The Who, What, and Why of Hiring a Business Coach

hiring-a-business-coach

 

I have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for my financial planning firm. I want to become the premier financial planning firm for women in tech on the west coast. Or the premier financial planning firm on the west coast for women in tech. Or something like that. Regardless, it’s approximately (add the 2, carry the 1…) a million miles from where I am now (which is “breakeven by year’s end! whoo!”).

I launched my practice in May of this year with the vague notion of creating a solo practice that brought home a respectable income for my family. The more I got into the women in tech community (my niche), the more I recognized the need for financial guidance and especially for financial guidance that was part of a larger message of professional and financial empowerment.

Once I’d been sitting with this knowledge for a while, my sense of what my firm could be started to grow, until finally one day, my BHAG sprang, like a not-quite fully formed Athena, from my head. And I immediately knew I needed help. In the form of a business coach. I think.

I mean, that’s what business coaches do, right? Help us grow us our businesses? Right? Maybe? Point is, I had precious little idea what a business coach did. Or how to find them. Or how they work. Or how much they cost. Or how to choose one.

And I realized right then, that this must be exactly what our prospective clients go through when looking for a financial planner.

So, not only did my search for a business coach land me with a coach whom I’m excited to work with and am confident will help me grow my business, but it also gave me a new appreciation of what prospective clients of ours go through, and what helps or hurts our attempts to win clients. And I think that’s a valuable lens through which to view my search for a business coach.

Problems with the “Profession”

I was anxious about finding a business coach. And that anxiety lay primarily in the fact that “business coach” has very little meaning. Certainly no legal meaning. Just like financial planning, “coaching” strikes me as not yet a profession.

Let’s think about doctors. If you’re looking for one, you know that someone with an “M.D.” after her name will have a certain minimum level of competence. Everyone you know has a doctor they have opinions about. Doctors are subject to certain educational and ethical constraints. And you can judge success pretty easily: “I was sick. Then the doctor prescribed me medicine. Now I am better.”

But for business coaches (or financial planners for that matter), there is:

  1. No single designation that shouts “I am a competent professional” (at least, none that the general public knows about)
  2. No minimum training or education necessary to call yourself by that name
  3. So few people use them that it’s not generally understood what the experience should be
  4. No minimum set of competencies we can rely on such a professional to have
  5. No easily quantifiable way to judge success

Figuring Out The Profession for Myself

So, I had to figure out, from scratch, what a business coach is, what they do, and how they can help me. I needed to talk to several coaches in order to first “triangulate” on what business coaches, in general, do. Then, once I established that a business coach is indeed the professional I need, I had to find the right one for me.

Here’s what I did, and how I think you can find the best business coach for you and your firm:

Step 1. Get clear about you want from a business coach.
This was pretty easy for me, as my exploding BHAG inspired the hunt in the first place. I want a business coach who can help me achieve that goal. And hopefully refine it along the way.

Step 2. Identify a bunch of reasonable planners.
Thankfully, the XYPN Radio VIP Facebook community (what a mouthful! Henceforth “VIP”) exploded with recommendations. Between those, a tip from a mastermind friend, and one from the tech community, I had about 10 recommendations in just a few days.

I winnowed it down (to 5) by taking the recommendations that were most detailed about how the coach was awesome. In our world, when clients refer a friend to us, if she says “Oh, you should talk to my planner! She’s great!” that’s not nearly as effective as saying “Oh, you should talk to my planner! She helped me evaluate my new job offer, choose all my employee benefits, and get me started in my new 401(k).” Turns out that’s universal.

My five included:

  • Three who specialize in financial planners. Two of those are former or current advisors themselves and focus on advisors working primarily with women
  • One is “industry agnostic”
  • One is affiliated with the tech industry (I thought that might be a helpful perspective given my niche)

Step 3. Interview the heck out of ‘em.

Each of these coaches had a different process for prospective clients — how much time they spent in the initial consultation, what additional materials they sent to me (if any), questions they asked in the initial consultation — and a different twist on how they would work with me. But there were commonalities among them all that allowed me to figure out well enough what it is a business coach does.

I was lucky enough to interview one coach (the industry-agnostic one) who right away realized she was not the right kind of coach for me and went on to explain the different kind of coaches out there–life, business, and leadership–and that I should indeed be looking for a business coach, and that I should go with one specific to my industry. This woman spent 30 minutes of her time helping me out, with no expectation of getting my business, and I was so grateful. I sometimes spend a lot of time doling out free guidance or advice to people seeking financial help. And honestly, I get a bit weary of it sometimes. But this reminded me of what value it brings to people at so little cost to myself. (And of course, if anyone ever asks my advice for a leadership coach, you can bet your bippy that I’ll send them over to Nathalie Salles.)

When you talk with the coaches, ask the hard questions that will allow you to make a reasonable judgment of how they can help you. At the prices business coaches charge, and with your own firm on the line, this is not the time to be coy. (I might have verged on “rude” asking one of the coaches if she typically talks this much, but I had to know the answer and I couldn’t think of a softer way to ask. She was unfazed.)

Like these:

  1. Here’s my goal/problem. Do you help people do that?
  2. How would you help me accomplish my goal/solve my problem?
  3. What would it look like for us to work together?
  4. How much and how do you charge?
  5. How do you hold me accountable?
  6. How can you serve me better than other business coaches?
  7. How will I know when I outgrow your services? (A VIP member suggested this, and every coach I asked this of loved the question…and was kind of stumped by it.)

Another VIP member suggested I look for coaches whose compensation model aligns their payment with my success. Which sounds good. But I didn’t see any coach that does it that way. They’re all some version of pay-by-the-hour.

Step 4. Take a few days to reflect on the interaction.

You will ideally be working pretty intensely with this coach, so let your gut guide you.

  1. Did they interview me as much as I interviewed them? Did I feel they really listened to you?
  2. How did I feel talking with them? Comfortable? Encouraged? Stressed out? Defensive?
  3. Did they offer any guidance or ideas that could help me see how I could make progress?

In my search, the two coaches who specialized in financial advisors and are/were advisors themselves stood out. They were both able to articulate fairly specifically how they would work with me, what challenges an advisory firm has, etc. Both provided a lot of value in that initial consultation. But after I ruminated on it gently for a couple of days, I realized that I felt more comfortable with one. And that decided it.

Services and Cost

The coaches all have different service models. The three who specialize in financial advisors offer:

  • Twice a month, 45 minutes each time (don’t know about email support)
  • Starter kit of three meetings, to be used within three months, 60-75 minutes each time with substantial follow-up notes, limited email support
  • My choice of once, twice, or three times a month, 90 minutes each time, unlimited email support in between. Nine-month engagement, with a tenth month for free if you pay upfront.

Business coaching isn’t cheap, it turns out. It’s going to run you about $250-350/hr of face time. I just paid $1200 for that starter kit of three meetings.

The Coach I Chose

The coach I chose persuaded me by doing these things:

Before our introductory meeting, she sent me documents detailing the areas of focus she has helped other clients work through, how the relationship would work logistically, next steps, and her service models and fees.

During our introductory meeting, she was willing to stay on the phone with me for as long as was necessary to finish the conversation (well, I suppose up to a limit, but it lasted 45 minutes), she listened actively, and was enthusiastic about my BHAG, my ideas, and my prospects.

She started giving me little insights into how she might help me. Saying for example, that my podcast idea was great, but perhaps more of a “Phase 2” idea, whereas “Phase 1” is more focused on just getting some damn clients. Good point, good point.

After our introductory meeting, she followed up the meeting that very day with an email containing three pages (three!) of notes from our call and her thoughts.

Why did this mean so much to me?

I felt an easy connection with her on the phone. I felt respected as a professional and firm owner, even though I’m only 7 months into this thing.

She was able to put some specifics, some quantifiable understanding around what she does and how she can help me. With that, she took care of my main source of uncertainty and anxiety.

