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Podcast Episode 3: Fintech Plus Financial Psychology = Success, with Greg Furer

Sasha Grabenstetter June 10, 2024

Heart of Advice Podcast

EPISODE SUMMARY

Want to grow your financial planning practice and work smarter, not harder? Gain the insight you need to do just that in this episode, featuring Beratung Advisors CEO Greg Furer, CFP®. He’s passionate about educating and empowering clients and financial professionals, taking a tech-forward approach.

The episode explores how Greg uses technology to streamline the financial planning process, enhance client communication, and scale his practice, which has experienced 600 percent AUM growth. He details how technology allows him to provide comprehensive planning that solves clients’ problems.

Greg also highlights the importance of understanding how clients perceive financial planning. Many clients feel anxious or overwhelmed by the process, associating it with math class or a trip to the dentist. He demonstrates why financial planners should focus more on perspective-taking.

If you’re a financial professional looking to grow your planning business and improve the client experience, this episode is a must-listen!

Here’s What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Beratung Advisors

The New Value Proposition for Advisors

Greg’s eMoney Master Class

Gino Wickman’s Entrepreneur Operating System (EOS)

“Eat That Frog!” by Brian Tracy

“Iconic” by Scott McCain

“Excellence Wins” by Horst Schulze

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins

“No Longer Awkward” by Amy Florian

Financial Planning Association

Quotes:

  • “I think you have to be tech-forward because your clients—not want it, demand it. And I can’t tell you how many clients we’ve won simply because of our client portal.”
  • “We have a standardized process that’s all codified. And we have our training codified so that we’re doing it. But the second part of that is, trust but verify. We … do a sample of all of our reports just like Chick-fil-A, who sample their chicken sandwiches and go around to their restaurants. That’s what we do. And the last thing we do is we do what’s called a peer-to-peer review.”
  • “You have to have somebody that’s a champion of everything. So in our firm, I happen to be the champion of eMoney. Because I am a tech-forward advisor, I will start by saying that. Right. I can’t help it. Like, if I log in, it says new feature alert. Guess what? I’m taking off the next two hours and I’m playing with it to try to break it. … Successful people just make more mistakes. It’s that simple. You don’t learn from your success. You learn from your mistakes. So how you learn software is making mistakes.”
  • “She got up and said, ‘You know, we all hate you financial planners.’ We’re like, ‘Read the room, lady.’ Right? This is all financial planners. ‘You want to know why we hate you?’ We’re like, ‘Yeah!’ And so she shows … a picture of Good Will Hunting with all the math.”

Full Transcript:

Connor: Welcome to the eMoney Heart of Advice podcast. Today on the podcast, we have the founder and CEO of Beratung Advisors, and honestly, I would say a well-known eMoney “super user,” Greg Furer. Greg, welcome.

Greg: Connor, thank you. It’s a privilege and honor to be here with you.

Connor: As always, it’s great to see you. Sasha and I are super excited to talk to you a little bit about today. Greg, would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself? Just kick us off with the journey, the firm now, your current interests, passions. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and your team.

Greg: I like to refer to myself sometimes as an accidental business owner. I never set out to be one. But when I talk to anyone that I grew up around, they always knew I was going to be a business owner. I started out in the profession on the life insurance side of the business. I started out at Guardian, and Guardian was one of the seed monies of eMoney. So that’s actually how I started using eMoney. I was coming out of college, not making money, and paying for my access to eMoney. And when I was there, I really fell in love with financial planning and using eMoney. And that’s where my passion for the profession started, using that.

What I didn’t fall in love with was the fact that all the solutions for our financial planning ended up being whole life insurance policies. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but that’s not the solution for every single client. So I felt the need to move. I also was in a situation where my first year I made $6,000 in revenue, but I paid out over $30,000 in expenses. So when that happens, you kind of have to make a different move. I went over to the bank channel for many years and was really blessed both when I was on the life insurance side and the bank channel with unbelievable mentors. And that’s really, I think, one of the things that I always talk about—nature versus nurture—and nobody really knows the truth, and I think it’s a combination of both. But it shows what an impact a mentor could have in your life and what it’s done for my career.

