Retirement Planning

The Essence of Constant Client Engagement

Listening is the key

Research indicates that the average person hears about 25,000 words each day. But there’s a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is passive, taking in sounds. Listening is active — working diligently to understand what has been heard, be they words or noise.

Listening to clients and prospects is at the foundation of Cornerstone Wealth Partners LLC, located in Forked River, New Jersey.

Head paul ha“My practice is not designed to purchase a financial product and move on,” Paul Ha, founder of Cornerstone Wealth Partners told Advisors Magazine in a recent interview. “It’s about constant client engagement,” he added.

Ha explained: “You just have to listen — a lot, and ask questions— a lot, and talk to your clients — a lot. That’s what this industry really needs. There is no one-off, silver bullet product or solution that will last for someone’s entire financial life.”

In placing such high value on earnest conversation, Ha maintains that these pandemic times have made his client relationships even stronger. Quarterly calls, annual meetings and other forms of regular client communication have always been the norm at Cornerstone Wealth Partners. Such interaction — with both sides listening — increased due to COVID. More vital was what both parties gleaned from a trying period.

“Without a doubt, the pandemic has made us all rethink how we see the world, including advisory relationships,” he explained. “Like any period of uncertainty, it gives advisors and clients time to test each other and to see each other more clearly.”

Ha added: “Who knew that COVID was going to shut down the entire world for a period of time?” That time, however, has brought Ha even closer to his clients.

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Ha emphasized: “I usually say, even in the initial appointments, that I can create financial plans all day, that’s simple. But you understanding who you are—especially in turbulent times—that’s a difficult thing to realize.”

During such a time, according to Ha, when both sides are truly listening, the parties find out exactly what and how much the other can handle. “And that will help us again in the next difficult period,” he said, “because we all know there will be a next one; but we get tested, stronger and more prepared by each one.”

Ha recalled that he knew early on he always wanted a career as a financial professional, taking a keen interest in the stock market even before college. Immediately after graduation from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey — where he excelled in statistics, investment analysis and international finance — Ha was hired as a financial advisor with an insurance company.

Always dealing directly with clients, Ha also spent 10 years with a large wirehouse where he honed his listening skills by providing advice on daily basis. The next natural step was to open his own firm.

Clients And Advisors Have Different Ideas About What Is Most Important To Clients
And to this day, Ha’s ideal client is one who is actively seeking advice. There is no account minimum. His core philosophy is straightforward. “Listen as much as possible—and then listen some more; and be versatile in your solutions,” he said.

Education with clear explanation is the foundation of a long-term relationship,” Ha stressed, “And these are the types of relationships I am seeking.”

An organic path to earning trust
Ha says he has found that people don’t want to hear a list of what he does or see an itemization of his values. “People want to feel it,” he said. “So again, if you take the time to listen to someone’s situation, moving to wherever the conversation takes you, and then bring up the gaps that the person doesn’t see, I think those are the moments where they kind of say, ‘Wow, this person really wants to see me succeed.’”

And during such exchanges clients and prospects should come to appreciate that the advisor has experience and smarts. Mutual values will become evident, and as Ha said: “The path to earning trust will naturally occur.” It’s not always quick, and that’s fine. Because Ha says he respects that clients will always be first to take a leap of faith since they are the ones entrusting their life savings.

And once a client takes that leap, Ha sets about tailoring a plan for them. When it comes to retirement planning, specifically, he has the technology to work with multiple clients.

“A lot can be accomplished today at the click of a button,” he said. “So, we’re looking at more clients, different clients, tailoring their plans with the tools we have.” Ha acknowledged that it’s now much easier to track and keep a single person on the path they’re on, even though no plan is identical to any other.

“There are many technical advances in this space that allow me to work faster than ever before,” Ha added, “but I work granularly to ensure that it’s a well-thought-out process and that each plan is executed properly.”

Today’s technology is a big help, but it all starts with upfront listening skills.

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Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC.


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