Culture Corner: Building trust – a matter of sincerity

Each month, we interview a Richter partner to gain insight into how our leadership finds balance and focus in a demanding job, and what soft skills contribute to career success.

We met with partner Danny Ritter to explore the topic of building trust. Early on in his career, he discovered that he had a genuine interest in the person behind the business owner. Over the past 20 years, he has mastered the art of building meaningful relationships with clients (some of whom are amongst Canada’s wealthiest families) as part of his role within Richter Family Office. Join us as we get invaluable insights from this seasoned advisor.

Your career is based on the strong relationships you have built with your clients and their families. Would you say that trust is an advisor’s most valuable asset?

Trust is the very foundation of the client-advisor relationship. At the beginning, a family will build their trust in you based on what they’ve heard about you in other circles and the impression they get from meeting with you. As you start working with them, you must be a person of your word: if you said you would follow up on a matter, even a very minor one, you have to do it.

Another element of building trust is having empathy. People will trust someone if they can see genuine care for the subject or the issue at hand. I’ll give you an example: during a conversation, you suggest introducing your client to someone who can help them deal with a sensitive issue. If they agree, you must make the introduction. They’ll see that you listened to them, understood what their priority was, and followed through. When you make it a point to deliver on your promise, however small, you’re gaining their trust. It also gives you a great opportunity to re-engage with them. After some time, you can reach out to ask how the introduction went and check if things are progressing. This touchpoint will mean that you not only remember the person, but that you are sincerely concerned, and that you would like to maintain the dialogue.

“Asking questions that no one else is asking is the role of a trusted advisor.”

When did it become clear to you that you wanted to be a family advisor?

I started my practice in Audit and as I advanced in my career, I got more opportunities to engage with owner operators in a more personal way, sharing with them advice for their other concerns or challenges. I felt that they responded to me differently and that we were building a relationship. I enjoyed that dialogue, that trust, that ability to serve. I believe it is part of my nature: I personally take a keen interest in people. I want to hear what their challenge is, I want to see if I can help them, and from that obviously emanates some points of advice. Through these closer relationships, I felt more fulfilled and I learned that I really wanted to be an advisor to families. If your nature isn’t to connect with people, it’s hard to become a thoughtful advisor. It’s something that either comes to you naturally or through experience and exposure. However, one thing is certain: your interest must be genuine.

What are the primary skills of a trusted business advisor?

One of the primary responsibilities of a trusted advisor is to be a good listener. You need to understand what the challenge is first, and then find ways to address it. Another important skill is the ability to care in a meaningful way. Yes, you were at the meeting, but what was the follow-up to that meeting? Did you reach out to the family to ask how they are doing after a sensitive discussion, even if you don’t have an answer for them yet? Very few people are allowed “in”, to understand their challenges, when it comes to sensitive family or financial issues. Your role is to create a safe place for them to talk about the subjects that are very personal to them.

Sometimes, the real problem isn’t what the client thinks it is or it may even be more complicated than they originally thought. As an advisor, you observe it from a new perspective, and you have to be willing to tell them what they might not want to hear. If you are well-intentioned and sincerely trying to help them understand the problem differently, they most likely won’t get offended or insulted. You can ask them some open-ended questions to explore the situation and have an eye-opening discussion by bringing another perspective to their attention. Asking questions that no one else is asking is the role of a trusted advisor.

How do you turn a business connection into a meaningful relationship?

I encourage young professionals to meet as many people as they can to start their career with the broadest network possible. One of the best ways is to get involved in a cause or an organization that you genuinely care about. People will see your passion, your moral centre and your actions. It’s probably the number one catalyst for connections to form, because you share a common interest. It was 100% true for me; I have met so many different people of influence over the years, and I got way more than I gave. Even if it’s really rewarding both personally and professionally, you should get involved out of sincere interest, because otherwise you won’t be able to give it your all as you won’t care in the same way, and people will see through that.

I would also say that a trusted advisor must know their clients as people. It seems obvious, but most people try to just solve the problem, get the mandate done, and provide the answer to their question. However, they miss out on asking about their clients’ journeys. People love to share information if you show a genuine interest. We deal with very successful owner operators and they have amazing stories that are not straight-line up. There’s so much to learn from that; I think the “school of our clients” is one of the best ways to improve as an advisor.

What are the key indicators of the strength and the health of a trust-based professional relationship?

When the family has a challenge, and you’re the first person they reach out to, that’s your number one indicator. It means that they feel you understand them, and they trust that you are reliable. Some families reach out to me on matters that are unrelated to our primary relationship, but that are issues quite sensitive to them. They’re looking for a prompt, thoughtful response, and for a level of competency. Over time, that’s the type of relationship that you want to build with people, even if it means working with professionals other than you. When you don’t know how to handle their challenge, you must be honest about your abilities. Introducing your client to someone else is one of the best bridge-builders; you can ask them if they would like you to remain part of the discussion. Sometimes, they’ll be relieved that you suggested it, because they value your advice. These moments aren’t frequent, but they’re invaluable. When they do happen, you should be there for your client as you would be for a friend.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

The best piece of advice I was given was to follow my instincts. We tend not to trust them, especially early in our careers, because we think we don’t know due to our inexperience. However, we all have a good idea of what’s the right way and the wrong way, what will probably solve the problem and what won’t. Even if we don’t think we have the judgement, more often than not, we do. If you have reason to believe that the team isn’t addressing the right problem, don’t keep it to yourself. Share your thoughts with your colleagues!


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