Tag Archives: financial advisers

lifestyle financial planning

Lifestyle financial planning: coaching clients

Whether you call it lifestyle financial planning, holistic financial planning or something else, there’s no doubt that this is a popular topic of conversation nowadays. But there’s a problem. No one can quite agree on what it is and how it differs (if at all) from financial advice.

Lifestyle financial planning v financial advice

It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that I have all the answers; all I have is 37 years or so of experience to draw upon of either being an adviser, or observing advisers. It strikes me that in many respects, the similarities outweigh the differences. But where there are differences, they are important. For example, at the start of a new client relationship, the lifestyle financial planner may spend several hours:

• Coaching the client, enabling them to better understand what is important to them and why
• Focusing on what the client’s financial future needs to look like as a whole (rather than satisfying just a single need area)
• Discussing the ‘what if’s’ and they may use cashflow to illustrate the impact of these to the client

It’s about taking the time up-front to give the client clarity about how they can achieve the lifestyle they want both now and in the future. In other words, it’s not primarily about products or services.  It is the coaching skills of the planner, not their technical expertise, that are central to doing this.

Using GROW to structure the planning process

Back in 1992, Sir John Whitmore introduced the most widely used coaching model in the World. He looked at the sporting environment and identified the key skills sports coaches used. He then synthesised these to give those in business a really useful and catchy acronym: GROW. This stands for:

G – goals
R – reality
O – options
W – willingness or where next

As I say, this is widely used around the world by people managers to help get the best from their staff. It might also have a place in your business if you genuinely want to deliver lifestyle financial planning. In the next section, I’ll look at each of the four areas in more depth.

GROW – in more depth

This is what each of the four areas might look like in a lifestyle financial planning process.

Establish goals. This is the first part of a meeting with a new client. It should also form the first part of a review meeting with an existing client. It’s about understanding what the client is really looking for, i.e. their goals. Rarely will a client meet an adviser without having a purpose in mind, e.g. to transfer under-performing investments, invest an inheritance, plan their retirement etc. The planners key skill is to acknowledge this and then get the client’s agreement to exploring their wider goals. In other words, don’t start talking about products and solutions straight away. Certainly, not before you know what is truly important to them.

Current reality. This is about the ‘here and now’. What do they have and what don’t they have? What are the gaps and why? This is routine for all advisers nowadays but you’ll still hear compliance folk complaining that some advisers only collect hard facts, and miss the soft facts. The meeting notes or fact find might record the client’s expected retirement age and required income, but not say how the client wants to spend their retirement and what activities they intend to take up. This information would help to demonstrate why the advice is suitable for a specific client. More importantly, a client will only be interested in a pension to the extent that it provides the quality of retirement they are looking for. It’s not what it is, but what it does. So what does the client value the most? What are their goals? What are their key fears? A coaching planning style should establish these.

Options. Some solutions will be clear; others less so. When using GROW in a coaching context, this stage is about opening up possible options (not closing them down) to arrive at a range of possible outcomes. Then, it’s about picking the best option(s) and implementing them (which is the ‘W’ in GROW).

In the planning process, the same applies. What might differentiate the lifestyle financial planner is the depth of knowledge they will have gained at an early stage in the relationship and how this deep understanding of the client influences the eventual solution. If you’ve known a client for many years and still find out new important facts about them (and most of us have been there), it’s because we didn’t have enough of a conversation or ask the right questions early enough.

Establish the will (or where next). So you know what the client’s goals, fears and aspirations are. We’ve looked at shortfalls and possible solutions. Now it about prioritising and determining what the initial advice and ongoing service will look like. In the coaching sense, ‘will’ is about having the confidence or willingness to take action and there are again some parallels with lifestyle financial planning.

A key element of a lifestyle financial planner is their mindset. It’s about having a great conversation with the client, not being afraid to ask awkward questions, and asking about the client’s overall goals and fears (and not just those related to specific planning area). The planner’s job is primarily to ask questions and listen for much of the relationship, say 60-70% of the time. For many, it’s about the willingness to do so to this extent. This is the essence of what coaching is all about: seek first to truly understand, and then to be understood.

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Ian Patterson

Ex-examiner, financial adviser and author 

 

holistic financial planning

Has the time come for holistic financial advice?

Surveys suggest that the average person has ‘contact’ with their mobile phone anywhere between 150 – 2,617 times a day. I don’t know about you, but even the lower figure surprised me! What is less of a surprise is how little ‘contact’ there is between the typical regulated firm and their advisers. Typically, I work with 20-30 experienced professional advisers a year. Often, they will have 20 years or more experience and seeing me as part of a client observation is often a ‘first’ for them. Given how important it is to have quality relationships with clients, it’s a shame how little ‘contact’ their firm has had in observing them with clients; to reinforce what they do well with their client-facing skills, and address the things they don’t.