When I was at one firm, the owner of the firm used to call the CFP® license the “can’t produce” license, and you can figure out what that middle part was. And in my faith tradition, there was this guy who was the biggest persecutor in my faith. And he was on this road to Damascus and all of a sudden, he had this conversion moment, and he became the most prolific writer in my faith tradition. And so I call this my “road to Damascus” moment, just like he had a chance encounter with God. I had a chance encounter with a CFP®. I went and got my CFP® not because I wanted to become a better financial planner, but because my best friend got it. And how dare he have a higher designation in the profession than I did. Right? So I got it, just competitively. But that was my road to Damascus moment.

While I was in the coursework, I went from thinking it was a useless designation to actually now lobbying on behalf of CFP® professionals for title protection, and trying to get it so not everyone can call themselves a certified financial planning professional just because they think that they can. Right? So that’s really how my background was shaped. There were these moments along the way. I like to call them my Nineveh moments. My favorite issue is the story of this guy. He was going to a town called Nineveh. He didn’t want to go there. So finally, they threw him over in a boat. This whale swallows him up and spits him out in Nineveh. So it’s a reference to something you don’t want to do, but it keeps coming up. I never wanted to start my own company. I was at a great firm. The compensation was excellent. I wish I still had that compensation. Right? To have money to become a small business owner. So the compensation was excellent. The culture was great. But ultimately, I had too many clients. When I went to sit down and do financial planning, there wasn’t the ability to take that time. Also, the software was subpar. I wanted, quite frankly, eMoney at the time. It’s funny because after I left, they switched to eMoney. So let’s get out of those moments. Right? So I kept following these moments.

The Fourth Great Profession

One of those moments that was really clear was when I had a voicemail from my largest client, and I had a voicemail from a financial planner at another firm that just had a random financial planning question. I can’t make any money. I can’t get commissions if it comes to my firm. We didn’t have a type of team structure like that. But I instinctively returned his call. Because when I realized how passionate I am about financial planning, I’m more passionate about helping financial planners become better financial planners. Because what I realized, much to my other firm’s chagrin, is that I believe you can only work with 250 clients max. We actually believe it’s closer to 100 to 150. And anytime somebody fights me with that, I can win that math with whatever they say on a bar napkin. Because I just use their own words against them, like, wait. How so? You read something every morning. Oh, yeah. Do you keep up your CEs? Oh, yeah. How often do you meet with clients, quarterly? Meanwhile, none of them do. But I just keep writing the math down. I’m like, well, it’s only a 168 hours a week. So either you’re lying on these numbers or you’re lying on how many clients you can serve and serve well.

So if I want to have an expanded impact, then—I believe that we’re the fourth great profession. And if you remember back to, I think, Socrates or Plato, I can’t remember who it was back in college, they talked about there being three great professions in society. The law profession keeps an orderly society. So law, that keeps order. Medicine, because it helps us stay healthy, helps us live longer. And then there is theology, which is our spirituality, our mind. I believe there’s a fourth great profession. I believe that’s financial planning.

Because regardless of your race, regardless of your ethnicity, regardless of your socioeconomic status, and any other ways that we see people relegated to some type of group. All of us have one thing in common. We all have to deal with money. Okay. The number one reason for stress, the number one reason for divorce, and the number one reason for suicide is often cited as money issues. So I believe when financial planners get better, we can make our society great. We can bring our underprivileged communities up to greater heights. We can change this country more so than all the other stupid things we do. We could genuinely change the world through financial planning. So that’s my background.

So I started a financial planning firm so that I could help mentor others the way others have mentored me. So that I could make our community in Pittsburgh stronger. We call it the 412 region based on our area code, and that’s the vision of our company. We believe that when financial planners in Pittsburgh do better work that helps their clients, we believe if we do that, we could have an impact so great that our community would thrive even if we closed our doors. That’s a little bit about me and our firm.

Sasha: That’s awesome. Well, I know that I don’t have the geography right because I grew up in the Midwest. I just assumed that Pittsburgh and Philly were right next door to each other. I know that they’re not.

Connor: Whoa whoa whoa

Greg: Or that we get along or like each other, right? We did have a joint football team called The Steagles during World War II, right? The Steelers and Eagles came together. But usually, we’re pretty big rivals, especially when it comes to hockey and baseball.

Sasha: Well, that’s good to know.

Greg: By the way, the Flyers haven’t won a Stanley Cup since ’76 or ’78, not that I’m counting.

Connor: We don’t talk about them right now.

