AccelPro | Intellectual Property Law
AccelPro | Intellectual Property Law
On Forging Productive Client Relationships

On Forging Productive Client Relationships

With Tushar Kumar, Financial Advisor at Twin Peaks Wealth Advisors | Interviewed by Celeste Headlee

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube

Welcome to AccelPro IP Law, where we provide expert interviews and coaching to accelerate your professional development. This interview is part of our AccelPro Career Tools series, where we explore topics including wellness and client relationship management.

Our host is internationally recognized journalist, author and NPR host Celeste Headlee. Today we’re featuring a conversation with Tushar Kumar, Financial Advisor at Twin Peaks Wealth Advisors. 

We discuss the challenge of surviving and thriving in the financial advising industry and how that applies to other client-oriented roles, including law. Tushar offers strategies for gaining and preserving long-lasting client relationships, whether the market is up or down. We also speak about how a supportive, step-based approach to employee training can help your team successfully connect with clients and maintain their own well-being.

Bottom line: in addition to a deep understanding of the industry, it’s soft skills, and particularly good communication, that will bring you business and make you irreplaceable.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube.

Interview References:



Celeste Headlee, Host: Tell us a little bit about what you do at Twin Peaks.

Tushar Kumar: Twin Peaks Wealth Advisor is a holistic wealth management firm, and we work with individuals and families to help them achieve and maintain financial independence. 

We are based in the Bay Area, and a lot of our clients work in the tech industry. We oftentimes work with people at companies like Apple, Google, Meta, Salesforce, and we help them with everything from how to manage their investments, plan for retirement, think about their estate planning, to how to be tax efficient along the way.

Most of our clients come to us in order to use us as their accountability partner and thought partner as it relates to their financial planning.

CH: How do you establish a relationship, especially when it comes to trust? There is so much competition - how do you establish trust with someone when they're handing over their money to you?

TK: There are two major components to that. The first is, typically, our clients are coming to us through some kind of favorable introduction or a referral from someone that they know, so that certainly helps with building trust right off the bat.

But secondly, I think our fact-finding process and how we show our prospects our value proposition throughout our initial sales process is pretty good. It's really about making sure that we truly understand the client's goals and make them feel like we understand them. 

And then, give them a few concrete strategies before they even engage us on how we can help them get from point A to point B.

CH: Maybe you could dig in a little bit more into those three things you just talked about. Let's start with fact-finding. What exactly do you mean and how do you go about that?

TK: Fact-finding in the wealth management industry refers to understanding who your client is. We'll ask them qualitatively, “What are your goals? When do you actually want to retire or be in a position where you don't have to financially work anymore?” Once we understand what that qualitative goal is, we will then move on to more quantitative based questions where we ask them things like, “How much do you already have saved up for retirement? How is that money currently being invested? Do you feel like there are any gaps?” or “Have you thought about X, Y, or Z strategy?” 

CH: How you get started and establish their accounts and establish the relationship, that's super important. But then you said moving forward becomes even more important. Why? 

TK: That’s right. The accountability piece of what we do, over the long term, I think is the biggest value proposition, because if you think about your financial health, I think about that similarly to how I think of my physical health. Going to a doctor once and getting a checkup might help me get a baseline of where I am today, but getting on some kind of a program and sticking to that over the long term is really what's going to drive good physical health results. And I think that's a great analogy and something that's very similar in your own financial health.

You can work on something today, but chances are things are going to evolve every quarter, every year, as time goes on, and making sure that you have someone who is understanding of your goals along the way as well as what's changing in your life can help you become financially healthy more quickly.

CH: You don't just work with clients, though. You also end up working with their lawyers and other service providers as well. What have you learned about how to effectively manage those different relationships?

TK: Usually, I think that the best way to manage that relationship is to figure out what role you're playing for that client in that interaction. Now in most cases, our clients think about us as the quarterback of their situation, so they're trusting us to bring the right accountant or the right attorney to the table. In other cases, if they already have those team members in place, they're looking to us to basically free up their time or run point on that process so that they no longer have to.

Some of the things that can be helpful as we work on those relationships are making sure that person is a trusted individual and that they've worked on a similar case before, because obviously their ability to help my client is going to be heavily dependent on their experience.

