Let’s get this out of the way, the word “Ambient” is hard to pin down. And although we have grown to enjoy it that way, there are some important reasons why our firm uses the word to identify both form and function. Every business has a brand, whether they are aware of it or not. We wanted to make sure that the brand describing our form and function is coherent and genuine while still providing enough complexity to keep everyone curious. To us, it is a piece of intellectual art.
Ambient - an adjective used to describe something that is all-encompassing and ever-present yet operating through unobtrusive accompaniment.
This is the definition of Ambient we have come to know as a firm. It has become a unique anchor word we use to describe the way our clients interact with money, then determining the way we interact with our clients. In the same way that money holds different meanings and evokes different emotions for different people, we almost always answer the question “What does Ambient mean?” with the question “What comes to mind when you hear that word?” The answers are diverse, ranging from adjective descriptors, such as ambient light, ambient music, and ambient temperature, to more ethereal references to particles, surroundings, and atmosphere.
It is with a similar openness that we begin conversations in personal finance. What is money? What is money to you? Where do those thoughts originate? Where might those thoughts lead?
The idea of an “ambient” financial advisory team began at the intersection of two conversations.
The first was a conversation of…frustration.
Countless financial professionals, including the late Dick Wagner (a godfather of modern financial planning) have found the titles “Financial Planner” or “Financial Advisor” insufficient when describing both the expansive relationship we have with clients and the breadth of knowledge required to be effective. To this day, we try on different titles like “Wealth Advisor,” “Financial Coach,” or “Financial Therapist,” the latter of which is something in a completely different category of expertise and training. However, we have come up short. What do you call someone who helps a family navigate their collision of money and emotion?...
The second conversation was concerning an interest in artificial intelligence.
Quick lesson in current technology. Ever heard of a cell phone that runs on “Android?” Android is the Google equivalent of Apple’s iOS (short for iPhone Operating System). Most of the world’s cell phones run a version of Android. Did we lose you? Stay with us. Android was co-created by a man named Andy Rubin. The main motivation? To create an affordable and open-architecture software that can be infinitely personalized to your preference. Long story short, Andy Rubin would go on to attempt creating a smart assistant (think Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant) that would work with ANY technology you threw at it, no matter what platform. It would be completely platform-agnostic. He called it “Ambient OS.” The point of Ambient OS? To be ever-present and proactively helpful while operating in the background of your life. Now the project never really got off the ground, but do you see where we are going here?
In our experience, an ambient advisor is someone who sees, knows, and consistently works with the entirety of a person’s life experience all while operating unobtrusively in the background. The relationship you have with your ambient financial advisor becomes contextual, which is an attribute big box financial companies cannot afford due to their lack of flexibility. Money, in itself, is an ambient tool that weaves “familial thread" from one generation to the next, creating a beautiful and complex legacy. This involvement starts with how a person’s ancestors experienced money and stretches to how they will want their heirs to, one day, experience the conversation of money.
Ambient advising is a service that is equal parts CQ (Cultural Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient), and IQ (Intelligence Quotient).
It is a name that invites curiosity and addresses a description of money that Wagner used when discussing Finology, or the study of money and value exchange, in his book Financial Planning 3.0, “Money is the most powerful and pervasive secular force on the planet.” If the topic of money remains taboo, our interactions with money will never be as purposeful or encouraging as we desire. And it is when life as we know it is disrupted, destroyed, or overtaken that topics of purpose and utility are most prevalent and accessible. We will address why Ambient Financial Advisors serves clients in the midst of their transition, grief or loss in Part II: The Experience.