Sasha: OK. Well, Greg, your firm’s 600 percent growth has been really impressive. And according to our New Value Proposition for Advisors guide, you are what we consider a “tech-forward” advisor. You believe technology is important, and our research really shows that tech-forward advisors see significantly better client outcomes than tech-averse advisors. We’ll get to technology in a bit. But first, we’d like to learn more about your financial planning process. I heard you just share a little bit about it: 100 client, 150 clients. We’d love you share more about that approach to planning, especially when we’re talking about that confidential and secure space for conducting money-related discussions with your clients.

Greg: I’m going to borrow that term now and start referring to myself as a tech-forward advisor instead of what I always say, that I’m a fintech nerd. So I’m going to start introducing myself that way. That sounds a lot better than fintech nerd, right? I was literally talking to somebody on a plane. They were like, what do you do? They’re like, I’m in fintech. I’m like, I’m a fintech nerd. I’m like, do you know what fintech is? Right? I do. First off, I don’t like technology because of the shiny object syndrome. I like technology because I like the path of least resistance. I like to work smarter, not harder. I’m naturally wired that way to solve problems to make us work more efficiently. Technology is a partner in that.

I tend to be an early adopter, not because I’m an early adopter. If you follow, you know, like, an adopter pattern. Right? There are the early adopters. Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point talks a lot about the early adopters. I’m an early adopter when you can make my life easier. So when we’re doing our fintech stack, there’s a lot of times I’ll tell our team there’s better software that could be a better way of doing it. We don’t adopt it because it has to fit in our holistic tech stack and look at the ripple effects. A great example is actually when eMoney is doing updates. There are times when there’s a better way to build out the technique that we’re doing. But to do that, I’d have to go back and change all our old techniques and the old way we did it. And I’ll know how to do both ways, and I might say to somebody who’s a new user to do it this way.

So, I think one of the things that we look at is technology as a partner. Depending on where you’re at in your career when you start to implement technology, and based on your knowledge, I think there’s this relationship where technology becomes a competitor as opposed to a partner. And what I’m always trying to do is ask, “Is there a way that I can add more value to my clients?”

Because ultimately, my clients can pursue more of their goals and live a more fulfilling life. That’s where I get that number, that 100 to 150. So if I’m doing that, how do I provide more value to my clients, and technology becomes that partner?

The second reason why I would say I’m “tech-forward” is because the reality is, your clients are tech-forward. If I hear one more planner tell me, “My clients are 85 or 90 and don’t have email.” That’s not true. My 90-year-old clients have email and they check it. Ask them! “Oh, they don’t get online.” Then how do they get their Social Security? It’s all online now. This is a lie that certain generations don’t get online. By the way, I found that in my personal experience, the generation that’s the least tech-forward is Generation X. From personal observation, Gen X and older millennials are a little bit more tech-leery. I’m a big reMarkable guy. I’m an elder millennial, so I was born in ’84. And my wife refers to my reMarkable tablet as my emotional support dog. I don’t go anywhere without it. And people are like, “Why wouldn’t you just use an iPad?” I say, “It’s too much technology. I don’t want that distraction.” Right?

I think that a lot of times, we look at generational clients, and they all want technology. Show me a client who doesn’t use online banking. Show me a client who doesn’t have a smartphone. They exist. But you’re such a small minute population that it doesn’t move the needle and that doesn’t drive business decisions.

I think you have to be tech-forward because your clients not only want it, they demand it. And I can’t tell you how many clients we’ve won simply because of our client portal.

The Power of the Client Portal

I want to share a quick story. One of my really good friends, was never a client. And I’m very careful which friends I take on as clients. I usually refer them out. But he’s somebody that understands me as a professional, understands me as a friend. He came to me and one of the reasons why he did, he was complaining: “It’s just too hard. My life is too busy right now. I want to have something that I could see everything in one place. I saw one of your videos on LinkedIn. That’s what I want.”

So we go and we end up doing financial planning for them. We’re a financial planning firm that happens to do investment management, not an investment management firm that happens to do financial planning. So all of our clients do financial planning, not all of our clients do investment management.

He comes to the financial planning process, then decides to bring over all his assets and make his life easier. Wouldn’t you know the firm that we took him from? The guy called and was like, “Hey, why are you leaving?” They were switching to eMoney the month afterward. And the reason why, part of it, was the nail in the coffin of our client coming over because they were losing clients to a client portal.

