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Establishing Client Responsibilities for a Successful Financial Plan

Celeste Revelli May 17, 2022

Client Signing Financial Advisor Agreement

A financial planning relationship is a two-way street between the financial professional and the client. It’s true that you are working for the client to create and manage a plan for them, but along with your responsibilities, there are tasks and behaviors the client will need to perform for the successful implementation of the plan.

So, how do you convey to your clients that there will be work for them to do in support of reaching their goals? I believe that firmly establishing the roles of both parties from the beginning has the best opportunity for success.

Agreeing to Move the Relationship Forward

One of the first things established after successfully meeting with prospective clients is that both parties want to pursue the relationship. Beyond determining if you are compatible and that they are a good fit for your practice, you’ll also want to ensure you are on the same page when it comes to the financial planning services you will provide.

Explain your financial planning process and confirm that your client agrees with and understands your approach. If you will also be managing investments, make certain they understand and agree with your investment strategy.

Finally, you should be completely transparent in explaining your fee structure. Research shows that transparency is the most important trait when looking for guidance with financial planningand that forty-eight percent of financial professionals say they are being asked for more transparency around the services they are providing for their fees.2

When your prospective or new client is on board with your services, fees, and planning approach, getting them to commit to behavioral change will be much easier, as they understand why they need to take certain actions to achieve their goals.

Executing a Financial Planning Services Agreement

Having established that you are going to embark on a new financial planning relationship, one of the first pieces of business is for the parties to execute an agreement.

This agreement generally includes a summary of the items outlined above such as a scope of services, fee structure, privacy policy, and a number of other terms and conditions. And while these agreements generally include a section for client responsibilities, it tends to be focused on the financial data the client must provide to develop the plan such as income, expenses, assets, liabilities, income tax returns, insurance policies, investments, etc.

A standard agreement may also include that the client will provide information on their goals and objectives. But what I recommend is including details about client responsibilities that are very specific in nature. Even if the client has done some planning and retail investing on their own, you may be the first financial planner they have ever worked with, so they may not realize what is required of them.

Understanding that Financial Planning Is Dynamic

Depending on how your business is structured, you may offer stand-alone plans that consist of one-time planning engagements for a fee. But as a planner, you know that a single plan only captures a point in time for your client.

Things change not only in your clients’ lives, but also with the economy, tax laws, and any number of other influential factors. Financial plans should be ongoing and elastic so they can be adjusted to accommodate these changes.

When you embark on a long-term planning relationship with a client, one of their responsibilities is to understand that their plan will be dynamic and that both parties must stay up to date on things that will impact the plan.

Set expectations at the beginning of the relationship that you will stay in touch as things change, even if you’re only doing a one-time plan. Make a point to communicate the importance of maintaining an updated plan and assure clients you are always there to revisit anything they may need. This will help them understand that it’s their responsibility to reach out when they need help.

Staying Responsive to Requests for Information

Responsiveness is a critical component when it comes to a client’s interactions with their financial planner.

Because of the constant possibility of change, they need to know that when you share information with them that requires action you expect them to get back to you in a timely fashion. The client’s failure to do so could mean they miss out on a chance to earn or save significant value in their plan.

Have the necessary conversation upfront to determine the most effective means of financial advisor-client communication that will support those timely responses.

Following the Plan

In its simplest form, a financial plan involves the client completing certain behaviors to meet financial goals. Whatever those behaviors are, your client must understand what’s required of them.

For example, maintaining their desired lifestyle in retirement will involve saving or investing enough to make that achievable. And to save those necessary amounts, the client must also live within a certain budget. These requirements should be spelled out to the client—and updated as necessary—so there’s no confusion about what they need to be doing to make their plan successful.

As a financial planner, you should be able to track clients’ spending and savings. This will allow you to have frank conversations with them about money management during client review meetings, so they understand the long-term consequences of their financial decisions now.

Keeping the Financial Planner in the Loop

When clients engage in a long-term financial planning partnership, they are essentially giving you a window into their entire financial picture. So, when they make a major financial decision without your knowledge or input, they could be putting the success of their entire plan at risk.

Help your clients see that while you are working together to reach their financial goals, you understand that sometimes those goals change. Reassure them that you’re not there to judge or tell them that they can’t do certain things. Let them know you would be happy to talk through these purchases or changes with them to ensure the best outcome.

You want your clients to enjoy their lives, but they’ll need to keep you informed so you can adjust their plan as necessary if they have a new goal or dream.

Willingness to Explore Their Financial Psychology

Sometimes you will find yourself working with clients whose ability to complete the behaviors required to support their plan is impacted by their past history with money.

Establish with clients upfront that there may be times when their willingness to work with a specialized financial professional will help them get their money story back on track and make them more likely to find success when working with you.

Finding the Balance in Financial Planning Responsibilities

There is a lot of information available about the responsibilities of financial professionals and what clients can expect when they enter a planning relationship. But it’s harder for clients to understand what’s expected of them for their plan to be successful. I urge you to think about the ideal relationship you want to build with your clients and create your own list of client responsibilities to share.

Consider the use of technology to open lines of communication and assist the client in meeting the expectations of their plan. Financial planning software with features like account aggregation, a robust client portal, and alerts for action steps can ensure the client and the financial planner are made aware of plan updates and changes in real-time.

By reviewing the seven-step financial planning process to create your list of client responsibilities you can ensure all expectations are thoroughly covered. It’s in your clients’ best interest to prepare them not only for their financial future but also for the work they need to do to achieve financial peace of mind.

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.


1 The Cerulli Report, U.S. Retail Investor Advice Relationships 2020

2 2019 Fidelity Financial Advisor Community (FAC), Alternative Fees Study

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About the Author

Celeste Revelli is currently Director of Digital Planning at Fidelity Investments, where she works on digital financial planning experiences for Fidelity advisors and clients. Starting her career as a registered advisor for a few years, Celeste has been in the financial services industry since 2009. She worked at eMoney Advisor for almost 11 years, where she led advanced planning support escalation, product research support, and eMoney’s financial wellness and financial education strategy as Director of Financial Planning. Celeste received her bachelor’s degree in communications and marketing from Loyola University Maryland and her certificate in financial planning from Boston University. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and is currently pursuing her MBA specializing in financial psychology and behavioral finance from Creighton University. Celeste dedicates time to serving her community in the areas of pro bono financial planning and financial literacy, and she also serves the industry through her support of next generation planners, diversity and inclusion efforts, and exam and technology committees for the CFP Board. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son.

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