Black Ice

Several years ago, a business trip took me to Minnesota in the dead of winter. For a Florida-born, this experience was a paradigm shift of frigid proportions. I rented a car in Minneapolis and drove to a small town halfway between the twin cities and Fargo, ND. With a room reservation in Fargo because of an early flight the next day, I prepared to leave that small town in the dead of night when a wise, older gentleman warned me to watch for what he called “black ice” on the interstate. I listened carefully and drove slowly 100 miles northwest.

The recent Polar Vortex created black ice warnings over a swath of the country. Drivers will surely be more cautious knowing a road that may appear dry and safe could be an unsuspecting skating rink with unpleasant consequences.

Could black ice show up in your practice?

Here at the beginning of the year, I have thought much about the challenges of 2018 and the yet unfolding issues out of the 2019 starting gate. We seem to be living between the emotions of amazement and caution.

A second black ice issue is more relational for advisors. First-of-the-year conversations are wonderful moments to revisit topics related to family, retirement, known health issues, and those blank spaces in clients’ stories that could impact their lives and future stories. When clients visit for a review, spend more time asking the “Has anything changed?” questions. Listen carefully and never assume you know the answers. My experience has found me slipping on a relationship’s black ice solely because I failed to ask, listen, understand, and support.

What might black ice feel like this winter? For one, it could suggest a false sense of security. Drivers who deal with this phenomenon often—I’m not one of them! —will tell you that this false feeling of road security is the greatest danger. Our job as advisors may be to caution our clients with a greater focus on planning and risk.

And yes, the ever-present “unknowns” can find us skidding here and there in ways no one can predict. None of us have a clue as to how 2019 will play out on any one point of history’s compass. Global and domestic politics, the economy, changes in family and business are all “black ice” variables. So, drive cautiously, listen carefully, and remember that your clients need you to be that wise man or woman like the gentleman I met in Minnesota more than 15 years ago.  

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