You don’t go someplace for white glove service. You go there because of what they solve. Businesses exist for one reason: to solve my problems. So you consider what you call white glove service. You return my call. But at 2 o’clock in the morning on Friday, when I’m thinking about my finances, I get out of bed, I want to go to my client portal and see it. I want to research you on your website and know what tools you have available for me.

I think the thing we’re missing no matter what generation it is, everyone wants to do some level of do-it-yourself. They want technology with a human to help guide them through it. You ever get frustrated because you couldn’t figure something out. So that’s why we do that. And so why we’ve grown 600 percent? Why we’ve done that is because we’ve been very careful about what technology we implement. We use it to make our clients’ level of service better, their experience better. Not just for the sake of having it.

When I was in high school, they made this thing called Smartboards, which everyone knows now. Right. But in high school, that was a big deal, I helped write this grant and we got six Smartboards. It was a big deal. That was the biggest waste of money I’ve ever seen. You know why? Because they forced every teacher to use it as part of the curriculum. And they had no idea how to use it. And then they were just forced to use it. So it actually provided no value to us from an educational standpoint. They were literally taking slide decks and just putting them on there, which was the same thing. Right? So one of the things was, are you using technology for tech’s sake? And we were telling these people “We’ve got Smartboards.” They literally didn’t enhance the educational experience or provide one additional thing. So when you have a client portal, you have to go to the next step.

When you go and buy a new car, what do they do? They show you how to use the new features, right? The new buttons. Are you walking your client through that experience? What are you doing in the first 90 days of onboarding a new client? That’s the same for existing clients you’re onboarding to a client portal.

I forget the exact statistic. Google this if you’re interested. But it’s something like 90 percent of iPhone users never change a default setting on their iPhone. That’s not downloading an app. It’s changing a setting. Right? Like, “Oh, I want my focus time to be during this time” or something along those lines. That’s what they’re talking about. So 90 percent of users never adjust the settings inside of there because they don’t know how. And how many times do you go and read a hack in the Wall Street Journal somewhere and think “I didn’t know my iPhone could do that.” Your clients are going to leave you for a competitor. Technology is only as good as it helps me solve my problem. You can give me a Ferrari, but if I don’t know how to drive stick shift, it’s not going to be that great.

So I think that’s why we’ve grown, and part of our growth has come from a merger. That merger happened because the other group wanted that tool. They wanted to be able to do that. And I think the last part of why we’ve grown is we’ve scaled it. We’ve done two things. We draw a line in the sand. No more clients without a financial plan. If we’re CFP® professionals, we have to engage clients in a financial plan. Then once we do that, the number one thing I ask people that are focused and want to do more financial planning, which seems to be 90 percent of our profession, right? Why don’t you do more financial planning? And the answer is always, in some way, shape, or form, however they answer, it’s a time issue.

It’s either “My clients won’t give me the documents and don’t see the value because they don’t have enough time to do it.” Or, “I don’t have the time to implement it in my practice. I’d rather make $10,000 a year, meet the client four times at one hour, four hours of prep, that’s eight, two hours of servicing, which is 10 hours, than 32 hours to do financial planning, and charge $2,500. That’s bad math, Greg.”

But my clients want it. My clients need it, my clients demand it, and then you end up losing that $10,000 revenue out the back door.

So what we need to do is we have to find ways to scale that. And so the way we’ve scaled that is all of us doing the planning the same way. And when you look at any great business model, they replicate it. If I go to Chick-fil-A, every Chick-fil-A has the same chicken sandwich in EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) terms.

We live and die by Entrepreneurial Operating System by Gino Wickman, or EOS. They call it “follow-up by all.” That doesn’t mean you all do the same thing. I can choose my chicken sandwich without a pickle on it, but I can’t get a burger. So that happens when you add that target market. We customize our financial plans for all of our clients, but we have a tool to do the same planning over and over again. That’s how you’re able to grow it. So you’re not going to increase your financial planning tool. One, you make a line in the sand, a “belief audit” that that’s what our clients need, all of your clients. And then two, have a system, but you all do it the same way.

Connor: Oh, holy moly. There’s a lot going on there. Well, first off, I’d say I hope that everybody that listens to this copies some of the stuff you do. The biggest form of flattery is plagiarism. So, listen to what Greg’s talking about and try and adopt and implement what will work in your business.

