We were married this past April in Sedona, Ariz. Our honeymoon destination was Florblanca, a resort on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Apart from the beautiful and romantic setting, we couldn't help relating some of the things that make Florblanca special to the work that we each love--the business of financial planning. In the spirit of a newlywed couple, we thought it would be fun to share with you our insights and some of the ideas we gathered.
One of the benefits of foreign travel is the opportunity to extend ourselves beyond our normal limits. Each new place offers new sights, new language and culture, and new ways to deal with life. We can all learn so much by observing and listening when we are in foreign places. It occurred to us that every time we meet with new clients as financial planners, they are entering what is, for them, foreign territory. A challenge for all of us is to make that experience both positive and welcoming. We learned some things about that from Florblanca.
As with so much of what we do these days, Linda used the Internet to find this perfect spot. In the past, she would have used a travel agent, but with all the resources available via the Web-- supported by reputable third-party endorsements--we made the selection on our own.
This experience led us to wonder about the Web sites of our respective financial planning businesses: What was it about the Florblanca site that captured our attention, and how can we make our business Web sites more enticing to a potential client? Florblanca's site offered us the ability to visualize where we would be going and connected us to activities in which we could partake, including a description and photos of morning yoga on the beach that made us feel as though we were there. As financial planners, we wondered, do we do a good job helping clients visualize what their experience with us will be? Do we clearly identify what activities they will go through, the things that will be asked of them, and give them a sense of the experience? Florblanca struck all the right chords and caused us to want to experience what they were offering. Do our Web sites make a similar emotional connection with prospective clients?
Florblanca touches all of your senses. It is a single property hotel with 11 separate villas, a central restaurant and bar, a double pool, a spa and a yoga center--all carved out of the surrounding jungle and set on the beach next to world-class surfing. From the moment we stepped onto the entry walk with its lush vegetation, we were welcomed and felt at home. The visual stimulation of the graceful Balinese architecture, the sounds of the surf crashing a few yards away and the creative quality of the meals encouraged and supported our goal of relaxing. And again, made us wonder: How can we touch as many of our clients' senses as Florblanca did for us? Is the visual appeal of our offices friendly and welcoming? Is our office furniture comfortable and pleasantly arranged to support intensely personal discussions? At her office, Linda offers a menu of drinks from which each client can select, including fruit drinks, sparking water, herbal teas and our favorite, old-fashioned root beer. For an aroma that recalls the warmth and safety of early childhood, her office bakes fresh cookies or low calorie muffins. What else might we do to help put our clients at ease?
But it is really the people of Florblanca who made our stay in Costa Rica special. We have been fortunate to have traveled to many countries but never have we been received with such warmth. Each person at Florblanca seemed extraordinarily happy to be there, although each came from somewhere else and underwent significant change to be there. People who are open to the possibilities in life often find them. Florblanca was the vision of Susan, then a recently divorced dental hygienist, at a moment in time when change was not a choice, but an imperative. For Susan, it took courage to ask people to help her move and later to lend her money to help build her dream hotel. It took courage to uproot herself, leaving friends and familiar places to start anew.
Transitions can be frightening and often difficult, but they almost always offer unseen opportunities. As financial planners, many of our clients come to us when change is anticipated or already upon them. We wondered what we could do to better support and encourage them. As advisors, we have occasion to help each client address his or her unique issues, help them cross their respective bridges and take the steps to start new phases in their lives. We need to be gentle, respectful and encouraging when our clients come to us for that help. But while it is a joyful opportunity to be able to assist, it is also a responsibility we must take very seriously.
Susan saw the possibilities of creating an environment which honored the beauty of Costa Rica and its people and provided a special haven of luxurious space for overworked people. What's more, the lives of her staff have been changed through her leadership, her mentoring and, sometimes, her financial support. Andrea, one of our table servers, told us how she had spent three years working toward her architectural degree, but had to stop in order to raise enough money to pay for her final school year and the necessary professional certificate. With her parents supporting seven brothers and sisters, Andrea was on her own. Susan plans to lend her the $6,000 she needs to complete her education.
Of course, we all have clients who would do the same for their children or friends or charities they care about, but often it is up to us to give them permission, to encourage them to see their opportunities in new ways and use their personal and financial resources to make a meaningful difference to others--or to themselves. In our daily roles as advisors and counselors to our clients and as managers of our staff members, we each have multiple opportunities to make a difference in peoples' lives. Are there ways that, like Susan, we can offer things which may be small for us, but at the same time critical for others, to make a difference in their lives?
Susan never walks into the hotel without making sure that each person on her staff feels special and is acknowledged as an important part of the hotel family. How she treats her employees is how the employees, in turn, treat the hotel guests. Most of our advisory clients have more interaction with our employees than with us, so the culture and values that we display in our dealings with staff members provide the basis of the message that gets passed on to our clients. Do we give our staff members all the training and resources and personal support they need in order to serve our clients as joyfully and as capably as possible?
As a hotelier, Susan also is planning her transition and legacy, something that many of us aging boomers are thinking about with our advisory practices. Although it was not part of her plan, one of her guests convinced her to sell the hotel property to him. Because the deal ensured her security, she agreed, but she put strict conditions on the agreement because she wanted to continue to be an integral part of the operation. Meanwhile, the buyer has brought capital to the hotel and an extensive renovation has begun.
While Susan and her staff worry that the transition will change the culture they have nurtured and worked so hard to create, they have faith and confidence in the new owner and his vision. Time will tell for Susan, as it will for us when--as business owners--we make similar decisions. The sale has provided Susan the opportunity to pass a legacy on to her family, one that is not merely financial, but creative and spiritual as well. Her daughter, Nancy, a Yogic teacher, will be supervising the construction and operations of a yoga center in the nearby town. Susan's son is the architect on the project. The sale has helped Susan secure a positive future for her family and her continued involvement in the hotel will allow her to continue to make a difference in the lives of her current and future staff members. Will we leave a similarly positive legacy when we sell or transition our practices?
As business owners and financial planners, we must always have our antennae out for ways to improve our business and enhance our clients' experience. We live every day in a petrie dish of experiences. Living with a sense of possibility will inevitably bring new adventures, new friends and innumerable rewards. Our honeymoon reminded us that life can be a fun adventure, if we let it, and it made us thankful that as financial advisors we each have so many opportunities to make a difference.
Now we if we can just figure out how to write off the trip....
Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, is the founder and president of Mosaic Financial Partners, Inc. a San Francisco-based fee-only financial planning and investment firm. Linda Lubitz Boone, CFP, is the founder and president of The Lubitz Financial Group, a fee-only financial planning and investment firm in Miami. Together, they created the award-winning IPS AdvisorPro, a Web-based Investment Policy Statement software solution for advisors.