Jeanne Carlson Smith’s advisor journey started in 1996 when she returned to Birmingham, Alabama, to care for her then-ill mother and to “temporarily” help with her mother’s retirement business, which Mary Carlson founded in 1989.
At the time, Smith was loving her health care career, using her master’s degree in nursing to serve as an intensive care, rehab and hospice nurse and as a geriatric nurse practitioner. As she began to care for her mother while working at the business, she realized her mother couldn’t adequately serve the firm’s clients, so Smith realized that to take over the business she would need to be educated and licensed. Loving her new role, Smith worked hard over the ensuing three years to make a go of her now late mother’s business.
With her health care background, Smith intuited that if she could address aging changes in health for her clients, she could make a big difference in their financial well-being, too. But she admits that her business struggled since she lacked a model and a communications framework for “connecting the dots between health and finances.”
The solution came from George Kinder’s life planning program, which she jokingly says gave her the “vision thing” she needed, and the well-being model described in John E. Nelson’s book, What Color Is Your Parachute? for Retirement.
In the years since, Smith has systematized life planning and the well-being model into what she calls strategic life planning. In providing financial services to clients, she follows the life stages model of human development devised by psychologist Eric Ericsson. And she does it through her RIA, Marca Life Planning, founded in 2004, the same year she got her CFP.
If mentioning Kinder, Nelson and Ericsson sound a little too New Age-y for you, remember that Smith is a nurse. Nurses get things done in a very organized, matter-of-fact way, following strict protocols while taking care of patients’ bodies — and often soothing their fears — even in the midst of pain and sometimes chaos.
For each client, Smith first determines what life stage they’re in; asks them if they’re willing to do a strategic life plan; and then addresses their “prosperity issues,” the financial concerns which prompted them to work with Smith. As Marca’s Form ADV puts it in referring to one of its services — this one designed for clients aged 33–53 — building a strategic life plan for Financial Well-Being “ensures a future you want, not a future by default.”
If they do agree to building a life plan (some clients may only want investment services), Smith uses Kinder’s three questions to build a vision statement about what the clients want in their current life stage and what they want their future to look like. That vision determines how a client will allocate her resources, financial and otherwise, to effect that future. “A vision statement doesn’t change over time,” Smith points out, but the “action items” a client needs to address do change.
Those action items help clients manage transitions between life stages, which is especially important as they age. Take one of Marca’s financial planning programs, the Strategic Life Plan for Later Life Well-Being. Designed for clients aged 75–100, that plan helps clients accommodate the normal aging process, prevent health declines, and protect them from issues like identity theft and fraud.
An add-on for clients of Marca’s Prosperity Management investing program, called Concierge Services, provides clients with the practical resources they’re likely to need as they age, ranging from identifying physical risks in a client’s home to choosing home health aides. Fees for these plans and services vary from a percentage of AUM to one-time fees for a plan to monthly and annual retainers.
Smith urges other advisors to provide similar services to their clients for both business-building and client service purposes.
The online version of this column will include links to resources to educate other advisors, since, she says, “my purpose in life now” is to help other advisors help their clients.
About the Advisor
The Advisor: Jeanne Carlson Smith
The Designation(s): CFP, Registered Life Planner, Registered Financial Gerontologist, RN
The Firm: Marca Life Planning, Birmingham, Alabama; MarcaLifePlanning.com
The Technology: Asana for case management; eMoney for account aggregation; SmartOffice for CRM, and “everything’s in the cloud”
The Partners: SEI and American Funds for custody and investment management; ASH Brokerage for insurance Local network and cyber security manager Larry Parker: “That guy has helped our small firm stay nimble, and kept costs low; it’s critical to have a technology specialist that isn’t remote”
James J. Green, a former editor of this magazine, is editor of Jamie Green Reports, an advisor-focused writing, editing and shepherding service. He can be reached at [email protected].