You talked a lot about technology being both an engagement tool with clients as well as a valuable piece to scale, obviously, the delivery of financial planning. But I want to kind of separate those and go a little bit deeper into two spots.

So you ended up talking a lot about the development of scale by using technology through what I call personally standardized planning processes. But can you talk a little bit about how you keep track of new features and how you implement them into that standard process, and how you—I don’t want to say guarantee—but, how do you build some of that standardization when you have multiple people that are delivering advice and you personally are not included in every one of those planning engagements?

Greg: Yeah. Let’s start off by saying I don’t have that figured out. We’ve got it figured out better than 90 percent of firms I’ve seen. But there’s no crystal ball, right? There’s no perfect way.

When you think about the six components of a business—the people component of a business is always the hardest thing. How do you get people to replicate what you’re doing? So many business owners won’t let go of the vine. They’re hanging on the ledge by the vine because they want to be in control of everything. The first thing you’ve got to understand is, nobody’s ever going to do it the exact same way you did it. Once you can understand that—and by the way, sometimes it means they do it better than you, right? Because if they do it the same way and they do it a lot of times, hopefully they do it better than you. But I think 80 percent is our goal. We always tell our team if, as the owner of the firm, as the leader of the firm, more importantly, if everyone makes a decision the same way I do 80 percent of the time, that’s great. If we get to 90 percent, we’re Blockbuster. If we’re at 70 percent, that means we’re not aligned and we don’t have shared common values and vision.

How do you do that? That’s why we’re such big believers in EOS and setting up systems and everyone have that same language, having really strong core values that determine everything and making decisions by that.

Subject Experts and Technology Champions

But the other part of this is, you’re actually asking from a technology standpoint. I want to give that framework here. You have to have somebody that’s a champion of everything. In our firm, I happen to be the champion of eMoney. Because I am a tech-forward advisor, we’ll start by saying that. I can’t help it. Like, if I log in, and it says new feature alert. Guess what? I’m taking off the next two hours and I’m playing with it and breaking it. That’s the way I’m wired. I want to break it. I do. I’m going to sample client. I’m like, “How will this not work? How can I screw up the plan?” One of my mentors said to me, and this is one of those moments of time where time stood still. He probably doesn’t even remember he said this to me in this conversation. He goes, “Greg, in all my life, I’ve learned that the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people boils down to one thing.” I’m like, “What? Tell me, right?”

“Successful people just make more mistakes.” It’s that simple. You don’t learn from your success. You learn from your mistakes. So how you learn software is making mistakes. That’s how I learned. So I tried to make errors going to the ledger, see what my errors are, and that’s how I learned software. I’m able to quickly learn it. So you have to have a champion.

For example, we have an EOS champion on our team. We have a CRM. We switched to Wealthbox, which has been life-changing for us compared to the competitor we switched from, way more expensive, but actually more value so it’s actually cheaper for us long term. And we have a Wealthbox champion. That’s Scott.

If you try to be an expert at all of those things, you can’t be. Now if you’re a solo practitioner, that’s just part of what you’re going to have to do is you have to be all those things, right? So you do. And then you just have to block time and you have to do it or you need to hire somebody to champion and guide you and lead you in those areas.

So that’s the first thing we do is we get a champion. Some of you might champion. How do we stay on it? We do a team training every single Tuesday. That’s an hour and a half. And that team training, we go over our mission, we go over our core values. Right?

We’re not like Walmart, and we’re doing the little squiggly cheer in the Walmart. We’re not that when we go over our mission. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please go read Walmart’s book. It’s kind of a crazy thing to do.

Part of that time is for training. We train on the software. We also have standardized principles. We created a master class and start to finish it’s available at no cost to anyone who wants to borrow it. People are like, “Why have you spent over 40 hours recording this?” I didn’t do it for other people. I did it selfishly so that when we bring people on, they could replicate our system.

And so many firms were calling me asking me how we did it. So now I just say, “Here, click on this link.” And so that helps you start to learn how to do it. But how do you do it? There’s a difference between things you can learn in life through processes and things you can’t. You can put standard operating procedures in place. But other things you can only learn through experience. There are things in life you can learn through training and other ones you have to be coached on. And then there’s when you put both of them together. It’s like, how do you make a decision to avoid pain or gain pleasure? Guess what? Best way is to do both of them. If I could avoid pain and gain pleasure, you’re going to get a sale on that one.