She showed me she was not only listening, but doing so effectively. And she started to give me a window into how she can help me, specifically, start making progress towards my BHAG.

Implications for My (and Your?) Financial Planning Practice

We often hear that the value of financial planning is hard to quantify for clients and prospective clients. “We provide peace of mind” or “We optimize your finances” or “We worry so you don’t have to.” That is just so….not persuasive.

Well, my coach managed to persuade me. If I want to do the same for my prospective clients, my process might look like this:

  1. Email my Client Service Calendar and the document detailing my firm’s financial planning process. Maybe I even need a document that lists common questions or challenges that I help clients with, and a document listing my prices (already on my website).
  2. During the meeting, reflect back to them the problems that drove them to me, and mention ideas I have to possibly address those problems.
  3. After the meeting, send an email summarizing the meeting, calling out the important points, showing that I was listening carefully, and continuing to provide value by sending them resources or ideas about their specific pain points.

Such a process would proactively answer the questions prospective clients have, even if they don’t voice them: “What is financial planning? What would a relationship with you look like? How much do you charge? Do you help people in my position? How would you serve me better than other advisors? How do you keep me accountable? How do I know if it’s working?”

My coach enabled me to envision more exactly how she could help me, which made the not-insubstantial price tag seem worth it. Hopefully I can do the same for my prospective clients.

 

Meg9

About the Author: Meg Bartelt is the President of Flow Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only virtual firm that provides financial guidance and support to working mothers in high tech. Learn more on her website and on her blog

Shift Gears to Fee-Only Planning with Minimal Challenge

 

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So you want to be an XYPN fee-only financial planner but you got your start in the commissioned world. Now you’re wondering how to get out from under (transfer) those insurance policies or annuities that you wrote in your former life. Depending on where you were, there are some different avenues.

Big Mutual

Many of these companies work under a “career agency” system. Generally, the agents will use their company exclusively when recommending policies, and over the years use for almost all their clients.

  1. If you want to leave, Big Mutual may be able to do a “blanket reassignment” – the simplest way – if the transfer is to another agent at the same agency. Let’s say while you were working in the Walla Walla Washington agency, you sat next to Fred and liked him. It may be a simple transfer of your existing policies to Fred to service those policies.
  2. If you want the policies you wrote to be serviced by another agent at a different agency, Big Mutual will likely require agent change letters from each client agreeing to the transfer to the new agent/agency. The new agent may have to be appointed with Big Mutual.
  3. If you can’t decide on a reassignment plan, when the agency terminates your contract, the clients would become orphans and are usually reassigned to another career agent.

So what you want to do may depend on two factors. First, if you are continuing a relationship with the clients. Secondly, just how many policies you have with Big Mutual.

Independent Life

Whether you recognize Snoopy, the humpback whale splashing out of the water, or remember to “get a piece of the Rock”, agents are independently licensed and are able to work with many companies.

From my research, blanket transfers are less likely to happen, so transferring policies would require a change of writing agent letter/form for each policy. Similar to #2 above.

If you terminate your contract with Independent Life, as the writing agent you are still vested in compensation, but would not have access to policy info or service the policy going forward.

So most of the time, only individual client letters are the option to change the writing agent.

There are many ways to skin a cat, and I’m a dog person, so we’re here to help!

 

Mark-LLIS

About the Author: Mark is the president and CEO of Low Load Insurance Services, or LLIS. Low Load Insurance Services was founded to provide assistance to fee-only advisors with helping their clients with insurance transactions. You can learn more about LLIS here

How to Write Blog Posts for Your Clients they will Actually Like & Read

 

content-that-clients-will-like-and-read

To blog or not to blog…that is the question.

With all the great financial advice articles already online, you might wonder why you should blog. Why spend time away from working with your clients or running down new leads to write your own blog posts?

Does spending time writing blog posts for your clients actually help?

Generic Advice Yields Bland Results

You are a beacon of hope to your ideal client. You provide answers and a path to financial freedom and peace of mind. You became a fee-only financial planner to connect one on one with your clients and provide personalized support.

When you write your own content you can leverage your blog posts to:

  • build trust,
  • provide value,
  • and generate leads.

Ultimately, your blog is the perfect platform to prove you “get” your client, his struggles and his hopes and dreams.

Avoiding the Biggest Financial Planner Blogging Mistake

If you want your blog posts to become a source of lead-generation, follow the golden rule of blogging:

Never lose sight of your audience and always write directly to him.

The biggest mistake you can make is turning your blog into an industry echo chamber.

Technical posts about markets and products are fine if your audience is other financial planners. But if you’re trying to reach potential clients, turn your focus to solving problems and you’ll get more eyes on your post. You can still demonstrate your expertise but spin it so the content stays relevant to solving your client’s problems.

Keep Your Client in Sight

Writing blog posts becomes easier when you keep your client as the center focus. You can even think of each post as something you’d share with them during a planning session.

To keep your focus, make sure to touch on as many of the 5 Client-Centered Elements as possible:

1) What’s bothering your clients?
What problems are your clients facing? What’s keeping him up at night?

Writing blog posts that get to the core of these problems will attract the eyes of people who need you most.

2) Tap into core values
What do your ideal clients value more than anything else––family, security, wealth, saving money, travel, luxury, knowledge?

Tapping into the things your clients value will resonate with your ideal client.

3) Talk about solutions
Ideal clients will connect with real life situations and will seek you out to build their own road to financial security.

4) Focus on end the result
Help potential clients see the benefit of working with you by painting a picture of the end of the road. What’s life going to look and feel like with you on their team?

When prospects start imagining their life with problems solved, making the leap to hire you isn’t a stretch at all, but a natural next step.

5) Provide a next step
Always include a call to action. This could be as simple as following you on social media or as much as scheduling a discovery call.

If you’ve done the above steps correctly, you’ll have an ideal prospect primed and ready to take action.

So, to blog or not to blog? The answer is, Yes! It’s a great way to generate leads. But keep your eye on the client and write to the heart of his problems.

 

natalie

About the Author: Natalie is a content coach and brand strategist for passionate solopreneurs. She works with financial planners and other service based professionals to turn Content into Profits. Grab a copy of Blog Post Outline and experience firsthand how a little strategy makes creating content easy and effective.

The Importance of Having a Story

 

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Despite having launched my firm only in May of this year, the journey into firm ownership started several years ago, with a memorable conversation with Michael Kitces, as he drove the Jersey Turnpike. (“I knew him when!…he was already wildly successful.”)

I had only just entered the profession when I got the opportunity to buy a solo practice from an older advisor. I was part way through a Masters in Financial Planning program and had no experience in the profession other than my weekly 18 hours with this advisor.

The decision to sign the contract was looming, and I was tied up inside. It seemed like a great opportunity for a newbie such as myself. On the other hand, I was so uncomfortable with the prospect. In part because the wanna-be-retired advisor invested in a way I couldn’t understand, couldn’t support, and couldn’t replicate: a process she herself described as “seat of the pants.”

When I conveyed this discomfort to Michael, he said something I’ve remembered ever since: You have to be able to tell a story about your investing.

In this case, the advisor had told her clients an active management, stock-picking story. And they’d believed it. It would therefore be exceedingly hard for me to start telling a passive management, fund-only story.

I didn’t buy the practice.

And 6 years, 1 child, a cross-country trip, and a stay-at-home husband later, I have my own firm, and I’m investing my way. In fact, I’m doing everything my way.

I’ve got some stories to tell.

My Stories

The notion of a story has been powerful for me. Call it whatever you want, but it encapsulates why I do everything I do in my business. And it gives me confidence when talking with, well, just about anyone. Here are a few of my stories. Oh, yes, I’ve got more….

Why do I serve my clients like I do? I serve women in tech. What’s the story there? Women in tech, much like women in finance, are underrepresented at technical and leadership levels and are underpaid. I can offer the best cash flow management, tax-efficient investing, and retirement projections in the world, but if she’s not negotiating a higher salary, getting adequate stock compensation, or the promotion and title she deserves, she’ll be worse off financially.

