If I Could File a Lawsuit, I Would

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blindfoldI’m really angry at the investment firm Morgan Stanley – really angry.  I have had to deal with them since my father died, trying to manage and move a small IRA my sisters and I inherited, and they have done their utmost to make that impossible.

I’ve told the story at my About.com blog because the bottom line is – if there was such a thing as a financial services advocate, I would hire him or her.  That’s a great lesson for patients, with similar concepts applied to their medical care, and will hopefully make some of your phones ring, too.

But I’m so angry and frustrated by my experience with Morgan Stanley, that if there was such a thing as filing a lawsuit over their behavior, I would file one. Within this experience are some lessons for advocates, how we handle customer service, and how we keep ourselves from being sued.

You can read some of the story here. I’ve listed some of their transgressions, but not the worst ones. In that About.com post, I didn’t talk about the contracts they insisted I sign – “immediately or we’ll miss the deadline!” – in which they had already checked off boxes that made choices I would never make. Fine print, intended to trick me? Or the fact that I almost had to pay penalties because Dad had not taken a minimum distribution for 2012 – a fact pointed out to me in the 11th hour – a question I never would have known to ask.

I’m so angry, in fact, that I’m writing about them publicly and naming names. I’ve threatened to report them to the SEC. You don’t EVER want your clients to become so angry at you.

At the root of my anger is, that just like your clients and potential clients, I don’t know what I don’t know, and Morgan Stanley is treating me like a mushroom – keeping me in the dark and feeding me, well, animal waste.

The truth is, every step of the way, my anger and frustration could have been diffused by one simple action (many of you know this is my mantra) MANAGING MY EXPECTATIONS. Helping me understand what I was facing. Pointing out what is obvious to them, but not even on my radar. Making known to me those answers for which I don’t even know the questions.

When Dad’s long-trusted advisor left the firm just days after we had signed the transfer paperwork in early October, Morgan Stanley could have and should have alerted me to the change and what they planned to do about it. They even could have said, “give us a few weeks.” Managing that expectation would have been better than what happened instead: I found emails sent to Dad asking why he wasn’t answering phone calls. (Remember – he had died.)

At the point I was told to sign that paperwork “immediately” or I would pay penalties, they could have been far more transparent, leaving those check boxes unchecked, instead walking me through the contract so I could think through the options myself.

The IRS rule about minimum distributions has been around since 2008. The work with Morgan Stanley began in mid-October. The minimum distribution could have been made right then!  So why was that not suggested – managing our expectations about what could happen if it didn’t?

Etc. I’ll spare you the rest. But the overall theme here is that as their client, I feel as if I’ve been the victim of malpractice. I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. And I want them to clean up their act for the next person who has to walk this tightrope.

What Private, Independent Advocates Can Learn from this Morgan Stanley Fiasco

When you work with your clients, vendors, or anyone you do business with, be diligent about managing their expectations.  Work toward garnering their trust:

  • Help the other person know what they don’t know. Teach them the questions to ask.  Err on the side of providing too much information rather than not enough.
  • Anticipate problems and discuss them well in advance of their possible appearance. Be timely. Don’t add an extra layer of stress because of poor communication, or poor timing.
  • Under promise and over deliver.

The healthcare system and the financial system are equally opaque – which is one of the reasons patient advocates are so necessary and will continue to grow in numbers and success.  One of the biggest reasons patients will hire an advocate is because they don’t trust that the system is going to look out for their best interests (they are right).  They look for someone they can trust.

Unfortunately, if you have been a part of the healthcare system to this point (perhaps as a nurse, physician, insurance claims specialist or other “insider” position), then it will be very easy for you to fall into this same trap – not explaining what someone doesn’t know because you know it too well.  You will have to be extra vigilant about helping your clients through the mess they contacted you to clean up.

If you come to your advocacy work from outside the system, then you’ll have a far clearer picture of the information needs of your clients. Try not to lose that edge. But also realize that since you haven’t spent time inside the system, there may be things you don’t know, too.  Educate yourself.

The devil, for us all, is in the details. Obscuring the details is what makes clients distrustful and sends them over the edge, whether as investors or patients.  Managing their expectations by helping your clients know what they don’t know will be what keeps you out of hot water, and make you appreciated more than you can imagine.

 

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Comments

  1. Bart Windrum  January 28, 2013

    My most rabid moment after Dad’s death was with his IRA holder. Except that resource, to be equally split between my sister and I, was somewhat more significant than you suggest your Dad’s. I had spent two two-hour sessions on the phone w/the rep and then followed her instructions, arranging a lawyer-office meeting with me, lawyer, infirm sister—in another city—to execute the 10 page form and have it witnessed. Did it to a T. Phone call #3 was a treat (not), wherein she, having received the form, advised me that she had been mistaken (despite having consulted offline numerous times during calls 1&2) and that we’d have to go through the whole shebang again. As I queried and queried in growing annoyance her replies became more and more robotic and I understood I was dealing with an automaton. Finally I pounded the desk from 2′ up in time with my raging missive, “Quit being so F***ing polite!”

    Got a call the next day from a friendly guy in another city who I’m sure listened to their recording. He said the form fillout was fine and they processed the money xfr.

    There’s an advocacy lesson here too. How do we know when to quit being polite and deferential to supposed knowledge/skill and act in some other manner? For me one indicator is whether or not the person with whom I’m dealing responds as a normal human or as a corporate robot. As soon as they manifest the latter that’s our cue to switch gears.

    reply
  2. researching law  September 13, 2013

    Wow – I really hope that this has settled by now. This is the worse thing to have to deal with after also losing a loved one. Prayers go out to you.

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