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Russell Andrews, SEI

Financial advisers should ‘be like water’

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By Russell Andrews, Head of Solutions UK, Europe & Asia, Asset Management Distribution at SEI – While recently watching a documentary about the late, great actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee, I was reminded of one of Lee’s most famous quotes. It immediately made me think about how it could be interpreted and applied to the future of financial advice – and how advisers need to adjust their mindsets to meet an evolving client’s needs.

By Russell Andrews, Head of Solutions UK, Europe & Asia, Asset Management Distribution at SEI – While recently watching a documentary about the late, great actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee, I was reminded of one of Lee’s most famous quotes. It immediately made me think about how it could be interpreted and applied to the future of financial advice – and how advisers need to adjust their mindsets to meet an evolving client’s needs.

“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless—like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

How do Lee’s words possibly apply to a financial adviser? First, it needs some basic adaptation, as Lee was principally talking about how to tackle an opponent in a martial arts contest. But once you have considered what clients need from their adviser and the transition towards a truly hyper-personalised proposition, some of the first principles of the quote start to ring true.

Be formless

Lee did not believe in applying any individual fighting style in isolation because it restricted freedom, creativity, intellect, growth and adaptability. In the same way, advice clients come in all shapes and sizes with different needs, personalities and preferences. In this context, advisers should avoid being tied to any individual investment manager, philosophy or style, such as passive or active. Being able to flex “in the moment” to arrive at the best recommendation, while considering how the full opportunity set is relevant to the client, is what will give clients the greatest opportunity of achieving their goals and having the desired experience.

Be open-minded

Lee also believed restricting any specific style divided people. Styles strip people of their individuality and put many limits on what they can do. If you are a boxer, you cannot kick. If you are a wrestler, you cannot punch. “Being like water” as an adviser means that it’s not about you and how you have been defined—it’s about becoming the client, or in the case of water, it’s about the vessel.

It becomes about opening your mind to utilise a hyper-personalised approach to consider what is important to the client and what is possible without boundaries. Being adaptable, or being like water, means you change with change. You never stay in a fixed pattern and constantly improve based on the situations you face. Lee was continuously evolving his skills and his approach to his trade and the same applies to advisers.

Clients, markets and regulations are inconsistent, and circumstances are regularly changing for the good and the bad. Coupled with the expectations of today’s client, where it is expected that the adviser should be proactively adapting as change occurs, adaptability is becoming increasingly invaluable. In fact, with technology playing such a pivotal role in society today, this level of expected adaptability is becoming common ground in many aspects of life.

Train, don’t be trained!

Professional martial artists like Bruce Lee go through an extensive training regime before they can become what they aspire to be. Simply setting a foundation and looking beyond helps to identify what is required to go over and above in order to set a new standard. Advisers need to make this same consideration when transitioning from a qualified practitioner to a client advocate. Applying the training is undoubtedly important, but continuing to train beyond the curriculum to become the best that you can for your clients and consistently deliver outsized value through empathy, engagement, education and advice—that’s what will stand you apart, much in the same way it did for Bruce Lee.


Important Information

While considerable care has been taken to ensure the information contained within this document is accurate and up-to-date, no warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of any information and no liability is accepted for any errors or omissions in such information or any action taken on the basis of this information.

The opinions and views in this commentary are of SIEL only and are subject to change. They should not be construed as investment advice.

This information is issued by SEI Investments (Europe) Limited (“SIEL”) 1st Floor, Alphabeta, 14-18 Finsbury Square, London EC2A 1BR, United Kingdom. SIEL is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 191713). )

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