Therefore, in my practice, I am trying to cultivate a larger network of professionals that my clients might need to succeed professionally (and by extension financially). Career coaches, negotiation experts, patent lawyers, recruiters, engineering managers, leadership coaches…the list does go on. I spend a lot of my time cultivating those relationships, which have nothing to do with the kind of financial planning we’re taught or read about, but will help my clients’ finances just as much as my financial expertise.

Why do I invest the way I do? My story: Academic and empirical studies have already proven the way to maximize our chances of better investment returns: own the market(s) at low cost. Therefore, I believe the value I can provide my clients lies in two things: using an understanding of their entire financial picture to craft an investment portfolio, and, more importantly, encouraging smart investor behavior.

So how, then, do I approach investments? Well, first of all, I don’t do just investments; you have to having a financial planning relationship with me if you want me to manage your money. Secondly, I use simple portfolios of very few funds that I rarely touch. You want Socially Responsible Investing? You want stock picking? I don’t begrudge you that, but you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Why do I charge the way I do? I use a retainer model, as do most (all?) XYPN members. It’s not novel for you, but I often explain to clients that it’s like the world’s only good buffet. At buffets you spend a fixed price and then you overeat. Over-consuming steam-table food is a bad idea. But frequent “consumption” of financial guidance from me is a good idea, and the fixed monthly retainer encourages you to do just that.

When it comes to investing, I charge less for investment management than industry average (I max out at 50 bps), in part because it’s on top of a planning fee, and in part because I don’t actually do that much with your investments and I want to align the fees I charge with the value I provide.

Why did I choose to start my own firm in the first place? I share many of the reasons espoused by XYPN members who founded their own firms (wanted to do things my way, local employment prospects suck, etc.). But my story has another part: I grew up with a tenured-professor father and a federal-government-employee mother. I have not a drop of entrepreneurial blood in me. But now I have two little girls. And I want to show them that a woman can be The Boss, can take the risk, can work her a** off and have all the benefits redound to her, can be not only unafraid of money but in control of it. For me, that unfolding story is life affirming.

Sticking To My Stories

I’ve had prospective clients, or their proxies, ask if I could provide a slightly different service (just annual check-ins), or a lower price point (mine simply is too high for some people; I get that), or a different style of investing (socially responsible investing is a popular choice). I’ve been surprised by how easy it is for me to say “no” to all of these requests.

I’m not a jerk about it; I just explain that I provide financial planning and investment management this way because I’ve thought through it, and I think it’s the most effective way for me to help my clients. I am happy to refer you to another advisor who works differently, but this is how I work, and why.

Having that story in my back pocket makes that explanation easy, and people respect it. Some of them choose to work with me, and some gratefully accept referrals to other planners.

The only people who work with me have been persuaded by my story.

What’s your story?

 

Meg9

About the Author: Meg Bartelt is the President of Flow Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only virtual firm that provides financial guidance and support to working mothers in high tech. Learn more on her website and on her blog

6 Strategies for Career Changers

strategies-for-career-changers

 

If you’ve entered the US workforce in the 21st Century you are likely living a fundamentally different reality than the generation that came before you. It’s a reality that encourages dynamism, rewards differentiation and demands of you a scary amount of risk. It is no wonder that research shows the average millennial college graduate changes employers four times by the time they’re 32.

This is also a big reason why those of us who are “Career Changers” into financial planning are something rather special. Our peers are navigating these same choppy economic seas. They are eying professional risks to get and integrate the skills and perspective necessary for long-term success. As professionals that have lived to tell the tale, we can support and guide them from the groundedness of our own career transition.

Personally, I had never heard of a “financial planner” until well into my 30s (OK, so last year). I was not aware of anyone around me who had one and didn’t know that comprehensive financial planning was a job. Instead, I’d spent a third of my adult life abroad and all of my professional life working in NGOs (non-profit organizations), philanthropy and international higher education. My circles never really overlapped with the “finance people.” I had never heard of a BD, an RIA, or a CFP, let alone a PITA.

What I did have, however, was a clear understanding of how global macroeconomics underpinned my story, community, curiosities, passions and life’s work.

Different things can spur a major shift of professional course and my radical move was no exception. I was pregnant with my second child, a full-time working mother, with a spouse who was also working while pursuing a degree. I spent my “free time” musing about what to do for the next chapter of my career because the circumstances of my life in the previous decade would be clearly very different than those in the decades ahead of me.

As I ruminated about possible avenues to take next, eventually I honed in on what I’ve come to know about myself: I have a thirst for the big picture, I’m a practical idealist. Life has shown me both sides of the financial pendulum. And most importantly, I get infinite energy from helping others get their lives more aligned with their values and dreams.

In a flash, I thought: “Could I work directly with people, like my friends and colleagues, and their money? Was that… a thing?” And, so within a month I did my research and turns out, (spoiler alert), it is a thing. Within three months, and by the time my son was born, I had countless informational interviews with other CFPs (thank you guys!), and had finished the first two CFP courses in an online certification course.

If you are in the early stages of making the transition into becoming a fee-only, fiduciary, financial planner for the next generation of Americans, you may be looking for some guidance to help you light your own way. So far from my own journey, here are a few things to share:

Understand What You’re About to Step Into

Start out by doing your homework, because as my dad always says, “What’s the point of running if you’re on the wrong road?” It’s not only helpful to orient yourself, but also to be able to explain to future clients, where you sit within the Financial Services industry. I knew vaguely that “fee-only” was a good thing when looking for a financial advisor. I didn’t know that there were actually more structures of accountability and professionalism for some in this field, while others are operating more like the Wild West.

Does the American public understand that? No. Cultivate your voice to make that clearer. When I was wavering about my ability to fit into this field, the CFP Board’s white paper Making Room for Women in the Financial Planning Profession made me feel more welcome, as did the Board’s nascent efforts to help bring in more people of color and women into the profession. There is a very long way to go, and I want to be a part of helping to make that happen.

Another place to be a fly on the wall of the conversations shaping this field is in the XYPN Radio podcast. Really, it should be called “Inside the Financial Planners’ Studio” because it is truly a master class, with about 70 hours of insights to-date. So, how do you learn? Talk to people, follow conversations on social media, listen to podcasts, read. Figure out how you learn best, get a sense of your place in this field, and run with it.

Get the Technical Chops

“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” said Picasso about my approach to stepping into financial planning… So first of all, decide if you want to get the CFP Designation or not. The bigger your career change, the more it’s useful as an indispensable starting point. That was a primary reason for my decision. A bigger understanding of how the CFP holds you to a higher standard also impacted my choice. And while you are studying for your CFP, you will notice the parts of the work that draw or repel you.

Frankly, the CFP curriculum has some major gaping holes in it when it comes to working with people under the age of 50. Student Loan Debt Repayment, anyone? Think about what you know from your own experience. What do you want to know more about? How can you build your knowledge on those topics to form a valued expertise? Drawing on my career in NGOs and higher education, I found that I have an interest in learning more deeply about education funding strategies and socially responsible investing, for example.

Again, the XYPN Podcast is a great source for helping to spark ideas here. Alongside the CFP coursework and exam, you will get a leg up if you can learn relevant technology. Many financial planning software programs offer free 30-day trials. Always be learning.

Ground Yourself in Your Particular Reality

What is your end goal? Can you take the leap into financial planning immediately, or do you need to move more slowly? If you need to move slowly, can you find ways to stagger how you enter the field? If you don’t have one already, how might you build up a large reserve of cash to have the option of launching your own firm one day?

Get your own financial house in order to make that a future possibility, whether you take it or not. Can you be out loud about your career transition within your current profession, or do you need to keep it under wraps for a while? What are your reasonable options for getting experience? Can you manage potentially uneven cash flow by working virtually for other planners? Do you need to limit yourself to working for more established firms that pay a steady salary?

