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Guiding Transitions to Transform Planning
• Beth Jones • March 29, 2022
When planning someone’s financial future, having a deep understanding of that person allows you to make a profound impact—however, building a close relationship does not just happen on its own.
At Third Eye Associates, Ltd., we have developed a process to build deep, authentic connections with clients to improve their planning outcomes. We combine training in financial transitions with life planning and financial planning to help clients live fulfilled lives.
There are many ways financial professionals everywhere—regardless of whether they have certifications as Financial Transitionists® or are Registered Life Planners®—can elevate their relationship-building practices to create deeper connections with clients.
Approaching the Client Relationship as a Financial Transitionist®
People often seek out a financial professional during major change, and in many cases, this change is a life-altering event: they received an inheritance, they lost a spouse, they are going through a divorce, etc.
When financial professionals receive clients in transition, they typically try to get the client’s financial house in order as soon as possible. As well-intentioned as this might seem, it may not always be what is best for the client during the beginning stages of their transition.
Certified Financial Transitionists® have completed specialized training where they learn to hold space for transition clients to navigate their healing process while keeping them financially safe. Progressing at their own pace, clients will find their “new normal.”
A helpful tool we often implement for our transition clients is “The Decision-Free Zone.” This tool allows clients, who are often mentally and emotionally exhausted, to prioritize what decisions they need to make right now and what can wait. We help them keep a running list for decisions that can be left to make later, once they have more energy, clarity, and information.
Respect the Client’s Timeline in a Major Life Transition
One of my closest clients came to me during a period of major upheaval in her life. She was a few years from retiring, her husband had just retired and, unfortunately, after a lifelong battle with mental health issues, he committed suicide. My client was beyond distraught.
When she first came in, one of our first conversations was about selling their weekend home. It was her husband’s favorite place, and she couldn’t bring herself to visit. It took three years to finish this client’s financial plan. As we worked through things at her pace, I encouraged her to visit the cabin and check in on it. I assured her she could afford any repairs that might arise and recommended she hold off on making any final decisions about it just yet.
As the years went by, she spent time at the cabin and eventually came to love being there. She decided to keep the cabin, even though at first, she thought it would be too painful. Now she enjoys being there and it has become one of her favorite places to spend her time.
If there hadn’t been a conscious effort to protect her process and her timeline, she may have sold the house and missed out on this opportunity for healing.
For clients in a major life transition, the money and the emotions are inextricably linked. Letting the client set the planning pace and knowing how to guide them in the right direction can have incredibly powerful results—not just for the plan but for the client’s happiness and satisfaction in life.
Transform the Client’s Relationship with Money
To build a deep relationship like this, it takes time and effort to get to know your client. Not every plan is going to take three years and not every client is going to be experiencing a major life event, but for every client, we have an in-depth planning process. After the process is complete, most people say this is the best money they have ever spent on themselves.
We have several assignments we share with our clients, meeting with them every three or four weeks for six months to discuss their goals and values. To acknowledge the personal aspect of talking about money, we ask clients numerous questions up front. These questions range from: how do they prefer to communicate and how do they like to receive information to what is important to them and what do they want to get out of the engagement. These are all essential questions for establishing the foundation of a successful financial plan.
While all of this is happening, we are also gathering financial data and putting together pieces of the formal financial plan. Once we have a solid understanding of who the client is and what they want for their life, we will complete the plan and present it to the client.
One of the most effective exercises in our tool kit is the money autobiography. Clients find writing this enlightening and cathartic. This is an exercise I have adapted from Dick Wagner to help get to the heart of a client’s relationship with money.
We ask the client to explore many aspects of their lives and typically find they have developed a certain story about money. Usually, this story comes from observations they made when they were younger about the adults in their life. They decided what they like and do not like, who they want to emulate and who they don’t, and have developed a certain money story based on those observations and decisions. They then interact with this story as if it were the truth.
The money autobiography exposes this story and empowers the client to write a new one. We take their money story and elevate it to the level of an adult conversation and give them the infrastructure to keep an eye on their own money management habits. This is how the client starts to transform their relationship with money: by first knowing it exists and then better understanding the unique nature of this relationship.
Finding and Fulfilling the Client’s Life Vision
Once the money autobiography is complete, we ask the client to create their life vision statement, the culmination of all the work we have done together. When they imagine their ideal life and craft a life vision in a succinct phrase, this becomes the context for decisions as life unfolds. Mine for example is, “To live a purposeful life, inspiring others with integrity and love.”
You may have clients that come in with credit card debt or who are particularly anxious about their financial situation. We do a lot of coaching to help them create a budget that covers expenses, plans for surprises, manages cash flow effectively, and allows clients to begin to enjoy their money. The behavioral change required to get to where a client wants to be in life isn’t always easy. This is where the life vision can help to powerfully motivate them to live their fulfilled life.
Building Deeper Relationships of Your Own
Many of these techniques were derived from the Sudden Money Institute, as well as the Kinder Institute of Life Planning. I highly recommend both trainings for financial professionals who want to offer a deeper experience for their clients. A wealth of resources is available through these institutes.
When you do this kind of personal work with someone it is extremely rewarding, and you gain a client for life.
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