Face to Face

Intimacy? Are You Serious?

by Tony DiLeonardi

What thoughts come to mind when you hear the word intimacy? This may be a dangerous theme to open with because for many people, the word intimacy feels awkward or uncomfortable. For others, it's almost laughable. With the rise in popularity of personal development and self-help books, blogs, and TV shows, intimacy has become a mainstream buzzword. It's generally used in reference to male/female relationships. You know, you've seen the women's magazine article: "Six Ways to Improve Intimacy with Your Partner…Tonight." I think the word intimacy has gotten a bad rap simply because it's misunderstood, much like the term "affirmation" did back in the days of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live. Remember his powerful affirmation? "I'm good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me." We all had a good laugh and dismissed as nonsense what is actually a pretty useful development tool.

Same thing goes for intimacy. Many people have been turned off simply because of incorrect or over usage. So, before we go any further, I'm asking you to release any preconceived notions of intimacy. For us to build lifelong and multigenerational clients, we need it.

Why Intimacy?

I use intimacy for two reasons. First, it's because I truly believe it's the best word for what we are trying to create. And, secondly, because I feel it causes us to think. And isn't that really the definition of learning? After all, as professor and author Howard Hendricks said, "It's not what you think you are; rather it's what you think, you are."

If we look at the word intimate, it comes from the Latin intima, signifying the deepest, most internal part of something. The key word here to me is something. I argue that of all the service providers your clients have-as well as the prospective time-stealers and those attempting to add some value in the lives of your clients-your role and duty is the deepest, most internal part of their life. Not more important or deeper than their family or faith, perhaps, but certainly deeper and more internal than say, the mechanic, plumber, local politician, medical doctor, or nurse. Medical doctor? Really? Yes, perhaps even him or her.

There is one thing that each medical professional has in common. Eventually he or she will lose 100% of their clients, which he or she calls patients. Each one of them will die. But what you do, the trusted wealth professional, has the ability to go on for generation after generation. That's powerful.

In medicine, the intima is the inner lining of the arteries, the tunica interna, or inner coat. This joins with the endocardium, the inner lining of the heart. The intimate layer is the most profound and the most tender. To be intimate with another is to be open and uncover one's inner thoughts. We tend to do this with great anxiety and vulnerability, but that's exactly what is needed from you with your best clients to create the mutual intimacy that leads to lifelong relationships and passes to future generations.

Why Does Intimacy Matter?

The data and the told and untold stories of this industry indicate that most of your clients don't feel that you care about them, their family and their needs. You may care about the size of their wealth, the products they use, and the "suitability" for those products. Consider this:

  • 98% of adult children switch financial advisers once they have received their inheritance from their parents. ("Engaging and Retaining Families," Investments & Wealth Monitor, IMCA, September/October 2011)
  • On average, affluent clients with more than $5M in assets have seven advisers in their lifetime.
  • 25% of the affluent claim they are looking for a new "planner" not because of performance, but rather, lack of contact. (Phoenix Wealth Management Survey.)

Therefore, intimacy in your practice with your best clients matters because it's how you will perform your noble calling, attract and keep your clients, and inherit more clients because of not just what you do for them, but how you do it.

In journalist Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink (Back Bay Books, 2005), he looks at medical professionals and their likelihood of being sued for malpractice. The net of the example is those medical professionals whose patients consider them to have a favorable bedside manner, regardless of their technical proficiency and competency of the MD, were less likely to be sued for malpractice than those doctors who had real or perceived bad bedside manner. He found out that in many cases, the patient's feelings of a good bedside manner versus a bad bedside manner came from just three minutes more of dialogue (connection) with the patient. That was from 15 minutes to 18 minutes of intimacy. A bit of interest, compassion, and concern from the doctor created a much healthier, productive, and profitable relationship. It was not just the medicine; it was also the relationship.

So, three more minutes of genuine, caring conversation means a doctor is less likely to be sued than a doctor who is technically more proficient, but perceived as less caring, compassionate, and does not take the time to know his or her patient. What does this have to do with you, the wealth professional? Everything. I believe this example is absolutely transferable to your business and our industry. We need to improve our bedside manner (our intimacy) for all the right reasons.