19 January 2021
Tom Rampulla
Managing Director of the Vanguard Financial Advisor Services™ Division
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Coaching Clients Across the Finish Line
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That number can’t be right, I thought. My heart rate was higher than ever before. And even though I was cycling at 12,500 feet above sea level under extreme conditions, the stratospheric number had me worried: Would I finish the race?

But even with 50 miles to go, over roads strewn with rocks infamous for slicing and dicing tires, in a competition notorious for making athletes break down and blubber like babies, I felt a surge of confidence about crossing the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike (MTB) race.

I owe that confidence and my race finish to my trainer, Brian Walton, who created a plan that propelled me 100 miles over the challenging terrain and altitude of the Colorado Rockies.

In theory, I didn’t need Brian. When we began working together eight years ago, I was already an experienced cyclist, with multiple races and thousands of training miles under my performance tires.

But as Yogi Berra once said, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” In practice, Brian dramatically improved my fitness, technique, strategy, and results.

Maybe it was the adrenaline or the lack of oxygen at anelevation best suited to marmots and mountain goats, but I couldn’t help butthink how a good trainer is a lot like a good financial advisor.

Helping clients backaway from the french fries

As a cyclist, I was a lot like many investors: Knowledgeable. Motivated. Well-intentioned.

I was also a busy executive with four young children and a heavy international travel schedule. Even though I spent most of my free time reading up on the latest on exercise and sports nutrition, deciding how and when to train still eluded me.

Just as many investors need an advisor, I needed a coach, and it had to be a real person. My bike computer was great at measuring my speed, distance, heart rate, and power output, but it was up to me to set the objectives, pedal the miles, and lay off the french fries. The computer wasn’t enough. I needed a real person with credentials and demonstrated experience to help me identify goals, develop a customized training regimen, and provide support and motivation to reach those goals.

Similarly, an investor can use a computer to implement Vanguard’s Principles for Investing Success, but only advisors like you can listen to clients’ hopes and dreams for their lives and their finances; implement a plan to track progress toward goals; and create low-cost, diversified portfolios for clients to help achieve them.

Identifying goals is just the start of a fruitful client relationship. Advisors succeed by understanding clients’ fears, weaknesses, and temptations—their financial french fries, if you will.

Brian, a silver medalist in cycling at the Atlanta Olympics who also rode with the powerhouse Motorola and 7-Eleven Cycling Teams, picked up on my weaknesses right away. My training had been kind of aimless. I had covered a lot of miles but without the variation in speed, distance, and intensity required to improve.

Since we started working together, my power output has increased significantly, a difference I can feel every time I climb a hill or set out for a long ride. He also scheduled rides so that travel didn’t become an excuse for watching movies in my hotel room instead of working out.

Every year around Christmas, Brian and I get together to discuss what we’d like to accomplish. Last year, with a milestone birthday looming, I picked the August 15 Leadville MTB race.

There was one big problem. The 100-mile course rises above 12,000 feet. At the time, I was living in the flats of London. Brian solved this by incorporating lots of interval training into my rides, which mimicked the stress of riding at altitude.

Edging out the competition

It’s exactly the kind of behavioral coaching advisors do when they help clients plan for goals and stick with their long-term plans even when the air in the financial markets gets thin. This kind of coaching is the biggest contributor to Vanguard Advisor’s Alpha®, and advisors who practice it spend more time cultivating relationships instead of reacting to markets.

If you’d like more ideas on how to shift your practice in this direction, check out our behavioral coaching tool kit.

Emphasizing your role as coach in client pitches can elevate you above your competition and may work especially well with experienced investors—the ones who know what they should be doing but lack the time and discipline to get it done. And if you’ve told stories like this one in your own practice to explain the value you provide, I’d love to hear about them, so please share them in the comments section below.

Blog by: Tom Rampulla, Managing Director of the Vanguard Financial Advisor Services™ Division.

© 2015 The Vanguard Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission. 

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