Financial planning is in the midst of an evolutionary stage driven by financial advisors’ attempts to better define their value propositions and secure long-term client relationships. Financial planning is no longer just about helping clients meet their long-term financial goals—it also involves aligning clients’ life goals with their portfolios by empowering them to invest with purpose. This humanistic approach also helps differentiate them from online wealth management platforms that recommend portfolio allocations based on computer-generated algorithms.
To take their financial planning capabilities to this next level, advisors must first change the conversation from “financial planning” to “life planning.” At that point, advisors can begin connecting clients’ goals and values with their investment portfolios and creating opportunities for clients to both live comfortably in retirement and leave behind philanthropic legacies.
The following are some essential tips to keep in mind when assessing life goals with clients and determining how to tie them to their investment portfolios:
- Ask and Listen—Ask clients about their life goals, how they value money and what they envision as their money’s purpose now and in the future. This enables advisors to better understand their clients’ objectives and motivations throughout the planning process. This exercise can also make it easier for advisors to frame their clients’ expectations by prioritizing their personal goals according to their financial planning realities.
- Discuss the Bad as well as the Good—Some clients may struggle with debt, chronic illness or unexpected family challenges. Asking them to discuss these issues at the beginning of the financial planning process may allow them and their advisors to better understand these challenges’ potential impact on long-term goals and adjust plans accordingly.
- Keep it Simple—Sharing deeply personal information may make clients more anxious about their financial future. Be sure to have a well-laid-out but digestible financial plan template that clients will easily understand. Inundating clients with a multi-hour presentation that includes lots of graphs, bar charts and statistics may be too overwhelming. Outline each potential plan’s strategy and performance goals and how it can fulfill the purpose the client has imagined for their money. Communicating all of this in a clear and concise manner will make clients feel more engaged in financial planning and help them fully understand the value their advisors bring to the process.
- Maintain an Open-Door Policy—While advisors are professionals who discuss and analyze financial matters every day, they need to remember that their clients may have little experience with financial planning—or none at all. Encouraging clients to share their thoughts and ask questions, no matter how seemingly naïve, as well as leaving the door open for further inquiries, will not only help clarify any misunderstandings but establish a trust-based relationship that ensures the client feels their needs are being met.
Deepen Relationships with Integrated Technology Solutions
Once advisors and their clients are on the same page regarding purpose-driven planning, advisors can utilize technology tools to further tie clients’ life goals to investment portfolios. Unified wealth management technology platforms make it easy for advisors to deliver a meaningful client experience at all phases of their client relationships because their features are designed to foster greater collaboration. Helpful technology solutions include:
- Client portals enabling clients to monitor their accounts and financial status in real time.
- Dashboards that track progress and find investment opportunities.
- Educational applications that show clients how small changes can make a big difference to their financial well-being.
- Interactive sliders that allow advisors to make plan adjustments in real time.
- Secure-access document vaults that store client documents in a single location.
Advisors can use technology platforms with these and other benefits to work with clients on connecting their portfolio expectations to their life goals, and reinforce these objectives in reports and review meetings.
Benefits of Enhanced Client Engagement
Advisors who take the time to listen and find out what their clients really want in life, and then help them map out their goals with purpose, will build much stronger relationships, and reap much greater rewards. According to the 2014 Rules of Engagement study on financial advisors’ needs and expectations, conducted by Advisor Impact and sponsored by AssetMark, Inc., a full 79% of clients who felt engaged with their advisors provide referrals to friends and family.
The study also reported that engaged clients cite the following as the top three factors in continuing a relationship with their advisors:
- “Keeps me on track/focused on the long term.”
- “Acts as a sounding board/helps me make difficult decisions.
- "Strong personal relationships.”
Simply put, identifying a client’s purpose for their money and in life—and marrying those goals within a comprehensive financial plan—are key to successful, long-term and sustainable financial planning engagement for any advisor.
Matt Matrisian is Senior Vice President and Director of Practice Management at AssetMark, Inc.