AUM vs. LUM

“What’s your AUM, Tom?”

During financial industry conferences and meetings, this seemingly innocent question surfaces almost without fail.

AUM = “assets under management.”

To me, that question is a veiled and vulgar way of trying to find out the total assets being managed by our firm. When using the term “assets,” the person inquiring doesn’t mean the humans and their lives that we’re helping to navigate. Rather, it’s all about the dollars and cents under our direction. The question they’re really asking is, “How much of other people’s money do you control?” To many in our industry, this is the badge of honor that they believe measures success.

I believe that “assets under management” is a crappy way to categorize clients.

I also believe that if all you have is financial capital, then you don’t really have all that much.

While it’s an important data point for valuing a business, it unfortunately doesn’t indicate the true value of a financial professional or their client base. At Note, we have a different standard of that value for both.

We like to think in terms of “lives under management.” 

When considering the “assets” we manage, our focus turns to people we advise. The human beings we help to successfully navigate their personal and financial challenges. Challenges such as:

  • Investing their limited resources of time and money in starting a business. 
  • Taking on the financial capital risks of borrowing money to begin and/or grow a business. 
  • Sweating-out the personal guarantees needed to secure loans in early-stage businesses, or businesses under stress.
  • Lost sleep and compromised health due to the pressures of financial and business risks. 
  • Business distractions that prevent clients from being “present” with their family, spouse or significant other, and the resultant dissatisfaction over a loved one being mentally somewhere else.

Often when we begin advising clients, they find themselves in uncharted waters as we help them navigate their “lives under management.” Yet because of our years of experience, we know the management plan we are creating for them will deliver results. We’ve seen it. We can smell it. We know it, often before those we are working with actually experience it.

We also know that helping people transition their sweat and tears into something of value, and extracting that value over time in the form of financial capital, can give them valued independence. People can live in ways that allow them increased control over their time. They can enjoy extended vacations. They create the ability to transition their business to family or employees, or sell their businesses and move on to their next venture with a smile on their face.

Most importantly, they become fully aware that they are not simply “assets under management.” They are human beings who we value and whose lives we are helping to build and enjoy.

Great Advisors Ask Great Questions

In the decades I’ve spent advising individuals on their businesses and their wealth, I’ve observed that people are often concerned about having the “right answers.” It makes sense. We all want to be correct, feel affirmed, and know we’re on the path of success. However, I’ve learned that to arrive at the “right answers,” you need to ask the right questions. At Note, we believe great advisors ask great questions. The kinds of questions others might not.

Questions you never get to fully contemplate in the day-to-day demands of running your business. 

Questions which, by the time you recognize they should have been asked and addressed, rob you of valued financial capital and time. 

“What made you decide to start this line of work?”  

“Are you still doing it for the same reasons?” 

“What has to happen over the next three years for you to feel professionally fulfilled and successful?” 

“When was the last time you took off a couple of weeks, or even a month, from your work?”

 “If you don’t have the support in place to take a month off or more, what do you think would happen to your business if you become unable to work for an extended period of time due to illness, injury, or premature death?”

These kinds of essential business questions don’t stop there. For many business owners, there are succession concerns that can implicate partners, family, and employees.

“How do you plan on getting out of this business alive?” 

“Are your children working for you? If so, do they expect to own the business someday?”

“Can you identify key employees in your company?” 

“Do they know they are your key employees?”

Some business owners have shareholder involvements. 

“Have you reviewed your shareholder agreement to make sure those integral to your business aren’t robbed of ownership positions, like your children?”

“How might this impact partners and co-shareholders you might have?”

“Does your shareholders agreement address liquidity needs that may occur during their lives—college education funding, unanticipated expensive medical care, helping a child with a home down payment or a grandchild with their education?”

“Can these needs create the unintended consequences of diminished business focus, or loss of a key shareholder?”

There’s also the challenge of managing relationships with varied business advisors.

“Do you have a collaborative team of advisors—an accountant, a tax expert, a lawyer, an operations pro?
“How do you coordinate communication among them all? 

“Do you have one core advisor facilitating such communication? Or do you find yourself spending your business time interpreting the work of each one of your advisors for everyone else?”

“How’s that working for you?”

If any of these questions hit a nerve, I want you to know that I see you and the challenges you’re facing. That’s why I’m passionate about asking great questions that grab your attention and give you pause. Questions that inspire the right answers for your family, your business, your wealth, and your legacy.

If you’d like to start a conversation filled with great questions, I can be reached at Tom@NoteAdvisor.com.