Make a multi-phased plan to help guide, propel and track your progress. As we know, the plan will always change, and that is OK.

Embrace ‘Beginners’ Mind’

Be brave enough to ask the basic questions. Just remember, you are trying to illuminate connections and see opportunities that may have been overlooked by others who have been in the field longer. This beginner’s mind approach will also help you be a trailblazer as you bridge your past and future careers. Don’t underestimate that the newer you are to the industry, the closer you are to the mind of someone outside of financial planning.

While this has its challenges, it is a benefit in the sense that it will help you contribute to the profession by connecting unlikely dots. Jot your ideas and musings down in an app on your phone or in a notebook during this stage. When you are busy later you will be glad you did. Your newness to topics will likely help you explain them in plain English to future clients.

Value Your Uniqueness and Cultivate Creativity

Being different is your friend. Take stock of what you’ve done before and who you are, and mine it for gold. In your previous work, what did you do day-to-day? What did you love about your work, as opposed to what were you good at but didn’t really enjoy? What have you always been curious about? Whatever it is, start building your expertise now. Cross-pollination is the mother of creativity and of your niche: be brave enough not to blend into the crowd.

Find and Shape Your Tribe

Put yourself out there and speak with other planners who are doing what you want to be doing. AND when you do, be respectful of their generosity of time and hard-earned wisdom. It speaks to the caliber of this community that I have had so many open conversations with other young planners. Typically, I sought them out because I found commonalities in our stories or our passions.

For example, one who cares about helping support more women to enter the field, one who is also passionate about closing the racial wealth gap, and another who has rooted his practice in new parenthood.

The XYPN Podcast Facebook VIP Community is another terrific place to connect to a dynamic conversation. Join your local chapters of NAPFA and try to join or create a study group. Follow the social media conversations of young planners. If you can do it in person, even better.

This fall I had the privilege of being a part of the XYPN16 conference and reveled in the chance to meet so many people that I connected with online, in person. Which reminds me, be sure that when it is your turn, you take up the baton to help mentor those who will come after you.

 

kba

About the Author: Kate Barron-Alicante has a dozen years’ professional experience in the NGO and education sectors, and is currently finishing up the CFP capstone as a career changer. Kate looks forward to 2017 when financial planning becomes her full-time professional endeavor and craft. Learn more about and connect with her here.

The RIA Business Model You Need to Serve Next Generation Clients

serve-next-generation-clients

It’s time to address something all financial advisors know to be true, but most don’t usually admit. The financial planning industry is slow to change and slow to adopt new practices, new technology, and new marketing techniques.

It doesn’t matter if you look at investment management, insurance sales, or true financial planning. In any view, it’s easy to see that we’re stuck in old ways of doing things simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. One only has to look to other industries to see just how far behind we are.

There are many reasons why we’re stuck. We haven’t needed to change, since our businesses are profitable. We haven’t seen the technological innovations that many other industries have experienced, because advisors typically don’t purchase new tech. Neither businesses nor individuals invest much in technology designed for running financial planning practices.

Not to mention, ours is a highly regulated industry. That regulation and strict requirements to stick to existing standards tends to slow technology innovation from the get go. It certainly slows individual advisors and firm owners from taking risks by adopting that new technology, too — especially if there are any regulatory gray areas that the industry hasn’t yet resolved.

Additionally, we have an aging generation of advisors. While this older group of of advisors created what financial planning is today, they’re still operating the same way they ran businesses and served clients a decade or so ago. And little wonder: technically, it’s been working.These advisors and their firms have been making money, so why push change? Why push for progress when the same old thing seems to keep bringing money in the door?

These advisors and their firms have been making money, so why push change? Why push for progress when the same old thing seems to keep bringing money in the door?

But we’re starting to see many things happening at once in the financial planning industry. The landscape is changing, whether individual advisors and their practices are okay with it or not. The profession as a whole is evolving from where the industry began.

Next Generation Clients Want Advice, Not Products, from Advisors

When financial planning began as a profession as discussed earlier, advisors were product salespeople. We were insurance agents or stock brokers. And we did some financial planning because it was a good way to demonstrate the need for the products that we had to sell, but sales remained our focus.

Young people today increasingly are looking for financial advisors. They take the title literally and actually expect advice. They’re looking for help planning their financial lives.

Products are something that they can buy online themselves, but advice is something Gen X and Gen Y clients seek out from a human being they can have a conversation with; a website can give us information, but it can’t tell us how to apply it to our lives.

Next-generation clients are often savvier in general because of their comfort level with technology and their native knowledge on how to find the information they want. We’re starting to see clients come to us who know how advisors charge and how much money financial planners make.

They know the difference between commission and fee-only. They’re more educated and can ask more probing questions about fiduciary standards and whether or not you’ll work for them under that standard. Of course, not all clients are this well educated.

But the information is out there and available, and distinctions in the industry are no longer reserved as insider information as they once might have been.

Gen X and Gen Y clients are also looking for a specific kind of advisor. They know they’re looking for financial planning and comprehensive financial advice, not just insurance sales. Younger clients are looking for advisors who speak their language and understand their life stage. They want specialists to serve their specific interests, needs, and goals.

The Power of Niche Marketing Your Services

Let’s consider the craft beer industry as an analogy to better understand these ideas.

Consider how big, corporate players used to dominate. There was no room on the shelves for small-time operations between products from Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. But in recent years, there’s been a huge demand — especially among Gen X and Gen Y demographics — for what’s known as craft beer.

Younger generations tend to prefer locally made, locally sourced, specialty beers, and shun products from bigger, national companies that are generic, plain, and mass produced. Today’s consumers want unique and different offerings from the beer industry, and they’re interested in very specific kinds of tastes and flavors.

This move away from big, broad, and general products with a corporate feel and toward smaller, niched-down, and personal is happening in financial planning as well. It’s driven by the desires of the same consumer segment who want to feel like the companies they work with and give their money to actually care about their experiences and needs.

They don’t want faceless corporations or to feel distant from their service providers.

Consider, from a sales perspective, what happens if we create a specialty beer (or a specialty service) that has a really unique profile that only appeals to a really small subset of people — but the people that it does appeal to are raving fans because it’s perfect for them.

This is what’s possible right now. You can develop a niche and reach a specific group of people that don’t need to be sold on your offering, because they’re naturally attracted to it and they know it’s what they want.

The RIA Business Model That Allows You to (Profitably) Serve Gen X & Y

Creating a service model to serve Gen X and Gen Y clients requires rethinking and completely restructuring the way your firm generates revenue.

Instead of looking at existing business structures and trying to make it fit for the next generation, go back and ask this question: “If we were building this from the ground up, how would we design a fee structure to work with Gen X and Gen Y clients?”

Assets under management or AUM is simply not an option if you want to serve this demographic profitably. We can do the math to see that, ultimately, you can’t generate revenue on an AUM basis if you’re working with clients that don’t have assets. Most next-generation clients don’t have assets — and if they do, those assets are usually tied up in 401(k)s or equity in their homes.

Ready to learn more about the monthly retainer model and how to implement it in your firm? Click here to download a sample chapter of Alan Moore and Michael Kitces’ guide to using this RIA business model to profitably serve next generation clients!

Even if someone in their 20s, 30s, or 40s has a net worth that makes them look like a viable client, they may not have enough liquid assets in an investable account for you as the advisor to manage and deduct 1% of fees to run a profitable business.

And you should get paid to serve these clients. No one is asking advisors to work pro-bono. We don’t run charities. It’s not sustainable to try and build a business around serving “poor” clients today in the hopes they’ll be “rich” someday in the future.

It is perfectly fine to charge for the services that you’re rendering and get paid to do that work. But that means you must find a model that balances both sides of the equation: you can serve Gen X and Gen Y in a way that is affordable to them, and in a way that’s profitable for you.

