Financial planning should be, we believe, an engaging and uplifting experience for the client who is, after all, planning his or her future. The challenge is to engage with your client in a more compelling way than the traditional financial planning methodology …
The old, product-centric worldview delivered the typical ho-hum reports we’re used to seeing – asset allocation tables, performance reports, and the like. While these tools of trade require your technical expertise to properly interpret and use, and while they might be a necessary ingredient to the work we do, the reality is that — as client facing documents – they aren’t particularly engaging.
A more valuable approach to financial planning removes the focus from products and instead positions the relationship as an iterative and ongoing process founded on a strong planning piece. This creates the opportunity to engage with your client in a very practical, visual, and interactive way. This more client-centric worldview incorporates exercises delivered live that create an experience of clarity and direction for your client.
There is a myriad of ways you can accomplish this as an adviser, limited only by your imagination. To stimulate your thinking, here are two exercises you can use to deliver a more interactive and engaging experience for your client
The gift of clarity
We can achieve great things when we are focused. In this day and age of distractions and immediacy, though, sustained focus is a rare commodity.
Creating the space for your client to focus, and then facilitating an exercise where they can crystallise their thinking about what it is they want — it’s remarkably valuable. What’s more, it is the first necessary ingredient for financial planning to have major impact — establishing important and meaningful goals that can be converted into financial objectives for which advice can be created to achieve them. So that’s ground zero – the starting point for a planning process is an exercise designed to uncover a clear vision of what that future looks like.
If you’ve ever gone through a goal setting exercise before you’re probably familiar with the idea that a goal without a date is just a wish. But what are the proper components of a financial goal? There are lots of approaches to this and the best advice I ever heard about this was don’t overthink it – but make sure you get these as minimums:
- The name of the goal so you can refer to it down the road.
- How much money will be required, in today’s dollars, to achieve it – either as a lump sum or amount per month or year (net of tax and costs).
- The date by which this needs to be achieved.
- Lastly, now that they have articulated the goal, bolt it in, emotionally speaking, by having the client tell you how important achieving this goal is, what it would feel like to accomplish it, how it adds value to them personally. Some phrasing I quite like courtesy of Bill Bachrach sounds like this: “imagine that you’ve achieved that – what are two or three words that you’re thinking and feeling now that you’re there?”.
Clarity is value so the more effort you put into helping the client think through the goal so it is clear the more value you create, the more engaged your client in this process of creating their own future.
Putting it into perspective
Setting goals can be a very uplifting experience, but there is something lacking on their own – context about where a goal fits into your client’s life. How old will they be when this goal is due to be accomplished? How old will their spouse, children, parents and siblings be? What else might be going on in your client’s life at that time which will need to be considered or might otherwise have some sort of impact or influence over this goal’s achievement?
Two exercises to help the client bring some perspective to the table are a ‘your family tree’ and a ‘the family timeline’.
- Family tree. If your client already has one they’re excited that you’re interested too; if they don’t then they’re excited to be getting this gift. Creating a client’s family tree live in front of them creates context around the important people in their life. With a few circles, squares and lines – either done live by hand or using a computer program — you can show so much information that is relevant, important and personal to the client, all on one page. It also helps an adviser a lot to know the full picture and have the names of all the significant and important people in a client’s life ready to hand. The family tree contains a great deal of estate planning and wealth protection information captured on that simple picture which the client’s lawyer would love to see.
- Family timeline. Whereas the family tree exercise creates context around people, the family timeline exercise creates context around time. Put simply, the concept is to take the client and his/her family at their current ages, and project them into the future along a timeline, and overlay their goals and significant life events over that timeline. Watch a client react when you show when their children will be turning 40 — that makes it real alright! You can well imagine how something as simple as this is likely to have the client feel like their adviser is organised and has deeply personal information, but more than that, that their adviser has ‘got their back’. There’s a relationship of trust here.
Exercises that create content and context for your client are immediately relevant to their everyday experience and therefore valuable to them at a very fundamental level.
These resources — and others — are expanded more fully in PIFA’s eCourse for Financial Advisers, “The Path to Professionalism”. This eCourse provides a roadmap to help your financial planning business into Gold Standard of Independence, but it also offers so much more. It contains the collected experiences of an entire community of advisers who have been practising the Gold Standard in their firms for a decade or more. These experiences can help you redefine the value of what you do for your client and monetise your independence.
Your questions answered
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