September 21, 2010
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In our family, Labor Day weekends are usually squandered on soccer tournaments. But not this year. This year, we labored instead at letting go, as we installed our eldest son ("Thing One") into his new school - Middlesex - in Concord, Massachusetts, just a stone's throw from Walden Pond.
Ostensibly Haden switched schools as a junior in order to play more competitive soccer. In reality, it had as much to do with his being heartily sick of us; few things in life are as mortifying as one's family, especially when you're seventeen.
As the big day drew near - and blessed with a previously well-hidden gift for organization (who knew?) - Haden wrote out detailed lists and packed things with the crisp precision of an English butler. All we had to do on moving day was start driving at dawn, deliver unsolicited advice for three and a half hours (revenge for having to stifle blubbering for several days), and undergo a separation process carefully orchestrated by the school.
Along with the other new boarding school parents, we sat in a circle in dorm master Dan Scheibe's living room, soaking up his tactful advice on how not to be a helicopter parent. Among his useful insights were specific guidelines regarding the frequency, medium and timing of communications.
Apparently, calling five or six times a week is viewed as excessive, as is persistent nagging via e-mail and/or texting. And while we were invited to stay in touch, we were also given a long list of times that weren't good to call, including during study hall hours, after lights out, early in the morning, etc. (Frankly, it might have been simpler to just specify the hour and a half window between sports and dinner when communication is applauded.)
But we got the picture. In fact, all of this effort on drawing appropriate boundaries around communication made me think about how we as money managers can best communicate with our clients about the assets they leave in our care.
As an industry, we can be very cavalier about the way we stay in touch (when the SEC starts agitating for financial disclosure documents to be written in the vernacular, you know it's bad). We tend to forget that our clients, while viewing us as in loco parentis, haven't given up on their "kids" (assets); they want and expect to receive meaningful progress reports.
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