transition.

Death, divorce, a sudden windfall, the birth of a child, the sale of a business, a child getting ready to head off to college; these are all examples of the types of transitions that often brings a prospective client to our door.

Of course, we are happy to help during these times, but in these situations, we frequently find areas where we could have been infinitely more valuable to the client in advance of whatever transition brought them to us.

It’s obviously in our interest to meet with new prospective clients at TAAG, but beyond that, we also feel an inherent responsibility to turn the important into the urgent when someone is looking for advice.  In other words, to make sure we meet Joe and his family as early as possible.  As such, going forward when someone tells us that they referred a friend, family member or colleague, don’t be surprised if we ask to take just a few minutes to learn more about the prospective client and how best to facilitate an introduction.  Whether we’re the best fit or not, we want to help as many people as we can get started with securing their financial peace of mind.