And then, do we think that their firm or their platform is fit to handle that client’s evolution. It's a little bit of a dating and a dance as we work with other providers.

CH: Difficult situations arise, though, and I'm sure you have been in more than one situation in which there have been disagreements, in which you have had to remain calm at perhaps a time when that was not quite so easy. Do you have any tips about how to do that? How do you stay calm?

TK: Simon Sinek wrote a book called Start with Why, and I think taking that approach is great in these difficult situations. If we're ever in a situation that might be contentious or if a client might be upset, then we always go back to why

Why is it that we did what we did? What was the goal when we took our action? What were the circumstances at the time that we made the decision? What were the parameters that our client gave us when making those decisions? We always try to take it back to that, and then remind the client that, “Hey, we're on the same page, we're on your team here. You've hired us as a fiduciary to help you, so everything that we've done has happened with good intent.”

The other thing I like to recommend in these situations is to always agree with the feelings of the client. You may not agree with what they are saying, but agreeing with their feelings can really go a long way, because in most of these circumstances people are just wanting to be heard. So saying something like, “I understand why this can be upsetting or challenging,” or, “I understand why this could be coming to you as a surprise. Let me refresh your memory on X, Y, or Z.”

CH: Let's say, for example, a client comes in and their portfolio is worth so much less than it was the last time they checked, and they're irate. It would be natural for you to feel defensive. When those feelings of defensiveness occur, and it's tough to listen when what you really want to do is explain - how do you get yourself to slow down and listen to somebody who may be saying things that aren't true?

TK: It's a good question. I think a big part of our job is not just being a financial advisor, but being a therapist along the way, and I hear that from several people in my profession, as well as accountants, attorneys…we get that a lot. 

The way that we approach it with our firm is we start with the why thing that I alluded to earlier. We take our clients back to their goals, “Your goal when you came to us and had us invest your money was that you really wanted to focus on growth. And when we outlined the strategy that you are now in, you agreed to that, and we showed you the risk of that portfolio. We showed you the stress test, or what was possible in an up or down market, so everything that's happening is really what we had expected to happen. So we shouldn't necessarily be upset that it happened because we built your plan with the assumption that this might happen once or twice along the way.” 

We also use what's called a goals-based approach in our firm. Of course, portfolios can go up and down, but by focusing on a goals-based approach, we can show the client, “Despite this market drop last year, you're still on track to hit your retirement goal,” or “We've only fallen off by a couple of percent, and so it's really not something to freak out about.” Giving them that perspective about what this actually means for them long term really helps with calming their nerves.


CH: When you get junior members who have joined your client team, what are the things that you have to train them in? What are core competencies you have to teach them?

TK: If someone's coming to join our firm as a financial advisor there's a few things that they need to be trained on. One is prospecting; how do they drum up new business in the first place? How do you get referrals from clients? How do you get referrals from CPAs or attorneys in your local markets?

The second thing that we train them on is fact-finding. How do you uncover the needs of someone once you are in that initial meeting with them? The presentation outlining someone's strategies is also important, showing them, “Hey, when you're in this situation, here's what you would recommend,” or “Here's what our firm thinks that you should be recommending to these people.”

And then lastly, what are you covering in those ongoing client meetings for the next 10, 20, 30 years that you're working with that client? Those are some of the things that we train on. 

CH: I know that in my business, there's a big difference between what you learn in your official training to prepare you for a role, and what you actually learn on the job. For someone who's fresh out of school, what do they actually need to learn to do that job? What's missing?

TK: That's a great question because so much of what we do in real life is hard to put into a textbook that shows to a junior person exactly what we do on a day-to-day basis. One thing that we just started doing about a year ago in our firm to bridge this gap is a five-step process that we take all juniors through in order to show them how to deliver on a specific task.

Let me give you an example. The first step of our process is just observation. We have a junior financial advisor in the firm. They're going to first start observing client meetings. They'll be in those meetings with me and watching me run them and just observe what to do, and then they'll document what happened in those meetings. Maybe I'll have them send out meeting notes to a client afterwards or to myself for our compliance notes. 

Once they've gone through the observation, then step two is the documentation. We'll move them to taking on a small role in the meeting. Perhaps that's, “You're going to give this client a market update in the meeting,” or “You're going to run this client's cash flow or their retirement plan this meeting.” Give them something to work on that they actually present to the client in a meeting.

