I was at a conference this week, where there were many different financial advisors listening to many industry leaders talk about how to give advice, what new technology is available to assist in giving advice, and what studies say about how clients want to receive this advice. Call me old fashioned, but some of this conversation is still missing the point; financial planning isn’t so much about numbers, as it is about conversation, process and follow up.
Those of you familiar with our practice, the Haas Financial Group, know that personalized planning is the cornerstone of our business, the service we hang our hat on. This isn’t a computer model. This isn’t a spreadsheet. This is about communication. It is as much about asking the right questions of our clients as it is about trying to find the right answers.
Our industry has lots of tools that spit out lots of data to tell people things they may not understand or try to pitch them products they may not want or need. That’s not financial planning. Financial planning is much broader than that, much deeper, much more personal than that. In our opinion, a financial plan isn’t really a financial plan, unless it includes the following:
- A strategic plan – This means we’ve defined a vision with the client, something larger than “I want to retire.” It incorporates values and philosophies they live by and follow. It openly discusses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It establishes priorities so resources can be allocated appropriately.
- Goal setting and measurement – Setting goals is easy. The math behind it requires a calculator that can be easy too. The measurement, that’s not as easy. A financial plan needs to act like a barometer, with key performance indicators that everyone can track and follow. Only then can we hold ourselves accountable to the goals.
- Communication – No plan is achievable overnight. A financial plan should outline how progress and follow up will occur. It should define the types and frequency of communication so that new data and new information can be assessed and considered.
- Implementation and delegation – A good financial plan clearly states who will do what and over what period of time. It’s so important to hold each person accountable for their action steps, and to make sure the collaboration is effective.
I remain a bit skeptical of how my industry seems to offer so many new ways to speed through the process of advising clients. Yes, we live in a fast paced world where answers are desired on the spot. But we believe the best way to plan, is to follow these steps, ALL these steps. Our financial lives deserve a strong process, which can’t be sped through or replaced by technology.