- GARY MILAKOVIC
KARI SPEAKER SMITH, CPA, CFP, FEA, Partner, Fletcher Mudryk LLP, in Grande Prairie, Alberta
KARI SPEAKER SMITH
Kari Speaker Smith, CPA, CFP, FEA, Partner, Fletcher Mudryk LLP, in Grande Prairie, Alberta, is naturally curious. She has been from a very young age. Her father, Ray, is a gifted storyteller and ignited Kari’s mindfulness of the past, the present, and the idea of possibility. That passion for the story is what drives Kari’s understanding of people, today.
According to Kari, a story is how you learn and understand; how you become empathetic and learn to see a situation from someone else’s perspective.
“If you don’t know where people came from, you can’t understand where they are, or where they want to go. It’s the easiest and most effective way to build a connection with another person: to learn their story.”
No two people are the same, and therefore no two stories are the same. But as one listens to more and more stories, some similarities can develop; and from there the path toward understanding can widen.
To Kari, there are no shortcuts to building strong relationships. They take time to develop and won’t happen overnight.
Like stories, no two relationships will be the same, but they all begin similarly: with listening.
It’s easy to be prescriptive with solutions. To hear a situation or problem shared by a client, and immediately think of an answer or a solution that will address the problem.
Kari believes that’s the time when it’s important to slow down, be patient, and really listen.
“We live in a fast-paced environment. Everything is driven by the clock. Too often professionals are looking to move quickly or feel like they need to respond to a client right away. For me, my constant is patience. If you move too quickly or don’t listen enough, it’s easy to miss the full ramifications of a decision or overlook important considerations. Taking the time to fully understand a dynamic and complex situation is vital. I don’t feel the need to come up with a solution immediately. I have the confidence to take my time; to make sure I understand the situation, before providing any advice.”
Sometimes that means looking outside her expertise to find something better. To speak with other experts to ensure she’s providing the best recommendations. Kari works collaboratively and ensures she’s having the right conversation.
That conversation is effective because Kari isn’t in a rush to get to the end of it.
Kari has been fortunate that her life has been guided by good advice; from people with whom she built strong relationships, rooted in trust. Whether they be family or mentors, her career has thrived because of their wisdom.
The best of that advice is distilled into two simple words: don’t quit. Yes, sometimes it’s easier to preach than practice, but nothing worth having in life comes easily. Nothing is given freely.
Whether it’s education used to further a career, reaching out to potential clients in search of new business, or asking an existing client for a referral, none of it is easy.
But doing nothing isn’t an option.
The only limitations are the ones you place on yourself. “If you find a barrier, there are really only four choices: you can turn around, stay put, go through, or go around. You need to make the right decision for you, but I know what I’d do.”
You can’t stand still or move backward and succeed. Moving forward, however that looks, is the only choice.
Communication, communication, communication
In Kari’s business, communication is possibly the most underappreciated, overlooked, yet most important element. Too often communication isn’t clear, it’s disrupted, or the client simply doesn’t want to have the conversation. Almost as though ‘if we don’t talk about it, nothing bad is going to happen.’
Except that’s not realistic.
Of course, Kari hopes for extended periods of success, wealth, and happiness, but it’s her job to ensure when something disruptive happens, everyone is prepared. That everyone knows what comes next, rather than being reactive
“I try to make sure I speak with the entire family. No one should be in the dark. Too often we have a client who’s the senior member of a family, and they have the second, even third generation in the business, or managing wealth. But they aren’t talking about what a future without that senior generation looks like. I don’t want to come to anyone’s holiday dinner and ruin the turkey, but we have great tools that can unite the family, so they can still do it all, together. It’s a difficult conversation. It’s even more difficult to get everyone on the same page. But that extra work is worth it, in the long run, to ensure everyone’s expectations are clear, and we minimize the ‘broken telephone’ effect as much as possible.”
It comes back to Kari’s emphasis on listening. On making sure she’s taking the time to do things the right way.
She wants to connect clients to the right solutions by hearing and understanding their needs and goals.
Kari places a strong emphasis on family. Balancing family and work has been a constant juggling act, but her success at it is one of her proudest achievements. All too often professionals in her field need to make a choice: family or career. Kari made a choice.
She decided not to choose.
Kari knew she could have both She had the experience, the drive, and the knowledge that there were no limitations but the ones she placed on herself.
Alongside her business partners, she built a team of knowledgeable professionals to support her efforts who are aligned with her core values.
“People’s finances are a very personal, and private part of their lives. Often they are difficult to share. Building a team who shares my values of trust, listening, and effort has resulted in a practice that can provide the services people need. They see value in what I bring to the table, and that value is more than just numbers. Our business is about people, first and foremost.”
Kari also emphasizes giving back to the community.
It isn’t something that every business recognizes, but it’s something that she sees as vitally important. She values that the business exists in the community; they cannot exist independently. So, if the business isn’t involved in the community, or doesn’t understand it, how can that business thrive?
“Being involved in the community, contributing, giving back, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people that live here, gives you credibility. When you say, ‘I hear you, and I care about what’s important to you,’ a client knows it’s true. They’ve seen you out there, living that message. It’s something we’ll never stop doing.”
Kari’s story, her no-quit attitude, her giving nature, and her ability to listen have informed her ability to understand what clients need, and what they want.
And it all starts with a conversation.
Gary Milakovic is a veteran writer with more than a decade in the public sector and corporate communications. He has covered a wide spectrum of topics and his work has been featured by large and small organizations across Canada. Gary is passionate about communication, his writing often focuses on uncovering the “story behind the story.”
Kari Speaker Smith, CPA, CA, CFP, FEA, B Mgt.
Fletcher Mudryk LLP
600 Windsor Court, 9835 - 101 Avenue
Grande Prairie, AB T8V 5V4
780 - 539 - 4110 Ext: 613