Weekly Executive Update: How To Offend A Beneficiary


My father recently passed away.  I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m here to share an experience I had so that many of you will pay attention and realize how you might be losing out on potential opportunities and even offending them.  Although technology is great, what really impacts customers, even today, is good old-fashioned customer service.  At the outset, I want to point out that while most investors who inherit assets may already have a financial advisor, many do not.  Therefore, according to Spectrem’s research, Legacy 2.0 - Baby Boomers and Inheritances, 6 percent of beneficiaries actually choose to use the financial advisor of the deceased while 21% still may not have an advisor, thus providing an opportunity.  But, if they are treated as I was, they may continue to be advisor-less after the transaction.


My father had a brokerage account at a well-known regional/national firm in a Midwestern city.  One day I was pleased to receive a phone call from a nice guy who introduced himself, told me he was sorry for my loss, and informed me that I was a beneficiary (along with my siblings) of my father’s account.  He said his assistant would be contacting me for some information.  I took his name but didn’t really write much down because I was driving when he called.  He described the process indicating that the assets would be moved into an account and then I could decide what to do from there.  I would have access to the account via an app.  Sounds easy, right?

After a week, nobody had contacted me so I called my sister.  She is always more meticulous than I and had written everything down, including the phone number for the assistant.  She said the assistant had just called her the day before.  I took the name and number and called.  A receptionist answered the phone and I asked for “Debbie”.  (I made up the name to protect the not-so-innocent.). Turns out that Debbie is only in a few days a week and works remotely other days - Covid, you know.  So I asked to leave a voice mail for Debbie.

Sometimes “working remotely” means “remotely working”.  I called everyday that week.  Finally I found a day when Debbie was in to take my call.  Apparently “she hadn’t had time to check her voice mails”.  I guess Covid messed up their system?  She took my information to set up the account - clearly asking questions that might indicate that I was a good potential client due to outside assets and household income despite the fact that the amount of assets I would be receiving from my father would not put me in the “desirable client” category.  She explained the process and said I would be receiving paperwork to return. 

I did receive the paperwork and return it.  I had been contemplating what to do with the assets.  My husband and I don’t really have a financial advisor - just accounts across multiple organizations (and yes, I know we need a plan, etc.....) My dad had always liked his broker so I thought about developing a relationship.  It didn’t matter to me that he was in the Midwest and I was in Florida.  He was clearly someone my father had trusted.  But ultimately I decided that I would use the funds to pay the deposits on the weddings that both my son and daughter are having in 2021.  One of the deposits was due so I asked Debbie when the account would be funded and how I could get the assets sold and have the funds transferred.  She clearly didn’t know the answer but would have someone call me.  Apparently I was not assigned to my Dad’s broker but to someone else.  Debbie mumbled the name and indicated that person would call me.  Two days later (and after two days when the market was down), no one had called.  But because I had this nice app the firm had provided, I called the “800” number and said I wanted to sell my assets.  The person was very helpful but said I needed to talk to my broker.  I said I didn’t know the name of my broker.  I also mentioned that I was a lawyer familiar with securities laws and had asked to liquidate my account two days earlier, when the market was higher, but no one had responded.  She said she would transfer me to his assistant.  I asked the name of the assistant. “Debbie.”.  “NO!  Please don’t transfer me to Debbie!”  I explained what had happened and asked if I could speak to anyone but Debbie.

It didn’t take long (maybe an hour) for my Dad’s broker to call me directly and apologize.  He explained that if I filled out additional paperwork I would save a substantial amount in taxes.  He made sure that everything happened quickly.  The company picked up any fed-ex charges.  Unfortunately for my Dad’s broker, who was totally professional, he had missed out on a potential opportunity.

Here is what I want financial advisors to learn from my experience.


1.     Having an assistant set up an account may be more efficient for you - but you are missing out on potential opportunities by failing to understand who the beneficiary is and if you could provide services to them.

2.     Just because the inheritance may be small, it doesn’t mean that opportunity doesn’t exist with the beneficiaries.

3.     Technology is great, but sometimes a warm, friendly competent phone call is better.

4.     It doesn’t matter if a beneficiary is thousands of miles away - they can still develop a relationship with you via Zoom, Skype and other virtual offerings.

5.     Make sure your staff is just as courteous to beneficiaries (who could potentially become clients) as they are to your biggest clients.

6.     Don’t let remote working environments and/or Covid provide an excuse.  Remote working is here to stay - some people are good at it, while others aren’t.



Now I am sure that most of you know and believe everything I said above.  I’m sure that my Dad’s broker agrees.  Just make sure you are living and breathing the same principles you have followed throughout your career.  And remind your staff to do the same.