Should You Discuss Politics With Clients?

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

Has anyone asked you to comment on the current political scene and best ways to deal with what’s happening when your clients have very strong (and very vocal) opinions? I haven’t seen much written and I can’t believe other firms aren’t dealing with this right now. I’ve never had a problem steering clear of political or religious discussions except with extremely close clients with whom I share similar views and with whom I can have a logical, educated discussion. My experience now is that clients want to goad me into responding. It’s a bit like a test – if I don’t say the right thing, they consider working with someone else who shares their viewpoint. I find this happening with clients who are on both ends of the political spectrum – it’s not just a right or left position. Is there a professional way to deal with this that does not make me look like I am wishy-washy or don’t want to respond? Of course I have my own views but I’m not sure I see the upside to sharing them right now.

Tim T.

Dear Tim,

Surprisingly I have not received many questions on this topic but I can say, on a more individual basis, I am hearing it from advisors and other service providers too. These times are tricky to navigate and, in my view, you are right to be careful about how you respond and to whom.

Your original position of deliberating refraining from politics and religion could be the right one, depending on the makeup of your practice and the types of clients you have. I say this because I know a few advisors who are quite vocal about their political views and tend to have a client base with similar viewpoints. These advisors believe a core part of who they are lies in their political affiliations and they are very comfortable sharing their views. This is why, as with most situations, there are not absolutes. I can’t say it’s always “wrong” to take a position on politics with clients.

However, in your case, it sounds like you have taken a more independent position where you aren’t publicly aligning yourself with a political party, except in cases with some close clients with whom you are opening up and sharing your thoughts. This is also fine – and personally I prefer to take an independent view so as not to alienate clients. I also do believe there are often two sides to the story so listening and learning is always a preferred mode for me.

If you believe you are being “goaded” then I don’t think there will be any positive upside if you finally blurt out what you think only to find it is exactly the opposite of what your client wanted to hear!

So what do you do? You can’t just stay mute and nod or smile while your client waits for your response! The political scene is also an economic scene. In the financial services industry, perhaps the safest position is to talk about the current environment on savings, investing, retirement and financial planning. Amidst all of the noise, there are a lot of developments that could, or will, impact the financial landscape. Perhaps when asked you could have a series of comments prepared that don’t reveal your true feelings on what’s happening now on other topics such as immigration, education or the environment. You could stick to a story line that is connected to your work – if you are doing anything differently in your investment approach, or changing allocations on portfolios or making new recommendations on retirement planning. Find ways to bring it back to what you do for clients and try and rise above the third rail noise.

By Beverly Flaxington, read the full article here.

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