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Helping financial doctors address financial health needs

In early 2013, I got a phone call from Kevin Hoffberg at Russell Investments. I'll come back to that shortly.

I met Kevin around the year 2000 when we were both representing our high tech startups at a conference on sales. I had completed my PhD in medical decision making, but could not discern a career path in that field, so I had co-founded a software company focused on helping large enterprises with their decision making, especially decisions about their investments in big-ticket items like technology.

Kevin spoke at the conference and I was mesmerized. This guy truly understood that consultative selling was a matter of becoming an assistant buyer, not a salesperson. What I mean by that is that the best salespeople simply help prospective clients make good decisions. Great salespeople don't sell anyone anything that does not immaculately fit the client need. Why? First, ethically, why would you want to sell someone something that doesn't help them? Second, the best possible business strategy is to delight customers, and get strong referrals even from people who do not become your customers. Kevin and I became good friends, even as I returned to the field of medical decision making, after my detour into high tech. I started a patient support program at the UCSF Medical Center, where I also teach and conduct research in the School of Medicine.

Shortly after joining UCSF, I went to see an eye surgeon here about possibly having LASIK eye surgery. The surgeon helped me arrive at a decision that it would be far, far better for me to purchase better contacts and glasses (to address my discomfort with existing solutions) than to have surgery. The surgeon went against his financial interests to help me make the best decision for my health. It was the right thing to do. And I can't count how many people I referred to this surgeon, Dr. Richard Abbott, before he retired.

Back to Kevin Hoffberg. Kevin called me in 2013 with an interesting observation. Kevin leads marketing for a division of Russell Investments. Russell is the kind of company that people like Kevin join because it has a long history of doing well by doing good in the financial services industry. Among other things, Russell puts together investment products that help corporations and individuals diversify their investments globally. On the individual level, independent financial advisors may purchase Russell mutual funds or other investment products to help clients plan for retirement and otherwise secure their financial futures. 

Kevin spelled out for me the compelling parallel between how financial advisors guide their clients to good decisions about financial health, similar to how medical doctors guide their patients to good physical health. I spoke at one of Russell's big conferences, and met Russ Hill and his colleagues at Halbert Hargrove Global Advisors (HHGA). HHGA is another firm that does well by doing good. They employ financial advisors who work with individual and corporate clients to assure long-term financial health through good investments and overall financial and life planning. They take their fiduciary responsibility very seriously. Like the eye surgeon, Dr. Abbott, HHGA would never even think of taking on a client or recommending a strategy that was not in the client's absolute best interest. They have grown over the last 75 years to to be one of the top firms in the industry. I'm well disposed towards both Russell and HHGA because they are values-based corporations with strong ethical codes and long-term stellar reputations.

Russ and his colleagues at HHGA invited me to test my approach to patient engagement with advisors and clients in their firm. We conducted a small study, in which I self-funded my evaluation costs, and which has now been published in the Journal of Wealth Management. Today HHGA is touting the results of this study, and their pioneering adoption of my client-centered methods, in a press release. In a nutshell, we found that my approach to discovering and documenting the patient agenda translates over to financial services in a way that is feasible and acceptable to advisors and clients. Our study also showed early signs of being highly effective. In a small sample, we found that with a day of training in my SLCT discovery methods, advisors increased the rate of inquiry in their conversations with clients; and clients were better able to articulate their issues, goals, priorities, questions and concerns. This is not at all surprising to me. HHGA's clients are the same people, demographically, who show up in studies of decision support in health care.

So today marks a public turning point in my career. I plan to continue working with Russell, HHGA, and other firms in the financial services industry to improve the quality of financial health decisions. This is consistent with my professional mission to help people grow in their capacity for leadershiip, teamwork, and decision-making. I find it professionally stimulating and personally rewarding and energizing to be working in another field.

You can read my study at

The HHGA press release, which includes more information, disclosures, and links relevant to HHGA and Russell, is at:

Investment News covered this story at:


It's important for me to disclose potential financial conflicts of interest, which happily do not relate to any patient matters or to my day job at UCSF. In this case, Russell has paid me honoraria for speaking at conferences, and royalties for licensing some of my copyrighted materials. As far as the study is concerned, it was conducted on my own time without funding from either HHGA or Russell. Moving forward, I expect continued financial and reputational rewards from working with HHGA, Russell, and other firms in financial services, and so my publications in this area should be viewed as subject to possible motivational bias. As with all rigorous scientific publications, my best defense against bias is transparency and replicability: I have outlined in great detail all the steps in evaluating this work, for others to scrutinize and replicate. I'm enthusiastic about this new frontier in my career. 


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