When new clients sit down with managing director Robert Davenport of United Capital, the first thing he suggests is a game of cards.
It's not a game of chance or tarot to predict their future. But it is a game about fears, commitments and happiness. His company has a trademark on the game, called Honest Conversations.
New clients sort through three sets of cards and lay them out in order of priority, such as preparing for the unexpected, minimizing taxes or spending without guilt.
There are three sets of cards. Green cards mention fears, such as income security and protecting family in case of death and protecting a person's lifestyle. Blue commitment cards state priorities, ranging from charitable giving to leaving a financial legacy and supporting family members. Red cards address dreams and goals, such as spending without guilt, growing as a person, improving health and making work optional.
Davenport asks clients to sort the cards twice to identify priorities -- income security and providing for family in case of untimely death, for example. Davenport uses the priorities and the client's comments to build an investment portfolio to suit the client's needs.
The card game also helps United Capital address other matters, such as estate planning and asset protection. If a couple is being advised, each spouse plays the game separately and then the two negotiate to set family goals.
"In my career, I've never seen anything like this," Davenport said.
The idea grew out of a board game that a United Capital investment adviser in New Jersey devised to help identify top issues for clients. United Capital expects to offer the game free to the public on its website and on a smart phone app later this year.
Davenport could simply ask the client to list goals, concerns and dreams, but he says the card game makes it easier to identify what's most important.
"This is a way in the first 10 or 15 minutes to get to their deepest issues," Davenport said. "They are memory joggers. It also gives the nondominant spouse a forum in which to be heard."
Volmar Franz, a licensed marriage and family counselor in Las Vegas, said the game is good idea, noting that some counselors use similar strategies in therapy sessions.
The Honest Conversations card game sounds like a creative way to get potential clients to think about financial issues and goals, he said.
"I think it's a hell of a good sales gimmick," Franz said.
The card game also helps guide investment advisers who otherwise might forget to discuss important subjects with couples.
"There is nothing to lose and maybe something to gain," said Jag Mehta, president of the CFA Society of Nevada and a chartered financial analyst. Mehta said he knows of no other investment professionals using a similar approach.
Debra Danielson of Danielson Financial Group skips the games and simply asks clients to identify their dreams, fears and goals.
"We don't have a similar strategy, but we do talk about the great goals of life," Danielson said.
She asks why the client is investing. Is it to give financial help to an elderly parent, send a child to college or to retire comfortably?
She compared her task to that of a Las Vegan asked to name a good place to eat. The correct answer for a particular couple could be a Denny's or it could be a high-end restaurant where tabs run $1,000. It all depends.
Danielson said the card game could be useful in helping men identify important goals.
"Some men seem to have a harder time expressing the softer values that are important for them," she said.
Davenport said there's no set of common concerns and goals among clients playing the card game, which was introduced three months ago.
"It's different for everyone of them," he said.
Danielson, however, said she has noticed a dramatic change in the financial attitudes of her clients in the years since the debacle on Wall Street.
"Before, (clients said) I just want everything and I want it now and I'll figure it out how tomorrow," Danielson said. "They've been humbled over the last couple of years."
Contact reporter John G. Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0420.