When I began my foray into financial planning, I started my career at a broker-dealer/RIA hybrid firm centered on retirement planning for clients. I distinctly remember this job, not only because it was my first real planning role, but also because of the deliverables we were expected to create for clients—specifically, a big 50-page binder my boss colloquially referred to as “The Book.” This “book” is how we conducted the delivery of the financial plan to clients; stacks of pages filled with mind-numbing graphs, facts, figures, and recommendations that would make anyone’s head spin faster than Linda Blair on The Exorcist. It was incredibly overwhelming for me as an up-and-coming financial planner, and deep down, I knew this antiquated way of presenting a financial plan had to feel overwhelming for our clients as well. I always questioned how engaged they really were with the financial plan.
When a client comes to your advisory firm, you may experience hurdles with getting them engaged in a comprehensive financial planning process. Some may perceive a financial plan as a daunting, gargantuan “book” of recommendations they don’t have the time to sift through and distill. Others might be coming to you with one or two immediate issues they need help addressing and might believe a comprehensive financial plan is not what they currently need. Despite these common apprehensions, as advisors, we know the value of real financial planning in creating a rock-solid foundation for financial security. It literally has the propensity to change lives. So how can we get our clients to see the value?
Consider Creating an Initial Engagement Plan
An engagement plan can be a highly impactful tool to help illustrate the value a new client will receive from going through your firm’s financial planning process. The plan is a customized timeline that illustrates what problems you’ll help the client solve within the next 6-12 months. The basis of the engagement plan should be derived from the conversations you previously had with the client during the introduction and discovery meetings, where you learned about their specific pain points and needs. It can be delivered in the form of a document broken down by categories of the major financial planning topics with a list of topics to address underneath those categories. A copy of a sample engagement plan template can be viewed here. For XYPN members, a customizable template can be downloaded here.
You should organize the timeline of the major financial planning topics to focus on the client’s immediate needs first and the areas of concern that are really driving them. Why are they coming to you? What’s their big motivating goal? What is the short-term need? Short-term goals have much more impact, and if you can create an engagement plan that keeps the client focused on their short-term goals, one after another, you’ll likely keep them engaged.
Present the Financial Planning Process in Smaller, Digestible Bites
The engagement plan can be tailored in a way that helps you present the financial planning process in smaller, digestible bites instead of a huge 50-page plan. For example, every so many years, a client buys a new car, or a client might have a goal of buying their first house; perhaps they have intentions for their child to attend college. An engaging financial planning process entails always being focused on what’s happening with your client within the next six months, twelve months, eighteen months, and keeping those close, so you can help a client focus on goals they can actually see and feel.
Retirement at age 65 is a great goal, but if you’re working with a millennial client in their 20’s, their time horizon is so far away in the distance that chances are they can’t see it or feel it. Creating a retirement plan for someone who’s 25 can make your financial plan sound like a fictional “book” at that point. You’re giving this millennial client something that’s 40+ years away and making a litany of assumptions in the plan that are likely to change—the client is likely to change jobs, incomes will likely change, inflation is going to change, tax policies will change, and investment returns may not be what you initially assumed. Planning for goals, in general, is a great way to keep clients focused, but focusing on the immediate goals is much more powerful.
Review Your Firm’s Data Gathering Process
We advisors LOVE data, and we love to get our hands on our client’s data. Though, as you may have already experienced, it can be overwhelming trying to collect every piece of data from a client upfront. Many people dislike talking about money; they dislike numbers. Understanding that data collection may not have the same feel-good impact on the client is important, and if anything, we’re potentially overwhelming them by asking for things that are not normal for them, such as cash value life insurance illustrations. The data gathering process has the potential to put friction in place from the very beginning and can make the financial planning process a negative experience before you even had a chance to begin the real work. So how can advisors avoid this?
I’m a big fan of Get Organized meetings, as endorsed by Michael Kitces. In my last firm, we called it an Orientation Meeting, and it’s simply a 45 minute to an hour-long meeting dedicated to helping a client get financially organized. This time can be allocated to ensure you have all the documents needed to at least start the financial planning process and address their most top-of-mind needs. You can also use this time to set expectations, provide an overview of any client dashboards, portals, or vaults used to store the data, and help them connect their financial accounts to whatever aggregator your firm uses.
In addition to Get Organized meetings, I’m also very keen on utilizing Letters of Authorization (LOAs). It’s an excellent way to remove some of the burdens of gathering the data away from the client. An LOA form legally enables a client to grant permission to an advisor to reach out to other financial partners on their behalf to request needed data. For example, if a client has an existing estate planning attorney, you can use the LOA to reach out to the attorney yourself and request copies of estate planning documents. If the client has a CPA, you can use the LOA to request copies of the last two years of tax returns. If they have an insurance agent, you can also use the LOA to request copies of their declaration pages. With an LOA, not only are you adding value by taking these tasks off the client’s plate, but you’re also creating an opportunity to introduce yourself to your client’s financial partners and build that relationship for future work you’ll likely do together.
Help Your Clients Envision the Possibilities
Once a client is actually organized and has a base understanding of their current financial situation, you can then help them imagine what possibilities the future can hold. When you get a client to connect to the goals in their head, it becomes much easier to get them connected to the numbers to make it happen. You can accomplish this with a Goals Meeting by 1) using questionnaires before the meeting to get a survey of the goals most important to the client, and 2) utilizing financial planning software during the meeting to understand what could be and what the tradeoffs could entail.
With a SWOT analysis, you can also help clients look at their strengths, challenges, opportunities, and threats before evaluating alternative planning scenarios. At this point, you have already held a Prospect Meeting, Discovery Meeting, and a “Get Organized” meeting. So, this would be the client’s first real financial planning meeting where you get to dig into their financial life and do some goal planning. XYPN members can download sample agendas and email templates to help you conduct an Explore Possibilities Meeting from XYPN Academy.
Ultimately, getting clients engaged in the financial planning process can feel much like getting them to eat their vegetables, but using the tips described in this post can make it much more enjoyable and exciting for both you and your clients. You're both there to do incredible work, after all.
About the Author
Kathleen Boyd, CFP®, is XYPN's Financial Planning and Process Coach. In her role, she works closely with XYPN members to guide them in refining their planning process, resulting in stronger ties with clients and a more fulfilling planning experience for all involved.
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