Are Your Clients Happy? Time Will Tell

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A Wendy’s Wednesday Whimsy

Hey, did you catch the recent study that’s been making its way around the popular press: “Buying time promotes happiness”? As perennially popular as happiness tends to be, the media jumped right on this one.

Of course one study – even an academic one – isn’t “proof” according to evidence-based rigor. But this particular one seems about as far-reaching as a stand-alone inquiry can get. It’s co-authored by five academic heavyweights from four universities. Plus it represents four academic disciplines across three countries – the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands. Contributors came from Harvard University’s Business School, the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychology, Maastricht University’s Department of Finance, and Vrije Universiteit’s Center for Philanthropic Studies.

Go ahead and read the study yourself, but one of its compelling conclusions is as follows:

“[W]orking adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase.”

I’ve seen a number of posts lately about the value of spending money on spending time … i.e., on having experiences instead of possessions. Tim Maurer recently covered this subject nicely, for example. The study I’m referencing suggests people also derive a lot of pleasure from spending money on saving time or, put another way, on avoiding experiences they’d rather not have, like housekeeping or yard work.

Or how about wealth management? While financial services didn’t seem to come up as a happiness-generating time-saver in this particular study, I’d be willing to bet there are plenty of people who would rather be mowing the lawn than figuring out how to finagle their finances.

So here’s an interesting idea for your marketing & communications: What if you presented the value you bring to your clients in increments of time instead of just the money? Here are some ideas to get you going.

Portfolio management services saves some time. After initial set-up, maybe you’re saving a family a couple of hours every month by managing their portfolio for them. That’s nice, but a decent roboadvisor can take care of that too, so this is just the beginning.

Evidence-based investing saves a ton of time. Here’s a much better differentiator. Evidence-based investors get to stop spending time forever second-guessing whether they’re “doing it right.” They can stop spending as much time tracking portfolio performance, since the long-term results are the only ones that really matter. Still, everyone gets distracted now and then. So as their personal advisor, you also make sure they keep saving time by guiding them according to the evidence whenever they may be tempted to revert to their past, time-sucking ways.

Financial life planning – a big time-saver too. Okay, there’s some upfront extra time spent. But once a financial plan is in place in a family’s life, they also can stop spending nearly as much time regularly revisiting their household money management, right? They’ve got ready-made decisions and action items, so they only have to spend more time when their personal circumstances dramatically change.

In-house or allied value-added services – for bypassing hours of due diligence. Let’s say your client is looking for a CPA who specializes in tax preparation for lottery winners, or an estate planning attorney experienced at special needs trusts. Or even a decent back surgeon or reliable mechanic. The more reputable names you have for your clients, the less time they’ll need to spend doing their own due diligence.

Little stuff adds up. Personally, one of the things I love the most about having an advisor is being able to dump the smaller chores on them, like filling out the paperwork properly, or answering a quick question about what a newly passed state law might mean to my tax return, or helping me figure out whether my beneficiaries are set up right for my IRA. These may seem small, but while my advisor may need a couple of minutes to help, it might take me an hour or more to figure out these sorts of things on my own.

Your own relationship with your clients – priceless. The better you know your client (and vice-versa), the more opportunities will arise to save them more time. You can learn whether she’s the kind who needs an extra reminder when quarterly estimates are due. You can discover whether he’ll need that strong evidence-based hand-holding during bear markets, or whether he’s just as happy hibernating through them. You can find out what a couple’s personal interests are, so you can send them related links and materials without wasting their time on resources that don’t appeal.

You get my drift. By getting to know your clients better than any roboadvisor ever can, you’ll find ways to save them valuable time on their life events ranging from little to large. The evidence suggests this makes people happy. That means your own time will be well-spent too.