Why the Monthly Retainer Model Works for Next Generation Clients

Charging assets under management worked for clients with assets to manage. It made sense and worked well for all parties. But this model fails with next generation clients who have the income to pay for advice, but not the assets on which the advisor can charge a commission on.

When advisors say, “I can’t work with younger clients because they don’t have any assets to manage and therefore they aren’t profitable to my firm,” what they’re actually expressing is that the existing service model and fee structure designed for different types of clients with assets does not work for clients without assets.

And we agree! We can all do the math to understand that as a business owner, you can’t profitably run your firm by serving clients that have an average of $50,000 in an IRA when you charge 1% AUM.

But this isn’t a client problem. It’s a business model problem. If we could be free from the expectations and the history — and the “way things have always been done” mindset — we could then openly ask questions like:

How can we build a fee structure to serve younger clients? How does that fee structure function so clients can afford the services and advisors can make a profit?

We asked these questions and landed on the monthly retainer model as the answer. No, this isn’t the way it’s always been done. No, business has not normally been done this way. But the monthly retainer model works both for next generation clients and for the advisors who want to serve them while still running a business that can generate revenue.

You can get the full guide to implementing a monthly retainer model into your RIA to profitably serve the next generation of clients. The Monthly Retainer Model in Financial Planning is now available on Amazon!

Do You Have a Financial Planning Philosophy?

 

Financial Planning Process

A woman I’d worked with in my past life recently reached out to me. She wanted to talk about how I might help her with her financial challenges. And out of the gate, she wanted to know what my financial planning philosophy was.

Hunh.

I know what my investment philosophy is. Don’t you? Mine is on my website. I’m sure your philosophy is on yours.

I know what my financial planning process is. Don’t you? Mine is captured in my CRM, and I talk clients through it at the beginning of any relationship.

But my financial planning philosophy has remained unconscious and undefined. Until now.

It turns out that explicitly thinking about and stating my financial planning philosophy helps both my firm and my clients, just as being clear about my investment philosophy, my niche, my services, and my fees do.

My Financial Planning Philosophy

I don’t imagine my philosophy is going to startle anyone in the XY Planning Network. But let’s write it down anyways, shall we?

1. There is no “secret sauce.” The value is really in the personalization of the advice and the attention you give to the client.

Sure, fancy technology, a fancy process, fancy boxes of chocolates as client-appreciation gifts…these might strike you as “special sauce,” but all these things can be replicated, and usually easily.

What can’t be replicated is how you tailor your financial planning knowledge, your experience, and your communication to your client’s specific needs.

2. It’s a process, not a deliverable. You start by getting a comprehensive understanding of the client’s life and then can adjust individual parts from there. And you keep on adjusting because those parts keep changing.

This isn’t revelatory. Everyone in the XY Planning Network network, at least, is sold on this idea.

3. Simplicity is worth paying for. And I don’t just mean “Pay a financial planner to manage your finances. See, simple!” (Although, hey, not a bad idea.)

The simpler your client’s finances, the more likely they are to understand them. The more likely they are to make the necessary changes and make better decisions. The mental hurdle to change is smaller the simpler your client’s financial life.

4. Optimize the whole, not the parts. Like a set of gears, or project management (which my clients in the tech industry can easily relate to), a client’s financial life is a collection of different but interlocking pieces.

You can’t touch one without affecting the others. Optimizing one doesn’t necessarily optimize the whole (paying the fewest taxes often results in an inappropriate portfolio, for example), and the goal is an optimized whole.

5. Impartiality is important. As trained professionals, we planners can more easily provide an impartial perspective than a client’s spouse or friend can, and certainly more easily than a client can provide to herself.

But we’re not immune to bias. We all have our idiosyncrasies, our “money scripts,” as it were.

I myself am fairly risk averse (I mean aside from having my husband quit his job to look after the kids and me launching my own firm that won’t support us for a couple years. Whee!)

I’d rather focus on lowering expenses than earning more. I have to be careful to not impose those values on my clients.

6. Accountability and discipline is essential. I’m sure there exist people out there, somewhere, in a place I haven’t visited, who have enough drive and self-discipline to keep making the hard financial decisions throughout the year, every year, without outside help.

More likely they might find that support in a spouse, a mom, or a friend. Most likely of all, frankly, is that they could find it in a financial professional.

Why Bother with a Financial Planning Philosophy?

I’m all wordy and stuff, so it makes sense to me to have an explicit financial planning philosophy. But why do I think it’s good for all financial planners?

For Your and Your RIA’s Sake

I have bought the “niche” argument hook, line, and sinker since before even starting my firm. It has been a godsend.

It has enabled me to make decisions about, well, darn near everything in my business with speed, efficiency, and confidence(-ish): where to market, how to market, what to write about in my blog, which industry publications to read, which software tools to use, how to shape my client process, how to communicate with my clients.

I focus on working mothers in high-tech. You can probably see how that would naturally feed into those categories: I use social media mostly on Facebook (that’s where da moms are), I read publications like FastCompany and TechCrunch, I write about college planning and stock options, I allow for clients on every other Saturday and late into the evening 3 days a week, and I need to be willing to use almost every videoconferencing tool under the sun.

Likewise, when I started thinking about my financial planning philosophy, I realized it had already been shaping how I’ve built my business, my client process, and the advice I give to clients.

Some examples:

I gladly “give away” my expertise on financial planning whenever the opportunity arises, and I try to do so every week on my blog — because there is no secret sauce.

I don’t fear it hurting my business at all. It is the rare someone who has the time, interest, and discipline to do it themselves; and if they, more power to them! Happily, I see this dynamic all over the fee-only profession.

I also start my engagement with clients by doing a comprehensive financial plan because I believe in the process, not a single deliverable.

But I pick only the two most urgent recommendations and encourage the clients to do them now. I schedule the remaining recommendations throughout the year.

My client service calendar shows clients that we’ll touch on every part of their financial life throughout the year, every year.

Need help designing important components of your RIA? Save your seat on our next Intro Webinar and learn how XYPN’s community can help.

And because I believe simplicity is worth paying for, I usually recommend that clients roll over an old 401(k) to an IRA even if the 401(k) is awesome, and I usually recommend they keep their cash in their stupid, practically-no-interest bank account instead of shuttling it all around the internet of banks to eek out an extra 1% interest or so.

I think we all are better served to pay an extra $20 in fees annually in an IRA or forego that $50 extra annual interest in order to have fewer accounts to remember, manage login credentials for, get tax returns from, and link to Mint.com.

For Your Clients’ and Prospects’ Sake

Clearly, the more intentional our practice of financial planning, the more our clients benefit. The better we convey why we do what we do, the more likely a client is to pick the planner who’s right for them.

It’s the same dynamic as with clearly stating your niche and your investment philosophy.

If I clearly state that I work with working mothers in tech, the college professor and her stay-at-home husband probably won’t want to work with me. If I clearly state that I passively investment in low-cost broadly diversified funds and rebalance to a static asset allocation every year, then people trying to beat the market won’t want to work with me.

And in either case, they shouldn’t.

I don’t expect many prospects to look at my financial planning philosophy and think, “Pish! She thinks accountability is essential! That’s ridiculous!”

But I wouldn’t be surprised if someone thought, “But I want to get some top secret service that my friends can’t possibly understand and therefore I am fancy!”

If someone leans in that direction, I don’t expect them to become my client. And that’s better for both of us.

Do you and your firm have a financial planning philosophy? Have you written it down? How has it helped (or might it help) you define your service and your value a bit more effectively and efficiently to your clients and prospects?

 

Meg9

About the Author: Meg Bartelt is the President of Flow Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only virtual firm that provides financial guidance and support to working mothers in high tech. Learn more on her website and on her blog

Your Complete Guide to XYPN16

XYPN16

There’s no shortage of things to look forward to at this year’s XY Planning Network National Conference, #XYPN16. And with so much going on, it’s easy to feel like you might be missing something.

That’s why we compiled this guide to walk you through all things conference content, parties, receptions, events, contests, and more!

