Like many people, I was a big Winnie the Pooh fan when I was a child. When I was older, I read A.A. Milne’s books Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you that Benjamin Hoff’s book The Tao of Pooh caught my attention. Borrowing from Milne’s genius, Hoff uses Pooh and his companions to help reveal deep and timeless insights from Taoist philosophy. Hoff organizes the book as if he and Pooh were having a conversation with the reader, giving Pooh a chance to explain some nuanced and complicated ideas.

At one point, Hoff and Pooh contemplate how no two things are exactly alike. No two snowflakes or trees—and especially no two people—are exactly the same. Each has its own inner nature that makes it unique. Eventually Hoff asks:

“How would you explain it, Pooh?”

“With a song,” he said. “A little something I just made up.…”

How can you get very far,
If you don’t know Who You Are?
How can you do what you ought,
If you don’t know What You’ve Got?
And if you don’t know Which To Do
Of all the things in front of you,
Then what you’ll have when you are through
Is just a mess without a clue
Of all the best that can come true
If you know What and Which and Who.

I see some really great questions in these words that can help advisors develop distinctive relationships with their clients.

What Do Your Clients Want to Accomplish?

To be an effective financial advisor, you must understand what your clients want to achieve. Your professional advice helps investors deploy their capital into the markets in order to meet their financial and lifestyle goals. Importantly, that advice is given under conditions of uncertainty and can have negative consequences, so it requires thoughtfulness.

What Have You Got?

You need to know “What You’ve Got”—what knowledge you’ve mastered—and what you have yet to master. You must have organizing principles that allow you to set priorities and focus on the most important and productive tasks, or you will be constantly reacting to the loudest voice and the most immediate crisis. You need to manage your time and your business rather than allow them to manage you, or you will be left with “just a mess without a clue.”

Which Kind of Advice Are You Offering?

This question concerns the types of advice you offer. Too many financial advisors reduce the extent of their work to investment management only and don’t provide a complete holistic financial plan. This neglects the larger scope of important wealth-management decisions. Clients certainly need investment advice, but they also need your input in many other areas of their complicated financial lives.

Who Is the Client Down Deep?

Pooh’s song reminds us that every person is unique. Clients want to be known by their advisor as more than just an account balance. In order to help them achieve their desired outcomes, you need a deep understanding of what makes your clients unique.

One method is to revisit the discovery or onboarding interview you performed when you first signed a client up. This will help you gain a new appreciation for the client’s unique values and goals. Remember that you can’t know all the answers until you ask the right questions. Take the time to ask those questions repeatedly, especially when a client experiences life-changing events.

Request more information from the AllianceBernstein Advisor Institute, including our execution guide, The Art of Deep Discovery, about asking the right kinds of questions by visiting

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

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