What To Do When a Client is Absolutely, 100% Unfair to You

Do you have a client who says you should have seen the market correction coming?  Are they the same person that you told to diversify or at least to put in some protective stop orders under their FANG portfolio 6, 12, and 18 months ago?

Did a client just tell you that they are not going to pay than 50bps for your comprehensive services, because they think that you, your back office, and your staff should be able to get by on 50bps?

Anyone in retail financial services knows what it is to be treated absolutely, 100% unfairly by clients. 

Why does it happen, and what should you do about it?


Because they are clients.  They pay (hopefully?) something for your services and, like any purchaser, they think that they should have some control over what they get.  Grocers, housepainters, and doctors also must put up with this sort of behavior from their paying customers. 

“Not everyone plays by the same rules,” says Marcia Reynolds, PsyD. “Cultural and religious background, family upbringing, education and life experiences all combine to help..form a mental frame called, ‘the world according to me.’ ” (1)  When a client acts unfairly to you, they think that they are being very fair to themselves.

Your clients’ happiness and satisfaction is, to some extent, one of your many responsibilities.  Your happiness is NOT one of their responsibilities, so they have no reason to avoid taking unfair shots at you from time to time.


Don’t ignore it.  Document it.  I recently spoke to an advisor who is working to respond to a client complaint.  Her lawyer is happy that she has good records of the client acting unfairly and unreasonably in 2000, again in 2009, and again as recently as March 2020.  The client’s track record of being unreasonable won’t decide the case if it goes to arbitration, but it does the client very little credit.

Be aware of what is happening in your brain.  Dr. Reynolds points out, “When we feel something is unfair, we respond as if it were a threat and go into ‘fight or flight’ mode…Many neuroscientists are using brain scans to study moral decision making. They have found that basic, primary reactions occur when your brain determines a situation is ‘just not fair’ — demonstrating that your reactions are instinctually, not logically driven.”  Instinct and emotion will get you nowhere good, so be aware of what is really going on in your head before responding to rotten behavior in an equally rotten way.

Perhaps the best reaction when someone says something unfair is to be silent.  Let their own words sink in. Let them feel the stupidity of what they just said.  Then, when they beg you to say something, use a polite statement like, “What you just said doesn’t make sense to me.  I’m going to think about it and try to understand what would have made you say it.”  Then be quiet again.  If they retreat, then let the conversation continue.  If instead they plunge once more into the breach, tell them that they have given you much to think about, and end the conversation.

When the time is right for you, tell the client what impact their behavior had on you and what you want them to do to correct it.  It doesn’t have to sound harsh.  Something like, “When you told me that I should have seen the market correction coming, it made me remember how many times I advised you to put some sell-stop orders on your positions last year.  When you ignore my advice, and then act like I never offered it to you, it makes me question the integrity of our relationship.  Going forward, I want you to think about the advice I give, write it down, and remember it.  I won’t always be right, and you won’t either.  Sound fair?”

If you are a financial advisor, or if you support one, then you have to accept that two great variables - your clients’ behavior and the market’s performance - are out of your control.

  • Nick Murray once wrote “Bad things happen all the time.  Hurt people are always trying to hurt other people using money as a weapon, and advisors are too often in the line of fire.” (2)  We simply have to accept this as a reality of our work and move on.
  • Not everyone is worth serving.  If a client is too unfair, too often, then tell them to find another advisor. 

Related: Two-Thirds of Communication Is Non Verbal – 10 Body Language Reminders


  1. Reynolds, Marcia PsyD. (17 August 2011). How to deal with unfairness. Psychology Today.  How to Deal With Unfairness | Psychology Today
  2. Murray, Nick.  Around the Year With Nick Murray.  The Nick Murray Company, 2016. pg.  36.