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At Face Value

January 2, 2013

Prior to working here at SNQ, I was employed at a leading global bank that specializes in investment and asset management. My role centered around wealth transfer and estate settlement services – essentially, we would orchestrate the transfer of assets and payment of applicable taxes after a person’s death, according to their estate plan and current law. As you might imagine, the emotional turmoil and the complexity of the legal and financial changes for the living beneficiaries set the groundwork for some challenging customer service issues.

One of these issues in particular served as a paradigm for the importance of face-to-face communication. The adult son of a recently-deceased female client holed himself up in his mother’s home, refusing access to anyone. As the fiduciary of her estate, we had a legal obligation to secure the property and all assets contained therein, and eventually (after valuation, payments of debts, expenses and taxes, and so on) facilitate an equitable distribution among the decedent’s three adult offspring. However, the son was hostile toward us in all phone and email communication from the outset. We soon arranged for my colleague and myself to visit this man in person, at which time we were able to sit down with him and discuss everything that happens in these cases, everything that would be expected in his particular case, and the reasons behind it all. After three hours the man surrendered his keys to the property and moved back to his own home, with gratitude and relief replacing the fear and anger he received us with initially.

Certainly a death in the family can bring out the more extreme aspects of any personality, but it would be beneficial in any business endeavor to recall our humanity, to treat our customers and clients with a personal care that brings them into the extended family we create when we practice our business. I realize a great deal has been made in recent years of the effects of technology replacing person-to-person contact – in some cases for the worse, but often significantly aiding expediency and convenience. As with most things, we strive for balance. I would never wish to be without our great technological advancements; I only wish to emphasize that the magic that happens when individuals interact in each other’s presence is irreplaceable, and can dislodge the most resistant barriers.

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