Do you want to be more valued by your clients for the financial planning work you perform for them? If so, you have to consider the issue of saliency (we’ll get to its formal definition below).
In an ever-busy world, our brains can only keep track of and manage a limited amount of information; the rest, that’s less salient, just slips by. In the best of circumstances, we make good choices about what to pay attention to, and use that information to make the best decisions, but in reality the things that are most salient are not always the best bits of information. On the one hand, this leads to a lot of bad decisions. On the other hand, it also creates an opportunity to help shape people’s decisions by making key information more or less salient.
In fact, planners have increasingly been using this technique in recent years, engaging in the practice of charging separate financial planning fees, in an effort to make the financial planning more salient, assuming that “clients value [more] what they pay for” and may better appreciate all the behind-the-scenes ‘shadow work’ done on their behalf if they write a separate check.
Yet a deeper look reveals this is a rather crude way of justifying the financial planning value proposition. Drawing attention to the price forces people to consider what they’re getting for their money, and therefore to think about its value, but focusing on fees is not always a positive.
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After all, in most industries charging separately for fees is a nuisance and a negative. It’s actually designed to discourage people from utilizing the service, from overdraft fees to baggage fees to insurance copayments and deductibles. Is it really a good idea to risk putting clients into the same mindset about their financial planning ‘fees’ too?
Instead, if the true goal is to make the value of financial planning more salient, then perhaps the focus would be better directed towards that goal itself. For instance, by creating more/better deliverables for the client beyond just the financial plan itself, perhaps including a mind map of their financial picture or a personal organizer for their financial files.
Alternatively, financial planning value might be emphasized by making a conscious effort to always direct the focus in client meetings towards the planning, with a meeting agenda that explicitly highlights the financial planning “check-in” and ongoing action items.
Some firms even provide clients with a list of the financial planning ‘shadow work’ tasks (printed directly from the CRM) being done on their behalf. Ultimately, the goal shouldn’t actually be to make financial planning fees and costs more salient, but to minimize the saliency of the costs and maximize the saliency of the value itself.
The word salient means to be strikingly conspicuous or prominent; in the context of our brains, where there is so much information to continuously take in and process, salience is important as a marker of whether something is even noticed at all. In other words, information and events that are not salient literally are not consciously noticed, which in turn impacts how (or whether) they impact us at all.