“…we are on the brink of a revolution in the financial planning industry. This sea change is being led by a successful financial planner who happens to be a Buddhist teacher, and a former president of the ICFP who has taken a hankering to a mythical Islamic folk hero. If they have their way, financial planning in the future will not only foster a client’s economic well-being, but also will help that client to be more fulfilled, happier, and a better citizen in the world of tomorrow.”
It’s usually the case that only those predictions that come true are resurrected by their makers, and thus it is in this case. The words above appeared in the November 1999 cover story of Investment Advisor that explored the genesis and personality of life planning, a nascent movement at the time which began, most agree, with a presentation given in 1994 by Dick Wagner (the former ICFP president), and George Kinder (the Buddhist teacher). The approach has grown since then, but has it achieved critical mass? Has it become the default approach of today’s financial planner? What does this movement have to say about the future of the profession?
To answer those questions, we went back to Mr. Kinder, who waxed eloquent in a wide-ranging interview conducted in late December 2007.
Has the profession caught up to you now? Would you agree that the planning conversation starts at a different place than it used to?
Certainly among financial planners the conversation has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Without question, the life planning movement has made that happen. That’s a pretty incredible, wonderful thing.
There are some larger, intriguing questions. If you look at surveys of professions and how consumers view them, you still have the whole financial services industry tarred with the same brush, and it’s not a pretty one. The stereotype of the financial advisor is not a great one, even though in surveys the consumer says, quite interestingly, “Well, they’re all terrible, except mine is very good.”
I don’t know if that’s similar to Oscar Wilde’s observation about a second marriage being the triumph of optimism over experience, but something is going on there.
Personally–and this is where there’s still a lot to grow–I think we’re going to hold a [significant] position. We’re headed toward a profession that carries tremendous integrity and weight in depth of purpose, of meaningfulness, of profundity in someone’s life. The only other places where we’ve used those terms historically have been with priests and rabbis and ministers, in the spiritual world.
I think we are taking the lead in something which has broad historical implications. If we’re in a secular world, what is the profession that would shepherd families and individuals into their most meaningful path? You could still argue for the spiritual figures, for counselors or therapists of various types [to take that role]. It strikes me as the only profession that can do it–because it is the only one that has the command of money and the gravitas that surrounds money, to be able to influence consumers–is the financial planning profession.
What are the forces at work right now in the profession?