How to take advantage of the family holiday minefield

Ten tips to approach festive gatherings … and why cornering rich ‘Uncle Henry’ is not a good idea

How to take advantage of the family holiday minefield
Bryce Sanders

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc.  He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry.  His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” can be found on Amazon. In this op-ed for WP, he addresses the family Christmas minefield and how you can turn it into an opportunity.

It’s December, a time when family comes together from near and far to celebrate the holidays. This often involves a great big dinner preceded by a cocktail hour.  Let’s not forget the exchanging of presents.  Surely there’s a business opportunity here somewhere.

Getting Through the Minefield

As a financial professional, you might think it’s tempting to get rich Uncle Henry aside and say:  “I’d like to go over your finances sometime”.  Uncle Henry talks to his brother, who is your father.  You later learn “Disinheriting from the will” was discussed.   This type of social event utilizes the same skills you’ve developed for cultivating social relationships with HNW individuals.  Remember one of the rules of romance: “Desperate people don’t get dates”.  If you push too hard, people sense there must be something wrong.  Maybe you aren’t that good.  In these situations, the choice is often binary.  The opposite of desperate is successful.  If you don’t push business, you must be doing well.  Successful people like to work with other successful people.

Ten Tips for Family Situations

As of November 29, the DJIA was up about 20% YTD.  The TSX Composite Index was up just under 19%.  There aren’t a lot of other investments that did as well or better this year.  You are the family member employed in the industry.  You are a professional.  This works in your favour.

1, Study up. Who will be in attendance?  What so they do?  Where do they work?  Have there been significant developments in their lives?  Marriages?  Birth of a child?  Is there a family health issue where it would be polite to express genuine concern?

Why:  Taking a personal interest shows people you value the relationship.

2, Dress well. You work in an industry portrayed on TV.  Successful financial professionals look the part.  Their suits are cleaned and pressed.  Their clothes fit.  Their shoes are shined.  In social situations, the dressed up person can dress down by losing the tie and jacket.  It doesn’t work the other way.

Why:  Simple.  If you want to be accepted as a successful financial professional, you want to look the part.

3, Be respectful. There will be older people.  Millennials.  Maybe different cultures.  There will be different levels of education.  Some people dress badly or their personal hygiene might need improvement.  Treat everyone as an equal.  If you were flying somewhere and found yourself seated next to a high-ranking executive, you would make conversation, look for clues and ask intelligent questions.  use these skills here.

Why:  You want everyone to think: “He’s one of us” instead of “He thinks he’s better than us.”

4, Treat children as little adults. It’s tempting to be dismissive of anyone under 21, assuming you have few interests in common.  You might think of toddlers as “rug rats”.  Regardless of behavior, they are often their parent’s pride and joy. 

Why:  Engaging with them as equals will be well received by their parents, who are nearby watching.

5, Try to speak with everyone. The crowd isn’t that large.  It’s not a wedding or a football game.  You’ve got lots of time.  Work the room, chatting with everyone.  Your hosts are doing it.  If not, they should.  People should feel welcome, not isolated.

Why:  People will likely ask: “What do you do?” or “How’s business?”  You can learn about important events in their lives, like upcoming retirement or the birth of a grandchild.

6, The inside man (or woman). Hopefully you have at least one family member as a client, someone who thinks you are fantastic.  They have a financial plan.  Their retirement is on track.  They have professional money management.  They are enjoying their life because you helped take insurance and wealth management off their shoulders.  They are thrilled.  They talk you up with family members, outside of your hearing.

Why:  This person praises you in ways you could never position yourself.

7, Know relevant information. You know where people work and what they do.  Beforehand, you catch up on company press releases or news stories.  You compliment them on their company in the same tone you would use if they owned the firm.

Why:  Many people have a sense of belonging and identify with their firm.  They feel part of the firm’s collective success.  They might have worked on a key project.  Your knowledge of their firm or industry should endear to them.

8, Hobbies = Public Companies.  They own a boat.  Chances are it was manufactured by a listed public company.  They are a baker.  That stand mixer they love was likely made by a listed company.  They have a favorite store.  It’s probably part of a multinational.

Why:  This connection can casually swing the conversation from their hobby to the other cool stuff the company who makes the hardware they use is doing.

9, Make and keep promises. You had that discussion about other subsidiaries of that kitchenware company.  You mentioned a research report.  You promised them a copy.  Write that down, so you don’t forget it.

Why:  You have a reason to get back in touch.  You are providing something they find interesting or valuable.  You demonstrate attention to detail and follow through.

10, Lay groundwork. You want to stay in touch or have a reason to get back in touch.  A social media channel like LinkedIn has a professional feel consistent with your image.  You’ve identified interests, personal or professional, providing the rationale for future contact.

Why:  You want to be top of mind without being pushy or intrusive.

What Have You Accomplished?

Everyone knows what you do.  Ideally a success story or two have been floated by family members.  You are likeable, not arrogant.  You treat everyone as equals.  You know something of interest to everyone with whom you chatted.  You have a deliverable, a reason to be back in touch.  Will business materialize?  You don’t know, but the result should be better than buttonholing Uncle Henry and asking to review his finances sometime.


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