Why a Return on Life (ROL) Matters More than ROI

6 min read
September 12, 2017

Thoughts on Our XYPN Radio Podcast with Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony, President of Advisor Insights Inc. and the Financial Life Planning Institute, is a prominent figure in the financial services industry. Of course, he himself isn’t a financial planner, but he works with advisors on constructing systems and communicating effectively with their clients to provide a better client experience. Mitch spoke at XYPN17 this year in Dallas, and I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him for Episode #104 of our XYPN Radio podcast. In our interview, Mitch and I discussed how financial planning tends to get caught up in the numbers and we forget about what the ROL (Return on Life) means for both ourselves and our clients.

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Knowing the Stories First, Not the Numbers

This concept of ROL v. ROI has always been interesting to me, and I loved that Mitch applied it so broadly to both financial planners and their practices as well as their clients and how they should be communicating with them. So many times we lead off client interactions by focusing on their end-goals. As advisors, it’s our job to get them there – right? So it makes sense, in theory, that we’d want to know when they want to retire, what financial goals they have, and how we can prevent them from steering off the path on the way there. However, as Mitch puts it, financial planning is always going to come back to numbers – so why start there? Instead, he suggests we start somewhere more accessible to our clients – the stories that have led them to be sitting in the chair across from our desk, wanting our help.

When my own Dad was young, he saw his father (my grandfather) purchase permanent life insurance from one of those old-school door-to-door sales guys. This insurance policy was supposed to be his retirement, his kid’s retirement, his grandkid’s retirement – you name it. That’s how it was sold to him. Of course, as is usually the case with those kinds of things, it didn’t work out. A lot of money was lost, a lot of dreams and goals went unfulfilled. Even though it wasn’t my Dad himself who had this happen to him, just witnessing it was enough. It completely turned him off from financial planning for a long time – and had any financial planner wanted to discuss those kinds of insurance options with him in a meeting he would have shut down immediately.

This is my Dad’s financial story. Granted, it’s only one small chapter in the book, but it’s important nonetheless. If an advisor didn’t ask him about his background with financial planning and listen to his experiences, they never would have known that this is an existing pain point. They wouldn’t have the full picture of what’s going on in his head. That’s a problem. This is just one of the many reasons, Mitch says, that it’s important for advisors to know the stories that their clients (or prospects) are bringing with them to the table.

Don’t Look at Goals

This sounds crazy, but Mitch has a point. When you look at financial planning (or just life planning, for that matter) for yourself or your clients as a set of goals, you get boxed in. Some of the goals you set will change completely year-to-year, while others will happen organically and aren’t really goals at all. Instead, focus on the possibilities and what you can do financially to make them happen.

Again, this applies to your life and the life of your client. It relates back to the story concept we just went over. Your client might come to you because they want to retire comfortably. But what do they really want? If money were no object, what would they be doing right now? Five years from now? When they’re 72 years old? The answer might surprise you. Maybe they’ll feel like they’d be doing exactly what they’re doing right now. Maybe they’d want to quit their job and travel the world in a 1970’s airstream – who knows? You certainly won’t unless you ask, and you’ll be doing yourself and them a disservice if you don’t drill deeper to figure out the possibilities they want opened to them and how to make them happen.

As Mitch puts it, “You’re not in the money business – you’re in the people business.” Focusing on how you communicate with people about the potential roads they see their lives taking, or the paths they’ve already walked is a must. You also need to walk the walk. When was the last time you asked yourself these questions? Is your motivating drive to be a financial planner rooted in financial goals – or is it something much bigger? It’s important to know these things, because after you learn your client’s stories you’ll be called upon to communicate your story. The beauty of this theory is that you get to find where your story and your client’s story intersect. That’s how you provide them value and uncover the problems that you can help fix.

Reframing Your “Elevator Pitch”

Mitch hates the elevator pitch. You probably should hate it, too. It’s kind of a messed-up concept – pitching your business, who you are, and what you do in 2 minutes or less. Shouldn’t it be more complicated than that? And how do you expect to really differentiate yourself when you’ve only got two minutes and a limited range of buzzwords to work with? I kid, but in all seriousness, Mitch has a better idea of how to frame your purpose.

“I try to bring value by doing this…”

This is a great way to frame what your business is about when talking to a prospect. Explain the nitty gritty of what you do. Additionally, explain the overarching things you help clients achieve. Doesn’t I try to bring value by helping my clients see all the possibilities they have to get themselves out of their student debt sound better than I’m an innovative financial planner who helps young professionals take control of their financial lives? One is kitschy, one is real. You want to be real.

“I like working with these people…”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we at XY Planning are a big fan of niches! Don’t be afraid to define it. Defining who you work with also defines how you work, and you deserve to thoroughly enjoy the work you do. So, get niche-y with your answers. I like working with young optometrists who are starting a family, dealing with debt, working on a budget, and still want to find time to enjoy their lives with their kids while they’re not sullen teens yet. That’s specific! That’s good!

“What I do is kind of like…”

Mitch Anthony swears by this analogy system. If you can adequately compare what you do to another service, or something else that your client can relate to, you’re better off. People who don’t know what you do (but want to know more) will have a much broader scope of understanding when you work with a metaphor that compares your services to something they get. You know how you go to the doctor to make sure everything’s in working order and your cholesterol isn’t through the roof? What I do is kind of like that, but with your finances.

What I do is kind of like what a coach would do for a team. You still are the one who gets to run the ball into the end zone, I’m just the one who is helping strategize different plays to get you there with budgeting, investment management services, and debt repayment plans.

Doesn’t that just feel like you’re talking about the return on life you’re providing clients rather than trying to sell your services?

As financial planners, we want to provide more than a killer return on investment to our clients. We want to provide the best return on life as we can. We do that by focusing not just on the dollars and cents of their comprehensive financial plan, but on the motivations behind our strategies. Through telling our story and hearing theirs, and reframing how we communicate our value we’ll not only win more business – we’ll find more success and feel more fulfilled in our work.

This is what the new movement of financial planning is all about. It’s about big-picture planning that helps our clients live their best lives. It’s about running a practice that helps us achieve our financial goals, but that also helps us achieve a better work-life balance, and that leaves us feeling good about the work we did at the end of each day. The industry has come a long way, but it’s still a little rough around the edges and we have a long way left to go. Mitch Anthony’s methods of changing your communication strategy is one way I believe we’ll get there.

Mitch Anthony was one of this year’s speakers at XYPN17 in Dallas, Texas, listen to his full interview on our XYPN Radio Podcast here.

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