Being a bookkeeper is easy: add this, subtract that, and divide by twelve for the monthly number. It’s like working the front desk at a hotel. But what if you arrive at the hotel with bags under your eyes and a pounding headache (like the total hot mess that you are), unsure of where you need to be in the morning or how to get there? That’s when you need to stop by the desk of the hotel’s fixer: the concierge.
A financial concierge does many of the same things as a hotel concierge. She’s ready to handle the unpredictable, novel, and sometimes scary world of family finance where anything can, and does, happen.
A Tale of Three Clients
Bettina* is a lovely 93-year-old woman with whom I have been working for about 10 years. Like many people her age, Bettina has macular degeneration—an irreversible and progressive worsening of her eyesight. Over the years, I have witnessed it go from bad to worse. According to Bettina, when she looks up at me all she sees is a shadow.
If she squints her eyes, she is sometimes able to read text in extremely large and bold font. For everything else, she uses a reader machine, but she can’t write a check. As for cash, she has a system using a money clip, with $20s on one side and the singles on the other.
But macular degeneration robs people of more than just the ability to write checks and dole out cash. All of her life, Bettina has made a point to send handwritten thank you notes and birthday cards. When I visit her every week to go over her mail, I often find myself writing short, handwritten notes to her loved ones on her behalf, and I would be less-than-truthful if I didn’t admit that I love doing that for her.
As her eyesight worsens, which is a guarantee with macular degeneration, Bettina will need to start weighing the pros and cons of continuing to live in her home of over 30 years. Right now she is at the stage where she knows all of the twists and turns of the house, and moving someplace new is not very appealing to her. In the meantime, I keep in close contact with her son, her other financial professionals, and her attorney, in case she changes her mind.
Erica* is a non-practicing CPA who stayed home for the last 15 years to raise her four children. She has a high net worth, and is able to keep multiple properties and vacation homes, in addition to a new full-time residence she is building right now.
Than means there are many checks to be written to many contractors every week, which is where I come in as financial concierge. We keep track of all the expenses related to the construction, in addition to:
- Gathering all of her 1099s, K1s, and other tax information;
- Estimated taxes due and paid; and
- Assuring tax compliance with household employees.
Erica does not need me. Rather, she understands that she would not have the time to do it all herself. She has eliminated hours of busy work from her life so she can concentrate on the matters that only she can do, like being a full-time mom.
Sheila* is a single mom with five children. Because of some smart investments when she was younger, she is able to stay home and raise her children without any other financial help. She is very ambitious, and she’s ready to go back to work and figure out a new career for herself. On the other hand, because she’s been so busy raising her children, she lost the tight handle she used have over her expenses; she’s not really sure what she spends month-to-month, because everything is done by credit card. Sheila just needs someone like me to come in and keep an eye on the bill paying, track all her expenses, and figure out where her money’s going. That entails going through all of her monthly debits with a fine-tooth comb, including:
- Subscriptions to online content;
- Gym memberships and personal training sessions; and
- Verifying that her insurance policies are adequate—and that there are no duplicate policies.
Additionally, we will start enabling online access to all of her vendors, including her credit cards—which will allow us to reconcile them every month.
So the difference between a bookkeeper and a financial concierge really depends on what you need help with. A bookkeeper keeps good books. But a financial concierge knows how to keep good books and is an expert in the human touch—whether that means paying your children their allowance, setting you up with a password manager, or setting up your home with all the insurance coverage it needs.
*not their real names