Financial planning is, ultimately, about enabling people to live life to the fullest. Len Williams explores how CFP™ professionals can help clients figure out what this means for them
As part of the six-step financial planning process, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals develop good working relationships with their clients, establishing their personal and financial goals and presenting recommendations that help the client meet their objectives. The detailed cashflow assumptions in a financial plan can provide peace of mind to clients that they can have the lifestyle they want in retirement.
But most financial planners also have their own ways of adding value, whether that be through bespoke lists of questions or other innovative approaches.
For example, David Lamb CFP™ MCSI, director of Lamb Financial, a firm in Newcastle upon Tyne, has built a 'lifestyle wheel' with which he asks clients to score themselves on ten factors: physical health, emotional health, relationships, time, personal fulfilment, career, fun and recreation, financial independence, money and abundance.
After entering their information, clients are presented with a radar chart showing their results in each factor. This provides a useful tool for discussion of the individual’s general wellbeing and allows David’s clients to see how they’ve progressed from one year to the next.
To illustrate this method, David describes a couple he works with who run a guesthouse. They scored well on physical and emotional health, relationships, and career. But running a guesthouse is a seven-days-a-week job. “When I got them to do the lifestyle wheel, they scored really low on time, and on fun and recreation”.
The obvious solution might be to hire staff to win time back. But the tight profit margins of the hospitality trade made this impossible. In the end, Lamb helped them develop a financial plan that would see them sell the large guesthouse (where they live) at 55 and buy a smaller home, allowing them to retire early and live off the surplus from the sale until they reach state pension age at 67.
While this plan wouldn’t have left the couple with quite enough to live on for the rest of their lives, Lamb says, his calculations showed they’d only need a few thousand pounds more per year to maintain their standard of living. This could be achieved by securing a stress-free part-time job until they reached retirement. In this way, they’d boost their scores for ‘time’ and ‘fun and recreation’, while continuing to perform well on all the other factors too.
As demonstrated by David, a key part of adding value for clients is helping them understand what they want from life. Financial planners need to develop strong listening skills and work hard to ask the right questions (see cisi.org/conversation for more on this) to establish a client’s key priorities.
George Kinder CFP®, founder of the US-based Kinder Institute of Life Planning, an international training organisation for financial planners, has developed a method called ‘EVOKE’ – Exploration, Vision, Obstacles, Knowledge, and Execution – designed to help financial planners draw out clients’ 'deepest goals' so that a life plan can be created to enable the client to achieve them.
The method helps registered life planners, many of whom are also CFP professionals, add value for clients through the application of enhanced listening, body language, and empathy skills. For example, says George, a client might express a small concern about their son, to which the life planner could respond by demonstrating acknowledgement and empathy through body language or expression, for example by shifting their posture or tapping their chest.
George has identified some key questions to help clients drill down into what’s important to them. These include: “If you had all the money that you needed for the rest of your life, what would you do?” Then, going deeper, life planners ask clients to imagine they only have 24 hours to live. “The question is, what would you miss? Who would you not get to be? What did you not get to do? It gets deeply reflective.” The findings from these sessions then feed into the rest of the planning process.
Kirsty Scully CFP®, chair of the Financial Planning Institute in South Africa and a senior financial planner at Core Wealth Advisory Services, says she uses pictures to help clients really visualise their ambitions. One of her clients plans to sell her house and tour around South Africa in a caravan for a few years. So, when Kirsty wrote up the financial plan to help her client save towards this goal, she didn’t just produce a list of costs and budgeting goals, but also illustrated it with images of the touring vehicle.
Adding value at different life stages
Naturally enough, the kinds of plans financial planners develop will vary depending on the client’s life stage. Kirsty describes how one client recently told her he was “loving spending time with his two little grandchildren” but was only able to see them at weekends, so wanted to reduce the amount of time he worked. To that end, she’s helped him devise a plan where he works as a consultant for two days per week rather than five.
By contrast, a younger client she recently advised was struggling with a lot of debt in the runup to his wedding. He was determined to not start married life in debt. Kirsty worked out a plan to help him achieve this. “There's been times when I've literally had to be pretty strict with clients about spending” she says, even asking them to hand over credit cards and locking them in the company’s safe until the debt is cleared.
Core Wealth also offers a service to support mainly elderly widows of its clients – especially for those who’ve been financially reliant on their partners for many years, and who are at risk of scams and fraud. The company employs an experienced property manager who can help their clients with various tasks, from getting washing machines fixed to replacing car batteries. While the client still pays vendors themselves, having someone reliable and trustworthy around gives extra peace of mind that they won’t be attacked in their home or get “ripped off” by unscrupulous businesses.
Time for a rethink
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a jolt for many people, pushing them to rethink what they really want from life. By helping clients figure out their ambitions and how they can achieve them, financial planners are well placed to support clients to get the most from life – whatever that means for them.