My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Survey: Are your Employees not your best source of Client Information?

Wow, what a stunning revelation. According to a recent survey by RBC Wealth Management, the top three concerns of high net worth clients are the transfer of wealth at death, minimization of taxes and financial needs during retirement. Who would have guessed such? How shocking! Could/should RBC's wealth management advisors not have conveyed this message to the wealth management department in the first place?

RBC completed 2,500 surveys during sessions with their high net worth clients and, according to Howard Kabot, vice-president, Financial Planning, RBC Wealth Management Services, they found that their clients “are very concerned about estate planning. What happens to their wealth during retirement and after they are gone are their main priorities… Clients tell us that they want to make sure their families are appropriately taken care of and that their financial plan is as efficient, effective and prudent as possible."

If I was RBC, I would be concerned that my high net worth clients are going to ask themselves the question, "why did I have to tell RBC this, should RBC not already have been aware of my concerns via my advisor?". I have written about most if not all these “estate planning concerns” in my blog during the last year because I know that they cause apprehension to my high net worth clients. I didn’t conduct sessions and surveys, I just listened to my clients concerns during meetings and lunches etc.

This survey reminds me of a variation of this theme. Years ago a friend of mine worked at a company that in its infinite wisdom decided to engage an efficiency consultant. She told me she could tell her employer everything they needed to know about how her company could become more efficient for the cost of a free lunch. The company paid the consultant hundreds of thousands of dollars for advice that was discarded a year later when the organization became dysfunctional. Why companies do not first access the opinions of their human internal resources (employees) in these type situations is somewhat mystifying.

Obviously, I am just picking on RBC to make a point; this could be a survey by CIBC, BMO or Scotia or any other large company. In addition, before you marketing types attack me, I know this survey was probably partly undertaken by RBC to learn about their clients and partly to be released as a study. But why do companies spend money on endless surveys and consultants when their employees should have most if not all the answers?

One would think that RBC should have been able to determine its clients’ top concerns through a session with its own wealth advisors. These findings could then be confirmed with 50 or so clients to make sure the advisors are in sync with their high net worth clients.

My firm is by no means the most progressive in the world, but we constantly request feedback and suggestions from our staff on internal and client matters. We even have outside consultants solicit opinions from our staff in confidence so they won’t withhold their true feelings out of fear of recrimination.

In my opinion, most of these surveys are a waste of time and money and the resources would be better spent talking to your staff on the ground. Assuming your employees are on the ball, you will get most of the information you need from your staff and their interpretations and understandings can be confirmed by a limited survey of your clients. More importantly, if your clients’ opinions do not agree with what your employees expected, you will have identified a huge expectation or communication gap which adds further value to the whole exercise and then you can commission a full fledged survey.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.


  1. Sometimes employees' thoughts and opinions are very myopic. They'll say we need better tasting spring water, and we need a dogie daycare and we bigger need cubicles but they don't know all those things will actually make them less efficient. Its a two way street.

  2. Anon, you are obviously an employer and I understand your view point. We have 30 or more employees at certain times of the year and although we value our employee’s viewpoints, they can definitely sometimes be myopic and I will occasionally roll my eyes at certain suggestions, although we have yet to get a doggy day care suggestion.

    I think what I was really getting at here is: should RBC wealth managers who deal day to day with their high net worth clients not understand the issues their clients have by virtue of doing their jobs properly, without the need for a survey? i.e.: How can you plan and provide a strategy for your clients without knowing their main concerns?

  3. I think there are two objectives to RBC's survey:

    i) knowledge about clients (you rightly point out that this should be available other ways)
    ii) marketing to potential clients (i.e. show that RBC is putting effort and resources into this type of client and their concerns).

    In truth, it is likely more the second objective than the first.

  4. Thx Tom. I agree with your assessment. It just comes off strange to me that to meet the 2nd objective, it sounds like RBC does not understnd their clients in the first place. I think this is one of those blogs I have not been able to cleary articulate what is bugging me.