It occasionally strikes me how many of the planners I talk with every day wouldn’t accept me as a client because of the amount of money I don’t have.
The most stunning interchange I have ever had on this topic with a planner happened a number of months ago, and it went like this. “In the world of financial planning firms, there are BMWs and there are Fords. I have built my practice for people who drive BMWs,” the advisor said. “I don’t deny that there are people who drive Fords,” he added dismissively, “but, well, there are other planners out there for them.”
“I drive a Ford,” I said, as pleasantly as I could under the circumstances. “What would you do if I came to your office–send me away?” He didn’t miss a beat. “Well, now, you’re not always going to drive a Ford, are you,” he said smoothly, in a tone that might as well have patted me on the head. “You’re young, you’re well-educated; you’ll make lots of money, and you’ll get that BMW. Then come and see me. Then you can be my client.”
I blinked. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, I wanted to say, but my primary goal in life is not, in fact, to get filthy rich. (I happen to like my Ford Escort; I should have asked him what kind of mileage he gets on his vehicle.)
A Question of Timing
But car preferences aside, what I really should have asked him was this: Isn’t the most important time for me to get the advice of a competent planner right now, when I’m young and can start off on the right foot? Isn’t the most important time for me to make smart financial decisions now, when I can form good money habits and learn to save and prepare for a comfortable financial life down the road? Why are you offering to help me only after I have made money and established an ample lifestyle, instead of offering to help me get to that point?
It’s building the house that’s the hard part, my friend. By comparison, reallocating the flower garden in the back yard later on is the easy stuff.
What really puzzles me is that the people who are most energetically turning away from the “sell-sell” mentality and turning toward an approach that focuses on comprehensive life goals, and identifying one’s values, and building the lifestyle of one’s dreams, are the same people who have client account minimums in the millions. “I want to help people, not sell you things,” they say. “I’m objective. I’m empathetic. I’ll help you build the life you want.” The part they don’t say–at least not in so many words–is that they’ll only do it if you already have nearly enough money to make it happen yourself.
Granted, it is true that there are “planners out there” for people like me. Despite many firms’ efforts to woo an ever wealthier clientele to their new fee-based asset management programs, many traditional commission-based planners do serve the non-Beemer crowd (though many a fee-based planner will be quick to question the quality or breadth of their services). And planners like Sheryl Garrett and Bert Whitehead seem to be on to something in their efforts to serve the not-so-rich with hourly fees. Still, the number of colleagues they’ve converted are still so few, relative to the total population. In my home state, there are a grand total of two planners who belong to Garrett’s Planning Network, and a whopping three who are part of Whitehead’s Cambridge Advisors.
The Pro Bonoists