While the financial services industry is old, one of its children, “financial planning,” is quite young–a teenager, in fact. And, the business of financial planning shares many of the qualities we associate with teens: confused about where it’s headed; unable to choose from the many paths available; trying to find itself; unsure of its own identity. We are standing at the doorway of opportunity, and yet we don’t recognize it.
The Harsh Truth
Like many of you here today, I have been in the financial services industry for a long time. But, it wasn’t that long ago that I started calling myself a financial planner, at least with any conviction. It’s not surprising that the media, the public (a.k.a. our clients), and those who would “regulate” us don’t know what to make of us–we aren’t even sure ourselves. That may sound harsh, but it’s true.
And sorting this out may be the most important thing we do in the decade ahead. Let me just say this emphatically–and this is the most important thing I’m going to say all day–there is nothing that will propel you forward faster than clarity about what you do, what you want and who you are.
I’m not here to tell you those things. But I hope that by sharing my enthusiasm for the path I’m on, I might ignite a spark in you and lead you closer to your own true calling in this wonderful industry.
Logic certainly suggests that we should not focus on financial planning. Consider some of the reasons: It’s time consuming, the average plan gobbles up between 2 and 6 hours of my time, sometimes more, and I do this for free. Maybe I should charge? But how much? If I charge what it’s worth, who will buy it? And do I really want to be in the same camp as lawyers and accountants, billing for my hours?
The learning curve for most financial planning software is steep. And I assure you, once you master a particular package, a new, better one will come along. And, really, the money comes from elsewhere, doesn’t it? It comes from product sales. So why bother with planning at all? Here are some of the usual reasons we consider planning:
(1) Clients are demanding more. Damn them! Always demanding!
(2) It’s a more complex financial world. Can’t deny that!
(3) Maybe planning will generate more sales.
(4) Maybe planning will generate bigger sales.
Look at these 4 reasons. I would label them as 1. Have to. 2. Have to. 3. Selfish. 4. Selfish.
Here’s the best reason: To answer the burning questions. All clients have similar burning questions. These are the questions they want answers to. Of course, they won’t likely ask these questions. But they’re there. And they are in this form:
Do I/will I have enough to _________________?
Am I making the right/best choices?
What if I _______________________?
Focus on answering these questions, and nothing else. Some might call my idea here the “slow motion business model.” The strategy is remarkably simple. Don’t focus on making money. Focus on helping as many people as you can in the most profound ways you are able.
It’s important to point out here: People don’t want a financial plan. And if you somehow misunderstand something I say and leave here believing that you should focus on “planning” that would be a sad mistake.
Sales versus Planning
The fundamental difference between the “traditional” sales approach and the “planning” approach is a shift from using fear to using hope. In many ways, fear is an easier tool for us to use. It’s how many of us have been trained. Fear motivates. So we look for problems, shortfalls, risks. And fear leads us to solutions.
But people aren’t really looking for motivation. They are looking for inspiration. We all are. We want to know, “Can I do whatever it is that I imagine?” And hoping that in fact we can, leads us to possibilities.
Planning starts with a vision of how you want your future to look like. No matter how impossible you may think it to be, this is the starting point. From this vision and your “starting point (net worth, etc.), we create a financial plan–a roadmap to the vision.