The fourth step is to run a meeting fully on their own, but with a senior's guidance, so I might be in that meeting but say, “You're going to run this entire meeting. I'll chime in along the way where I need to but you're running the show.” 

And then the fifth step is being able to have them run a meeting solo without me in the picture at all. I think that observation, documentation, small role, guidance, and then a solo thing is something that's worked for us.

CH: What type of person does well in this client facing role?

TK: They say most of the good financial advisors out there are what they call chameleons, and those are people that can really get along with different personality types. You might be able to get along with someone who's extroverted, someone who's introverted, someone who is very loud, someone who's quiet, someone who's into sports, someone who's into math.

There are so many different personalities you come across as a service professional, and I think the people that do the best are the people who can relate and understand multiple different personality types.

CH: Is there a difference between someone who is going to shine in a sales role versus someone who is going to do really well in a support role?

TK: Of course, yes. For those of us who are more in a sales role, you're naturally going to need to have thick skin because you're going to face a lot of rejection along the way. And as I've alluded to earlier, you're also going to be a little bit of a therapist and a punching bag.

Unfortunately, the financial advisory profession is more of a thankless profession. A lot of us say this because when markets are up, people expect things to be good. When markets are down, you're the punching bag: no one likes to celebrate you having lost less than the market. But that's the reality of our industry. I think having thick skin really matters if you're going to be in a sales and client relationship management role here.

CH: This has come up multiple times, having a thick skin, being a therapist, having to deal with disappointment and disappointed expectations. Let's talk about wellness a little bit and how you develop that thick skin. How do you take care of yourself in an industry in which you are going to be a punching bag, which means emotionally you're going to get punched. What does that look like, that wellness regime?

TK: I think from a mental standpoint what's helpful for me is to remind myself why I got into what I did. And what's interesting about my story is that growing up I didn't even know what a financial advisor was; I grew up wanting to be a doctor. I always figured I'll grow up and help people with their health. 

Around the time I was in high school I realized that I just didn't want to be in school for that long and started to develop an interest in finance, and a few years later I realized I could pair my knowledge and my passion for stocks and bring that to people and help them with their own money.

It was my way of wanting to help people. Just reminding myself that I got into this profession to help people can really help during those tough times.

CH: What kind of environment can the employer provide? What kind of things can an employer do to help employees who end up facing a lot of emotional turmoil, maybe, at some times, some emotional abuse?

TK: I don't know if I know the answer to that specifically, but one team structure that has proven to be successful in my industry is taking a team approach to financial planning as opposed to having a single point of advisory coming for a single client.

I think why that can help mentally is that if you know that it's you and a few other team members that are helping with this one relationship, then when things go awry, it's not just on you to come up with a solution. I think there's some mental peace of mind in that.

CH: How have things changed, whether it relates to well-being or just in terms of relationship with clients, since the working world started to incorporate more remote work? Have things changed substantially? Are there more successful ways to incorporate remote connection?

TK: Absolutely. When I started in this career, I was taking every single client meeting in person, and I would drive an hour to an hour and a half to go meet a client for 30 minutes or an hour. And, really, the most people that you could see in a day is three to five people. Now it's not uncommon for me to have eight or ten client meetings in a day because everything is on Zoom.

We went fully remote back in 2016, before it was cool to do, but it's changed quite a bit. I will say that building a team in a remote environment presents its own challenges, as we all know at this point, and for us, the thing that we found to be helpful with managing that is making sure that there's a process behind the interaction.

There needs to be a process behind our team meetings. And there needs to be scheduled meetings for things, like, “What is the firm working on? What are our goals?” Sometimes it's easy to get lost in the shuffle, especially in a service-based business where you're doing the same thing day in and day out. But reminding the team, “These are the goals for the quarter, these are the goals for the year, and here's how we're going to channel our energy for the next 90 days” is important.


CH: We wanted to go over the article “10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started a Career in Financial Planning.” And some of the points that were so interesting in terms of strategies to begin your career also really apply to starting and growing your own firm in financial planning, as well.

One of them is growing clientele. And you talked a little bit about how it's important, especially for newcomers to the industry, to learn how to get prospects. When you start a new business, do your former clients come with you?

