Advisors Who Travel Abroad Gain Better Cross-Cultural Understanding

Advisors Who Travel Abroad Gain Better Cross-Cultural Understanding

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When returning to the United States after spending time abroad, your perceptions change. You see the world differently, and that fresh perspective can help you forge stronger connections with those around you.

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Advisors gain a better understanding of wide-ranging cultures through their travels. Better yet, they apply what they learn to deepen their client relationships.

Consider your communication skills. It’s easy to assume that prospects and clients can decipher your financial jargon.

Ed Cofrancesco knows better. An advisor in Orlando, Fla., he lived in the United Kingdom for nearly three years during a stint as a relationship manager for a global bank.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how well versed the people in the U.K. were to the U.S. and global markets,” he said. “I’d talk with U.K. cabdrivers about market news and interest rate moves.”

Back in America, Cofrancesco realized he needed to do a better job educating clients on the financial markets. If he lapsed into using too much lingo, he might confuse rather than enlighten them.

“I tell my colleagues all the time, ‘Never assume what people know,’ ” he said. “Don’t throw a term out there like ‘ETFs.’ Instead, find out if they know the term. If not, help them become familiar with it.”

Spending Vs. Saving

Clients’ attitudes about money can vary widely, especially if they were raised with different expectations or values. Advisors who have lived abroad gain exposure to a range of outlooks.

For example, Cofrancesco found from his travels that many Europeans reside in countries that provide social insurance programs. Public awareness of such benefits affects citizens’ saving and spending habits.

“(Europeans) may count on their version of Social Security,” he said. “Because they’re more dependent on their government system, they’re not saving for their retirement” in the same way that Americans should do.

As a result, he tailors his approach to retirement planning for clients who have moved to the U.S. from afar. He’s more apt to explain how Social Security works — and its long-term viability — to these international clients.

Cofrancesco took away another lesson from his U.K. experience: Americans are more lavish spenders.

“We’re way too materialistic of a society in the U.S.,” he said. He cites examples of drivers who feel compelled to buy a new car every few years or a groom who buys his bride a diamond engagement ring worth three months of his salary.

Cofrancesco adds that he likes to share stories about the frugality he witnessed overseas “to heighten Americans’ awareness” of the importance of managing their household budget with prudence.

Make Each Day Count

By immersing themselves in different cultures, advisors also develop a thirst for learning. Their inquisitiveness carries over into how they relate to clients.

Part of any advisor’s job is extracting personal information from clients. This requires posing a series of sensitive questions.

Moving to the Dominican Republic in his early 20s, Andrew Sivertsen spent a year living with a host family. He enjoyed getting to know them and seeing the world through their eyes.

“It was an extremely warm, inviting culture,” said Sivertsen, a certified financial planner in Moline, Ill. “It made me a better listener as I asked questions and learned from them.”

He credits his travels with helping him “fully engage in clients’ lives.” In every conversation, he strives to learn something new about them and focus his attention on the here-and-now.

“It’s important to listen in the moment, not think about what you’re going to say or do next,” he said. “It’s all about curiosity.”

He was struck by how people in the Dominican Republic lived each day with a heightened sense of appreciation and vigor. They often focused on “the most important thing to do right now,” he says.

More than a decade later, Sivertsen, 35, fondly recalls their seize-the-moment mentality. And it has influenced how he advises his clients.

“Many people intend to retire in 10 or 20 or 40 years, so there’s a long-term plan in play,” he said. “But I’ll also ask about their short- and intermediate-term goals. If someone hates their job, I may ask, ‘Why wait to fulfill your dreams?’ “

Sivertsen serves on the board of directors of a school in the Dominican Republic, so he revisits the country every year. Because many families get by on a modest income, they marvel at his profession.

“You Americans have so much money that you need a financial planner,” they say with a smile. But these comments stick with him.

“We’re blessed to live in a place where we have that,” he said. “It makes you focus on the positive, not the negative.”

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