Get the Basics

Here are some of our frequently asked questions and the improtant information you need to feel confident before arriving at #XYPN16.

Where is everything happening? We’ll be at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina. Most conference events will take place on site, whether inside or on the grounds. San Diego means lots of opportunity to use the outdoor space we have!

Do I need to arrange a shuttle from the airport to the hotel? You don’t need a shuttle, taxi, or Uber if you fly in. You can walk from the airport!

What should I wear? Whatever you want. This isn’t your typical, stuffy conference — and in fact, you may be more out of place if you wear a suit than you would be if you wore shorts and flip flops. Come as you are and dress the way that makes you comfortable and confident.

How should I meet up with people? If you’re part of one of our communities, either as an XYPN member or an XYPNRadio VIP, drop a line in the forums or the Facebook group. That’s a great way to coordinate meetups. But it’s not necessary — we have a lot of opportunities lined up to mix and mingle, network, and hang out with fellow attendees. (See below for what’s going on!)

What should I expect, in general? What’s the vibe like? Think more informal than formal, more casual than strictly professional. Everyone is friendly, approachable, and open — and most importantly, we’re here to help each other. Don’t hesitate to walk up to folks, start conversations, ask questions, and make new friends.

What if I need help at the conference? The entire XYPN Team will be on site and available to help you should you need anything. We’ll also be highly active on Twitter, so this is a great way to reach us if you can’t track a human in an XYPN tee down. Tweet @XYPlanning and use the hashtag #XYPN16.

Get all the info and tips you need to succeed straight to your inbox. Click here to sign up for our Advisor Newsletter.

Know Which Sessions Are Right for You

#XYPN16 will feature 4 main content tracks. We’ve divided sessions and speakers into these categories so you can easily determine which presentations you’ll get the most value out of.

Hear from experts in each of the following tracks:

  • Practice Management: featuring panel discussions from industry leaders and top financial advisors
  • Continuing Education: get CE credit and the information you need to perform better as an advisor and RIA owner
  • Sales & Marketing: hear from the pros on how to gain visibility and generate more leads so your firm can scale and grow
  • Start My Firm: this is the content track for you if you’re looking to launch or are in the process of starting your own RIA

In addition to our content tracks, the conference features 5 keynote presentations:

  • Presentations from Alan Moore and Michael Kitces, co-founders of XY Planning Network
  • Keynote session from Heather Jarvis, student loan expert of AskHeatherJarvis.com
  • Keynote session from Pat Flynn, online entrepreneur, blogger, and podcaster from Smart Passive Income
  • Keynote presentation from Clark Howard on the importance of fee-only financial planning for consumers

To see all the sessions and speakers, head to the XYPN16 Agenda.

Check Out Breakouts, Roundtables, and More

Our expo hall will be rockin’ on Monday. Meet up with vendors and conference sponsors, grab some swag, and catch the tech demos that will happen throughout the day.

And our excellent vendors aren’t the only things to see and do in the expo hall on Monday. You can also enjoy a number of roundtable workshops, including:

  • Influencing, Not Selling, Millennials
  • Socially Responsible Investing
  • Writing Business and Operation Task Lists
  • Transitioning from the BD World to the Fee-Only World
  • Using Betterment in Your Practice
  • Divorce Planning
  • XYPN Radio VIP Roundtable Meetup
  • and more!

Plus, we’ll have a special area set up in the expo hall where you can meet up with other attendees and members of Team XYPN. Look for the XYPN Chill Zone (and note that this is where you can also get super early bird tickets on next’s year’s event — and sponsors can grab their space at a discount, too!)

Feel free to network with your fellow finanical advisors and conference attendees in the Chill Zone or just hang out and, you know, chill.

Don’t forget to make plans each morning to attend one of our group workout sessions, too! We’ll have members and attendees leading a Zumba class one morning and yoga the next.

Many of our attendees will also be bringing their families and small children with them. We’ll have a designated room set up for parents and children to go as needed for nursing and other needs throughout the day. (Please note the conference does not provide any adult supervision; parents should accompany children throughout the venue.)

Check out the full schedule to get the lineup of tech demos, roundtable workshops, and more.

Don’t Miss the Inaugural FinTech Competition

We’re hosting our inaugural FinTech Competition to find and showcase new players in the industry who are creating tech solutions to help financial advisors provide better financial planning to Gen X and Gen Y clients.

The competition will showcase 6 companies that offer software solutions and tech tools to financial advisors serving Gen X and Gen Y, in an effort to get them in a marketplace where they’re desperately needed.

Finalists were chosen for a combination of what we thought was relevant and useful tech for the advisor, and how differentiated the product was from existing solutions.

Get ready to see these finalists compete for the grand prize at #XYPN16:

These companies will be judged by Michael Kitces, Tom Kimberly of Betterment Institutional, and Ben Welch of TD Ameritrade Institutional. Bill Winterberg of FPPad will host the competition.

Party On with Your Favorite Financial Pros

We’re excited to host a number of parties, get-togethers, receptions and networking opportunities for our conference attendees this year. Here’s where we’ll be hanging out each day:

  • September 18, Sunday Night: Join us for our opening reception at 7pm on the Garden Terrace
  • September 18, Sunday Night: Keep the party going from 9pm to midnight in the Sunrise and Sunset Suites
  • September 19, Monday: Enjoy a food truck lunch, San Diego style, from 11:30am to 1pm
  • September 19, Monday Night: Participate in our pizza party in Habor Island Park starting at 6pm
  • September 19, Monday Night: Sunrise and Sunset Suites will be open again from 9pm to midnight
  • September 20, Tuesday Night: Don’t miss our closing party at Parq starting at 8pm. This will be a private event just for XYPN attendees. Join us in the Sunrise and Sunset Suites again until midnight, too
  • September 21, Wednesday Afternoon: Help us close out the conference and gear up for FinCon at the PB Ale House #XYPN16 Afterparty!

Play and Win at #XYPN16!

If all the events, parties, networking opportunities, and conference content isn’t exciting enough, maybe a chance to win a prize or two will help you perk up.

On Monday, you can be entered to win 1 of 3 iPads we’re giving away! All you need to do to earn your entry is visit each expo hall booth. Winners will be announced Monday afternoon.

You can also engage with us and join the fun on social media. Here’s a list of the contests we’ll run and how you can get involved:

#XYPN16 Superlatives: On Sunday before the conference starts, we’ll be checking Twitter to see who we can crown “Most Pumped Up for #XYPN16”! Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card

Share your takeaway from Heather Jarvis’ pre-conference workshop on Twitter with the hashtag #XYPN16. Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card

On Monday, tweet us your favorite photo with an exhibitor. We’ll choose the best (think: funniest, most creative) and our photo prize winner will score a new FitBit!

We also want to know what conference content you’re most excited about. On Monday, share the session you’re most excited to see and why. Use the hashtag #XYPN16. The winner will receive a free pass to XYPN17!

And finally, our big social media contest and grand prize… We’ll have a scavenger hunt on Monday. The first person to tweet us all of the following with the hashtag #XYPN16 will win a new GOPRO camera! Here’s what you need to find and send in:

  1. Photo with your favorite vendor in the expo hall
  2. Photo of you hangin’ in the XYPN Chill Zone
  3. Photo from a roundtable session
  4. Photo of someone in an XYPN tee (can be anyone, including yourself!)
  5. Photo of your favorite expo hall swag and who it’s from

The only rules for the above contests: you need to tweet all your entries to @XYPlanning and include the hashtag #XYPN16. That’s all you need to do to win!

Need Help or Have Questions? Here’s Where to Go

If you’re still looking for more information on #XYPN16, make sure to visit the main conference website at http://xypn16.xyplanningnetwork.com.

Have specific questions? Make sure you visit our FAQ page to see if we’ve already answered them for you.

