What Does It Mean To Know A Client?
Henry: What does it mean to know a client. And just for anyone new to Northstar, we don’t have a single fund. We don’t’ have discrete models that we fit people into. So, it’s a very intense process to learn enough about someone to help them on this financial journey. The question is, “what does it mean to know a client”. So, what are some of the building blocks of that.
One is, to know their current situation as well as we can. Job security, are they retired, and to know something aspirational, and understand their family dynamics, and in that process things come up. You find out that families are unique, and we tend to know quite a bit about where our clients are on that path towards some financial goal.
Linda: Which is why what we really do is money therapy. We sometimes know as much about our clients as their therapists do, so that we can be effective.
Henry: And do you think most of our clients have therapists before they meet us, or do we cause them?
Josh: But if we are not that way, I think we feel like we are being irresponsible. That we couldn’t possibly do the job that we need to do, in terms of what is this set of assets or portfolio we’ve built, who is it for, what purpose is it serving. If we don’t know what that is, then it’s meaningless in a sense. A lot of it is just connection. Just understanding, if I was in this position, when I think about my life and planning, it’s how I grew up. What my parents might need. What my hopes are for family. And all of those things I can see coming in the future.
Henry: The other part is the feedback we get. There have been times where we have people we work with who then turn around and are supportive of us. They understand, “gee, you must be getting thousands of calls” during the Financial Crisis, or during the four- or five-week period last year when the markets plunged after the shutdown. We went from not hearing the word COVID, or Coronavirus, to it becoming omnipresent. And there were a number of people who just said, “I can’t even imagine how stressful it is to do this”, and we said “you know, you are still searching on Google, paying your utility bills, buying groceries (it may be delivery, but you are still eating)” and the world is continuing, and by keeping our focus, we were able to stay relatively calm with respect to investing. But it was immensely helpful to hear the empathetic voice on the other end of the phone, and those are invaluable moments.
Jeff: I think part of the reason why we are able to stay the course in times like that is, that what is really important to us is “first GOALS, then a PLAN, and only then a PORTFOLIO.” We really do live by that, when we meet with a new client, or continually meet with existing clients, we ask “what are your goals, and how do we help get you to that point.” When there are times of turmoil in the markets, that’s what we can really highlight in on. This may not change your goals, and it certainly doesn’t change our plan to get there.
Bobby: It isn’t one size fits all. I’ve heard both of you discuss teaching a lot when you talk about how to work clients. Prime example is if you have a younger client who is in their 20s or 30s, maybe has just gotten married and hasn’t had kids yet, it will be a different set of goals then someone who is recently retired with a large pension, grown kids and grandchildren.
Henry: The word I might use in addition to teaching is coaching. Something you are very familiar with (to Bobby). Sometimes there is a tremendous value that we’ve gotten from other people, or that sometimes we provide, which is not a shove, but a gentle nudge. The gentle nudge to get someone to begin allocating more towards a rational program is wonderful because it gets you out of the “playing the market” mentality.
Linda: It’s teaching good habits, which we try to do.
Bobby: It’s a funny coincidence, that the name Northstar came from a ski trail, but the North Star is synonymous with guidance.
Henry: It sounds like there was some great process involved, but Linda and I needed a name immediately, and I looked at a picture! Which is good, because one of the other trails that I love skiing at Vail is called Whistle Pig! We could have been the Whistle Pig Group! So we had a choice, and we went with Northstar…it works for us.