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The Practice Doctor is IN

The Pope and Practice Management

by Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH
Practice Management Consultant

Al Depman photoPope Francis is certainly making his mark in the world. He's not only leading the largest religious denomination on Earth but he's a pretty savvy marketer. He's Time magazine's Person of the Year, tweets, has his own magazine, drives a scaled-down Pope-mobile, literally presses the flesh of his audience, and has settled into modest digs instead of the luxury apartments of his predecessors.

There are two aspects of Pope Francis' reign that resonate with the practice management consultant in me. First is his willingness to mirror and engage his audience and second, his fearlessness in standing by his core values. Let's explore each.

This pope is garnering continuous headlines and bylines throughout the world as he establishes a more humble papacy. He's rejected the lavish papal residence in the Apostolic Palace and lives in a simple apartment in the Vatican's clerical guest house. He prefers simple robes whenever possible. He seeks to be accessible, often jumping out of his safety-glass-enclosed vehicle and greeting crowd members with embraces and handshakes. He's even invited a couple of lucky kids to ride along with him recently. Safety is secondary—being among his people primary.

He seeks to be a reflection of his core audience's composition within the constraints of his office.

We often hear about how as financial advisors we should reflect the lifestyle and sensibilities of our clientele. The advisor should exude success and dress for it as well. Even if he or she isn't quite there yet, the advisor should—as the success literature would have it—play the part of an upscale person, if that's the status of your prospect. This was the first advice I was given upon assuming the role of an insurance agent in 1987.

"Get rid of the Renault import and get a solid Ford, at least a Taurus," my GM told me. "Act like you're successful, spend like you're successful, dress like you're successful, and you will become successful." I bought into it—that is, he offered me no choice—and while I excelled in my first few years, I remained unconvinced it was the Taurus, credit card debt, and tie and jacket that did it. In one respect the GM was correct: the credit card debt was certainly motivating! American Express has long since forgiven me those early missteps.

Is this still a viable strategy 26 years later? Is it really necessary to act ostentatiously to establish yourself with affluent clients? Pope Francis is tapping into a populist vein that has always been a core American characteristic. Would an affluent person today react negatively to an advisor who drove up in a Prius and forsook the tie for a nice business casual look? Would your top clients admire a religious leader who carries his own bag, and who travels, not in a limo, but in a reasonably-priced car and who washes the feet even of non-Catholics in humility? Is there a corollary in this for you, the financial advisor, to emulate?

What do you think?

The second aspect of the pope's ministry that I take note of is his dedication to principles and values. He minces no words in his encyclical The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: (Say) 'No' to the idolatry of money. Chapter 2, Paragraph 55:

" found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption."

I have encountered a significant number of advisors who give back to those less fortunate and throw off the yoke of conspicuous consumption. These advisors work in their families, hometowns, communities, states, and even internationally to serve and share their success. There are some truly awesome stories in my files.

The phrase "...our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies" is especially frightening. It's worth pondering and discussing with your top clients. Our work can easily be all about money, its investment and performance.

Are you providing value above and beyond mere financial gain? Have we really "accepted its dominion?" The recession of 2008-09 is still fresh in our memories and I, for one, have no desire to revisit it. Yet, if we don't enter into this dialogue with our top clients and if we as financial advisors don't wrestle with the Pope's words, another crisis may not be too far away.

Your thoughts are invited! Email me at

The Doctor is OUT

© 2014 Al Depman

Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH, a.k.a. "The Practice Doctor", is's Business Practice Consultant, and contributor to "The Wall Street Journal." He is the creator of "The Practice Management Assessment" tool and materials and has authored numerous articles in professional publications on practice management, and author of the book, How to Build Your Financial Advisory Business and Sell It at a Profit, available from McGraw Hill. Al combined his Liberal Arts studies with 10 years of management experience with McDonald's Corporation to enter the financial services world 25 years ago. Since then, Al has evolved from an MDRT-level sales rep into a full-time consultant specializing in helping others engineer their business practices to the next level. Contact him at

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