TK: In our case they did, and that often tends to be the case in financial planning because people want their money guy to be their money guy or gal. And so, people tend to follow their financial advisor, but that's not always the case.

As far as starting and growing your own firm goes, I think the one thing I would tell anyone entering this profession is that the knowledge of what we do is going to continue to get commoditized over time. Because now there's so many tools out there that people can use to get information on financial planning.

There's plenty of tools for the DIY person to do it themselves. I would say, if you're going to go out and try to start a new financial planning or wealth management firm, really focus your value proposition on what makes you and your firm's process unique, and less so about the actual knowledge. Because the reality is that all of us today are all in competition with that guy or gal who got a 1600 on their SAT, and went to Harvard, and started a company because they have the best information out there, and all of that information that we have is being uploaded to these centralized places.

Any small and medium sized business can differentiate themselves by really focusing on what it is that makes them unique and makes you irreplaceable. What are those soft skills that you bring to the table that someone just can't Google?

CH: That leads us to talking about culture. When you're starting your own firm, you have an opportunity to create a culture from scratch, which of course is also a risk. You have to be careful that when you're creating a culture, it's a culture that's healthy and productive and respectful. How does one go about doing that?

TK: That's something that I think every small business owner is going to struggle with or to have to think about at least. For us, we have a work hard culture as well as one where all employees are respected and have their own personal space.

I think for us it helps that we're all remote because people do feel like they can do their own thing when they need to do their own thing. But if you're thinking about developing a culture, I would first start with, what is the type of work environment that you would like to build for your employees and then work backwards from there.

If you have more of a team-based approach, what does that actually mean? Are you going to have more off-sites together? Are you going to have more team celebrations? Or if you're going to focus on more of a sales-based culture, how are you going to structure your meetings and your day around building that culture? Do you have Monday morning meetings? Do you have monthly check-ins on your sales? What do you celebrate along the way? Those are some of the things that I would think about.

CH: And that can be part of what you were talking about in terms of finding out what it is that you do that's different. That can all be part of that process, but then, it's also part of finding what your niche is, finding out what it is that you do that's different than everybody else.

How do you go about finding out what that is?

TK: I think in wealth management some advisors build this by design and some advisors build this by default. In our case, when I started out I was 22 years old, and I would work with anyone who had a pulse. Really, that was it. And over time I realized, hey, I really like working with my clients who work in tech. They all seem to have the same set of problems. I'm very well versed in it. And so, we started to specialize over time. 

In other cases, you might be a new advisor coming into a firm, or a new attorney or new accountant, and your firm already has that niche, so it's been figured out for you. But I would really focus on what is it that you enjoy doing? What is it that you're good at? And hopefully there is a big enough market looking for those things.

CH: If you find out what you are good at and what kind of clients fit your target demographic—any tips on approaching that client? How do you express interest in them and say, “Hey, we're a perfect fit for you.” What are your suggestions for that outreach?

TK: For us, we take an education-based approach on all of our sales and outreach, and one example of something that we do is we host complimentary webinars for people. So Apple is a target company of ours. We host a webinar every couple of weeks just for Apple employees saying, “Come and learn about your benefits and everything that Apple offers you. Let us show you a thing or two that you probably haven't thought about before.” We use that webinar as a way to both educate them about things that can help them and then, secondly, about our firm, our services and how we can help. That's been really successful for us.

CH: Is there anything else I haven't asked you that would have really helped you to know when you were starting out?

TK: I think anyone in a service-oriented profession like ours needs to focus on effective communication. And the more time that someone can spend on developing and refining their communication—everything from their client pitch to ongoing client meetings and off boarding—I think effective communication is probably the single greatest asset that we have in a service-oriented career.

CH: I have found though, Tushar, as an expert in communication, the part of communication that is the hardest is the one that people never end up learning, which is the listening part. Most people learn how to talk. The listening part, they never go in for training there, and that's the hardest part of that equation.

TK: Right, they say that you want to listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to respond, and I found that to be particularly true in my profession.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube.

This AccelPro audio transcript has been edited and organized for clarity. This interview was recorded on October 16, 2023.

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AccelPro | Intellectual Property Law
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