From there, you can check out the following resources and pages:

And of course, be sure to view who will be sponsoring #XYPN16. Our sponsors make the conference possible, and we wouldn’t be able to provide you with all of the above without them. Swing by their websites, social media, and of course their expo hall booths to say hello and check out what they have to offer attendees.

We can’t wait to see you in San Diego!

3 Ways to Drive Your Clients to Take Action

Client to Take Action

A couple came to you to get some financial advice. They are in their early thirties; both make good income and are expecting their first child. They’re not sure if they’re saving enough and how they should save.

Based on basic demographics, they are your perfect clients.

Now imagine two scenarios:

In the first one, you recommended comprehensive financial planning. You discussed their goals through in-person interview and collected all the financial documents.

You fed all the information through a sophisticated planning software and came up with a great plan that will meet their goals, telling them exactly what they should do.

The clients happily paid the sizable planning fee, studied the plan from front to back, asked many relevant questions, and told all their friends about your excellent service.

They behaved like every great client did, except for one thing – after one year they did exactly nothing on the carefully prepared action list.

In the second scenario, the same clients walked in. You did none of what a good planner should do – listening, analyzing, and educating.

You offered the clients only one thing – they can sign the paperwork right now to automatically transfer 30% of their paycheck every pay period and invest it in a low-cost target date fund that matches the timeframe when they need the money.

And they did, without a well-crafted plan telling them how much and what type of account they should use.

In which scenario do you think the clients benefit more from your advice after a year?

Neither is ideal, but I’d argue the second scenario is preferable. All the intellectually challenging planning exercises mean nothing for our clients if they don’t implement anything. It’s imperative that we as planners help our clients carry out our recommendations. After all, it’s one of the six steps in the financial planning process.

How Can You Inspire Clients to Take Action?

For Gen X and Gen Y clients, comprehensive planning is not just investment planning done in a comprehensive way. Comprehensive planning is everything related to their personal finance.

Implementing the recommendations for most areas of personal finance require the clients to take the initiative. You can’t call their mortgage provider, bank, student loan servicer, or employer HR directly to facilitate those changes you suggested. Your clients have to at least make the first step to involve you in the conversation if allowed.

But their life, fear, or procrastination often gets in the way.

Having served young clients for the last three years under a monthly retainer model, I now focus my a significant part of my financial planning process on helping them take action, evaluating their progress, and evolving my recommendations based on what they actually implemented.

It may not be the most intellectually stimulating aspect of financial planning, but it’s the most rewarding because I get to see behavioral change. No matter the fifth step of financial planning process is part of your job description or not, we should all agree that our clients are better off if they just implement our recommendation already!

So next I’m going to share with you some of the strategies I use to drive clients to take action.

Evaluating Client Types

But before I go into how I help clients take action, I’d like to introduce three different client types based on two dimensions – client’s financial acumen and motivation level.

Depending on what the particular clients are like, certain strategy might benefit them the most. Below are the categories:

3 Ways to Drive Clients to Take Action

#1: High Motivation, High Acumen

These may be the most desirable clients, because they usually take you the least amount of time to maintain the relationship. Once you tell them what to do and explain your rationale, they need very little help or push to go and implement your suggestions.

They know how to shop for mortgage, open an account online, and find the right person to resolve their issues. You can tell them to open an IRA and rollover an old 401(k), and it will be done by the next time you talk to them without hiccup.

Most of the time these clients came to you because they need confirmation and a trusted information source. They generally know the prudent thing to do – save more, spend less, invest in index fund – but they may not have time or the energy to research all the info and make decisions.

You as a trusted advisor help them cut through the noise and go directly to implementation.

#2: Low Acumen, High Motivation

These are clients require more handholding. They are usually excited to finally work with an advisor, but have a fear about dealing with anything related with money.

They worry more about doing something wrong. If you suggest to them opening a high-yield online savings account, and give them a list of reputable options, they will ask for a particular bank, what your experience with the bank is like, step-by-step instruction on how to open and link the account, and maybe 10 other questions.

This type of client is never comfortable doing these things on their own, and that’s one of the reasons they hired you – to help them become more comfortable.

They also trust you more on the outset because they don’t feel they know enough to judge your recommendation. But they have a lot of room to grow and become educated in financial matters, if you give it time.

#3: High Acumen, Low Motivation

We all have this type of client. They seem like perfect clients on paper, but they’re not motivated to actually implement anything. Sometimes it makes you wonder why they came to you in the first place.

Well, they came to you because they need you to keep them on track! They know how to make all the basic financial decisions. They may even be finance professionals who know about investment theories.

They just don’t actually make changes even after they’ve sought advice.

The true reason behind this reluctance to actually do something may differ by person. For some it may be personality, and for others there may be some emotional, family or relationship issues at play.

In my opinion, this type of client can benefit the most from working with an advisor, if we design a process to discover what impedes them and help them take action.

#4: Low Acumen, Low Motivation

I’m skipping this category since it’s less likely people in this category would seek out advice in the first place. If you have this type of client, I’d be interested to hear from you!

Useful Strategies for Motivating Your Clients

So what can you do in your comprehensive planning process to help these different types of clients? Here are some of the things I do:

#1: Collaborative Task Management System – Good for High Acumen, Low Motivation Clients

Once I present the initial planning strategy and the action steps for the next 12 months, I enter all our collective action steps in the task management system in RightCapital, which is also the planning platform that I use.

I will put deadlines for every task, and space them out properly so they don’t overwhelm clients all at once. The system automatically sends out a notification email to client two weeks before the task is due, and follows up again in one week and the day before.

Clients have no excuse for saying they don’t remember to do things.

I noticed this helps particularly with those with low motivation. Multiple notifications give them a sense of urgency to get on a task. And the best part about it is I don’t need to actively chase them down!

System-generated emails also create a distance between clients and I so they don’t feel like I am nagging. Once clients accomplished the task, they check it off to let me know it’s taken care of, and I got a notification.

If several due dates have passed and I’ve heard nothing, I can either follow up directly or move the due dates back further so they keep getting subtle push to take action.

You may also want to check out task management apps like any.do, which is designed for people to collaborate and keep all parties updated when due dates are near. That’s exactly the spirit – ongoing financial advice is a collaborative effort, so you need to have a system to keep everyone in the loop.

To be more inventive, you may even look into using a system that allows automatic texts or push notification on smartphones so important tasks get their attention.

#2: Detailed Instruction Templates – Good for Low Acumen, High Motivation Clients

When “high motivation, low acumen” clients get a task notification, usually I will get an email saying, “I’m not really sure how to proceed. Can you help me?”

After answering a few of these emails, I began to accumulate templates that I can use in similar situations, because inevitably, many of my clients in this category have similar questions.

For example, where do I go to change TSP allocation, how do I figure out the best W-4 withholding, and how do I report it to my HR?

Due to the fact that I work with many federal employees (and I’m married to one), I know exactly how to walk them through the process so they don’t succumb to frustration and give up.

You will find that having a niche market is very helpful in this regard. Soon you will have a sizable FAQ library you can pull from the help this type of clients actually take action instead of standing on the sideline.

They are great clients once they score small victories of actually knowing how to do things, such as navigating their HR system. Once they are comfortable with that, they are more likely to want to take further steps, such as going through the medical underwriting process to get life insurance, or opening an investment account online and place a trade.

#3: Share Long-Form Content and Stay Transparent with Processes – Good for High Acumen, High Motivation Clients

Sometimes I also get emails from clients with questions like, “I don’t remember why this is a good idea. Can you explain it to me again?”

In other words, what they really want is to learn how to make good financial decisions on their own.

It can be time-consuming to try and reinvent the wheel every time to explain more advanced concepts, such as why you think buying index fund is better than an actively managed fund.

If you’re already blogging, having some kind of long form content you can point people to can be highly efficient. If you are not producing any content on your own, keeping a library of reputable third-party resources is also a good idea.

You can quickly answer their “why” and get them to take action faster.