Two key lessons about financial advisers

Here are two key lessons I’ve learned from carrying out observations:

1. Providing financial advice is a lonely job. Sure, most will have para-planners and colleagues back in the office. But given that it’s rare that someone has themselves been observed, it’s even less likely that they will ever have observed a fellow adviser in a client meeting. As a result, irrespective of their experience, they develop their own behaviours and habits. Sometimes these are really good; sometimes not.

2. Many investment advisers still focus on the ‘product’, rather than genuinely exploring the ‘client’s needs’. This is partly because, despite their experience, the lack of any meaningful feedback means that old behaviours haven’t changed. If you talk to them about how holistic advice differs, this comes as a bit of a shock. Not because it requires a different skill set, but because the emphasis is so very different.

As any behaviour is just something we have learned over the years, it is possible to un-learn and change these for the better. It just needs a little effort and the right type of support.

The holistic financial adviser

What they do: They add value with their advisory skills, i.e. they focus on the client’s goals, probe, challenge and clarify. First and foremost, they are relationship builders (not ‘sellers’, not ‘service providers’, not ‘client educators’)
Mindset of adviser: ‘I need to fully understand what is important to this client and establish their full circumstances before I talk about products’ (not ‘the client has a need so I’ll gather the information I need to advise on this’)
Who does the client trust? The adviser. The reputation of the adviser’s firm and any product provider are both secondary or incidental
Characteristics of the overall relationship with the client: – Long meetings which necessarily involve in-depth wide ranging discussions

– Regular needs-based contact initiated by the client (not the adviser)

– Multiple needs solutions

– A deep and trusting relationship between planner and client

– Deep understanding of the client’s needs and family circumstances

Adviser behaviours in an initial meeting: – The focus at the start of the initial meeting is to establish their goals, and understand what might stop them from achieving these

– Consultative skills – asks predominantly open questions, listens and actively responds

– Client does 70% of the talking in the initial meeting

– Plenty of soft facts recorded on meeting notes

– Focus on clarifying and prioritising the client’s goals; showing how goals can be met by relevant solutions

– the subsequent use of cashflow analysis is often positioned with the client to allow them to see how different scenarios will impact on the client’s objectives, e.g. the impact of making gifts

So how does a financial adviser become more of a financial planner?

Most advisers are surprised to hear that they are too product focused. As I say, changing is often just a matter of emphasis once advisers are aware of this. Here are some brief ideas.

Do more of: Do less of:
– Listen more. The balance of talking in a discovery meeting would be around 70% in favour of the client.

– Acknowledge that the client will have a reason for the meeting, but don’t dive headlong into addressing it.

– Before talking in detail about this, establish what is important to the individual and their goals at the outset of the meeting. You will get a real understanding about the client if you ask open and probing questions, e.g. “what do you value most about money?”.

– Have more of a conversation, less of a fact find.

– Talking about products or your services in the first 10 minutes.

– Asking lots of questions to gather facts (ask the right questions up front and you’ll get this information anyway).

– Focusing on just one area of the client’s needs.

– Review meetings that feel more like cross-selling opportunities.

– Meetings that feel ‘process driven’, i.e. getting it done feels more important than understanding the client. It’s almost impossible to avoid it feeling ‘transactional’ if you complete a fact find in front of the client (instead of writing meeting notes).

Added value

This is a key concept. As an adviser, how do you believe you ‘add value’ to clients? Someone who focuses extensively on products and solutions (especially in a discovery meeting) is saying to the client that the ‘value’ they get is primarily based on the adviser’s knowledge and problem solving ability. Holistic financial advice involves the adviser investing time at the start of a client relationship. This adds value by showing the client that understanding them is important; ‘getting to know the person behind the detail’. This then naturally develops into discussions around a range of different client needs. The ‘value’ is in the relationship. The end result will sometimes be the same but the client experience is very different.

Conclusion

It’s very clear that high net worth clients are becoming increasingly selective about which advisers they choose to use. Sometimes it’s cost driven; often it’s not. Most experienced advisers have good relationship-building skills so most clients will ‘buy’ the adviser. The real question is about the advice process. Does the process actually add sufficient ‘value’ to be worth the client paying for it?  They are more likely to do so if they have received holistic financial advice.

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Ian Patterson

Ex-examiner, financial adviser and author

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