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Retirement Planning > Spending in Retirement > Income Planning

Why imagination makes you a better advisor

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Imagine trying to navigate an unfamiliar highway without road signs to assist you. Yes, GPS can help immensely, but without signs along the way, there’s no clear indication that you’re on the right track. When you visualize a sign, what comes to mind? Maybe an image of a twisting road ahead or a railroad crossing? The power of such an image allows you to take in a large amount of meaningful information without having to spend too long thinking about the decisions that need to be made at a moment’s notice.

If great care has been taken to implement signage on our roads, is it possible that your financial practice could benefit from similar attention to detail? Specifically, what if you created “signs” for your practice that simplify some of the very complex concepts that may inhibit good decision-making for prospects and clients. What if you went to work converting your planning process into pictures?

In my practice, I do a lot of income planning for clients who are about to retire. If you consider all the variables that go into a properly built retirement income plan, it can be remarkably complex and likely overwhelming for those we’re trying our best to serve. From Social Security-claiming strategies to pension income choices, investment strategies, healthcare options, inflation considerations, family relationship dynamics and estate planning, the list of concepts to understand is simply breathtaking. Imagine how our clients must feel.

One of the biggest breakthroughs I’ve experienced in my career came as the result of converting as many of these concepts as possible into pictures and diagrams that could be more easily understood by our clients. An example is the use of buckets. A simple diagram of three buckets allows me to convert the intricacies of an age-banded, multi-investment income approach into something prospects can wrap their minds around in minutes. The results are better understanding, increased collaboration and improved communication and decision-making, which leads to superior results. The simple concept of bucketing can turn a skeptic into a believer in minutes.

As I began to see the power of imagery in my client education process, it led me to wonder what else I could represent graphically. As an example, the relationship between bond process and interest rates became a playground teeter-totter. So while clients may wonder why interest rates receive so many headlines, they now have a simple tool which they can apply to their own circumstances.

While you may or may not choose to develop pictures and symbols for various parts of your practice, there is a bigger lesson here: to the extent we can educate our clients, we help them make better financial decisions. When they make better decisions, they experience better outcomes for themselves and their loved ones.

We must constantly remind ourselves that the availability of more and more information does not mean people are necessarily better off. They may have more options, but they need more tools for navigating those options, to synthesize the information so it actually helps them rather than overwhelming them. Increasingly, an advisor’s job is to make the complex accessible.

Your call to action is this: Jot down a list of the financial concepts your clients would benefit from understanding. Then, consider how you can teach that concept in a way that makes them feel smarter, rather than making you sound smart. It’s not easy to do, but the rewards are tremendous for the client and for you as well. Can you picture it?


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