With High Acumen clients, I also tend to walk them through my decision-making process in more detail, or even give them a couple of options to choose from so they can practice exercising their own judgment.

Again, it’s a collaborative process. Some of our advice is not that clear cut.

For example, the clients may be earning income above Roth IRA limit. They can contribute to Traditional IRA and do a Roth conversion every year, but it takes them time to keep track, find out how to do it with their custodian, communicate it with their tax professional, or even figure out how to report it on their own.

Or they can just save in a taxable account, pay a little bit more taxes to skip the headache, given they have a goal requiring them to take the money out in 5-10 years anyway.

Both are valid options, and it’s our job to walk them through the decision process.

Having this type of discussion can help clients grasp your rationale and come to a decision on their own so they can become more effective and confident in dealing with their finances. Don’t worry about them leaving you because they are now better at managing their household finances.

In reality, the opposite happens: clients stay because you are such an effective filter and educator that helps them form their own opinion without wasting time and energy.

The Real Value of a Financial Planner

Financial planning is an ongoing process. We all know this. Without collaborative strategies to help clients implement and monitor their progress, we will not be able to truly make it an ongoing relationship.

I firmly believe that my value as a financial planner comes from not just making complicated financial matter simple, but also helping clients take action and make better decisions.

I encourage you to review your process to see how much effort you actually put toward changing client behavior, inspiring clients to take action, and how much your clients have actually changed.

You may worry that you don’t have enough time to do this extra work to make it profitable. Why not train a part-time staff or outsource it?

Helping clients implement may not be your main skillset, but you can add value by hiring someone else to follow up and guide your clients in the right direction. For larger firms, you may even be able to have a full-time Client Monitoring Specialist to help clients implement your recommendation beyond taking their asset under management.

Of course, you may simply focus your practice on the High Acumen, High Motivation clients. Nevertheless, I do derive much more satisfaction on seeing the clients from the other two categories grow.

The idea is that the longer they work with you, the more they mature and become High Acumen, High Motivation clients. It’s not a model for everyone, but it’s so worth it to see progress!

Although I assigned one strategy to each type of client, in practice I use all three strategies on all clients because they are baked into my financial planning process. High Acumen clients can have questions about how to place a trade, while Low Acumen ones also care why you make certain recommendations.

And don’t forget: gentle nudges from the task management system can be effective on all types of clients.

I still remember the excitement when I first got the notification that clients are checking off their tasks, and I still experience it every day. I’ve got great feedbacks from clients saying these strategies have made them more on track, more comfortable, and better at decision making. I hope you will try them out too!

 

About the Author: Hui-chin Chen is a Certified Financial Planner™ and a globetrotter. She specializes in helping fellow globally mobile professionals manage their resources effectively so they can live their lives to the fullest. She blogs about global living and financial planning at Money Matters for Globetrotters. Hui-chin is also the Co-Owner of Pavlov Financial Planning based in Arlington, Virginia. As the name of the firm suggests, she focuses her practice on generating true behavioral change.

How to Run an RIA and Work as a Virtual Advisor

Run an RIA Virtual Advisor

The following is an excerpt from XY Planning Network’s ebook, The Virtual Advisor. Want your own copy? Download it for free here!

Ask yourself this question: what does your ideal life look like? There’s no wrong answer. It’s about what’s important to you. Your answer should reflect what you value.

But no matter what your answer is, it’s likely that you need a good deal of flexibility and freedom to live that life of your dreams. And that’s what the case for working virtually – even as a financial advisor – is all about. Working virtually allows you to build a business that supports your great life.

Why a Virtual Business Provides Access to Your Great Life

Traditional business models require us to build a life around our business. When you work full-time from a physical location and meet every single person you do business with in person, you lock yourself into a very set schedule and routine. There’s little room for freedom and flexibility (even though you’re an entrepreneur and you call the shots).

You must be in an office all day. You can only work with clients in your area. You can’t travel freely for extended periods of time. You don’t have the ability to move effortlessly. Changing locations means uprooting your entire business.

This probably doesn’t support your great life.

With new technology and an evolving acceptance of digital methods of communication and working together, virtual work opens many doors for you. You now have the opportunity to engage in the pieces of life that leave you satisfied, happy, and fulfilled, all while running a successful business.

What is it that you want to do on a day to day basis? It could be the ability to travel whenever and wherever. Maybe it’s maximizing the time you spend with your children and your family, and being there for all their milestone moments. Perhaps you want to volunteer and help others near and far.

Define what you want your life to look like. And then understand that whatever your answer looks like, your business can — and should — support that.

Working with Your Ideal Client

As a financial advisor who understands the importance of putting your clients’ needs and interests ahead of your own, this opening argument for working virtually may sound a little self-serving. But there’s no reason you can’t live your great life with a flexible business that allows you great personal freedom – while also better serving the clients your business is designed to help.

Think about this. When you only work in person, you limit yourself to a local area, neighborhood, community, town, or city. You can only serve people in your immediate location. People will only drive so far to come see you.

Working virtually opens you up to working with anyone, anywhere. There are no more barriers created by the fact that you and your ideal client just happen to live a few hours (or many hours) away from each other. That provides a lot of freedom not only for you, but for your clients, too.

Being a virtual advisor means your clients can be anywhere in the world, too. They’re no longer limited to working with someone based solely on the fact that the two parties are present in the same town. Your clients get to choose the absolute best financial planner for them, based on what that professional can provide, and not based on where everyone happens to be on a map.

Or your clients can still live in the same town as you do. They can still live within an hour or so of your office. And these are still clients you can work virtually with, because it provides them with a more convenient option.

When you force clients to meet in person 100% of the time – especially if you specialize in younger clients – you’re asking them to make a big time commitment. They have to take off work. They may need to get (and pay for) a babysitter. Then they need to actually get to your office, and deal with traffic and parking.

A one hour meeting becomes a three hour ordeal for those who work, have families, or need to attend to other other responsibilities. Hosting virtual meetings can save time and stress, and can provide a better client experience.

Your practice should be designed to care for your ideal client, no matter what. So, no, virtual advisors are not self-serving and virtual planning is not solely for the benefit of the provider. This is a win-win situation for everyone in the highly digital, mobile, technology-focused, forward-thinking world we all live in today.

Learn more about the technology you need and the compliance questions you have around running a virtual RIA with your free copy of The Virtual Advisor.

 

Narrowing Your Niche and Why It’s a Good Thing

Let’s talk for a moment about a phrase used above: your ideal client. You do need to understand who this person is, and the specific set of characteristics that make them who they are – and that make them ideal for your business.

It’s important to target your audience and focus on a specific segment because you can’t be all things to all people.

When you clearly define your niche market, you can be the go-to expert for that segment. By becoming the expert in a niche market, you become the most knowledgeable professional in that area – and that makes you highly referable to new clients. Narrowing your niche makes it easier to define what you do and who you do it for.

Reaching Gen X and Gen Y as a Virtual Advisor

The ultimate case for working virtually may lie with the fact that younger generations are comfortable with technology and find it accessible, sensible, and convenient in their everyday lives.

Gen Y is defined as individuals with birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. This is the largest generation in US history; consisting of 93 million Americans, Generation Y eclipses the the Baby Boomers by about 20 million people.

If you add in Gen X (or those aged between 34 and 50), which have adopted technology en masse as well — you’re looking at nearly 50% of the US population. And these groups are not only comfortable with the kind of technology that allows for virtual planning — they demand it.

According to the global information and measurement firm The Nielsen Company, “when asked what makes their generation unique, Millennials ranked ‘Technology Use’ first.”

“Given their fluency and comfort with technology, Millennials have more of a positive view of how technology is affecting their lives than any other generation. More than 74 percent feel that new technology makes their lives easier, and 54 percent feel new technology helps them be closer to their friends and family.”

If you want to reach one of the largest generations in history, a group eventually expected to hold $30 trillion in assets, it’s important that you maintain an open mind when it comes to technology — and working virtually.