Scaling Personalized Financial Planning

So what we try to do is we try to do all that. So how do we do that? All of our recommendations are on a sheet. Every one of our assumptions are in a sheet. We have a standardized process that’s all codified. And we have our training codified, so that we’re doing it. But the second part of that is, trust but verify. We go and do a sample of all of our reports just like Chick-fil-A samples their chicken sandwiches going around to their restaurants. That’s what we do. And the last thing we do is we do is what’s called a peer-to-peer review. So our new financial plans that come in. Our team gets together, and we actually pitch the plan to our team and all of the recommendations. What that does is, it’s like getting three doctors to tell you what’s wrong with your elbow as opposed to one, but it also replicates it across our team. Now you might be saying, Greg, we can’t pull out an hour and a half to do team training. We can’t pull out an hour to do a peer-to-peer review. We don’t have enough people on our team to have a champion. And what I would say is, you can’t afford not to do those things. Just like you’ve got to pay yourself first.

Because what ends up happening is, in the long run that saves you more time. You know, if we can all have a common language, we all have a common way of doing it. If you have a problem in an eMoney plan, we can solve it quicker because we all know what we’re inputting and how we’re inputting it. When I switched to eMoney, I had eMoney a long time ago and I had a time period where I didn’t have it in my old firm. I took two weeks off, no client appointments, and played in the software. And that’s paid dividends, pun intended, because I can understand the software and those updates now come quickly. And you’re always going to have people on a team that lag technology-wise, that maybe might be slower. That’s just the reality of life. And you just have to coach them a little bit more and help them a little bit more or create power planning or other facilities inside your team to take that off their plate. That’s not their strength. We use Predictive Index on our team, we sleep, live, and die by. We understand what everyone’s Predictive Index is, and we try to mold them and put the right people in the right seats through that and understanding maybe this person might not learn that. Not everyone has to be an expert at it.

Connor: That’s great. I mean, just to echo that back, I mean, it’s spend the time, invest the time in the business to create some standards and, honestly, find people like yourself that are passionate enough in specific areas so that they want to go kick the tires on something and figure out how it best serves them, how it best serves the firm, how it best serves clients. I think it’s extremely important.

And making mistakes is definitely important, but it’s again, it’s because you enjoy making mistakes in the system or trying to break it. You know? Let’s just assume you haven’t broken eMoney yet.

I do want to switch from an internal perspective. I was going to offer up the notion that I feel like most advisors I talk to that are having trouble scaling either planning or eMoney inside of their planning firms is a lack of time or capacity and then, you know, just the idea of people management and adding folks to champion something like that. It’s daunting.

Greg: You said something that just resonated with me. I hear this all time, “I just can’t get anyone to replicate what I do.” I’m like, well, where’s your procedures? So there’s an old famous saying, “if you do something three times, it should be written down.” They’re like, “But I don’t have the time to do that.” But you’re talking to me right now, you could have in that hour written that down. And then, you know what they wanted? They want it to be perfect. We follow MVP, minimum viable product, 80 percent, not to be confused with 30 percent. If something’s 80 percent complete, it’s ready to go to market. If you try to get to 100 percent, you’ll never go to market because everything even 100 percent once you go to market, you’re going to change.

Another way to do this. In Brian Tracy’s “Eat That Frog!” book, he says imagine you are leaving for vacation tomorrow. One of the tasks you absolutely have to get done, say I have to write the standard operating procedure before I leave for vacation tomorrow. Write it down in five points or less, then you can expand upon it.

And then what’s even better is once you expand upon it, because now your team’s involved in it, now they create something better than you could have ever created in your head because they’re coming back and you’re saying, “Hey, you didn’t do this plan the right way.” Then they say, “Well, Greg, in this operating procedure, it said this.” “Oh, darn. We have to update that.”

So the excuse is, “I don’t have enough time to do anything.” It’s because you’re not prioritizing it. You have to understand if you don’t control your operating procedures they will control you, just like your calendar. If you don’t calendar block, you don’t control your calendar. If you don’t have your core competencies accounted for—20 percent of the activities that account for 80 percent of the time you spend—you will never have a scalable business. You have a business that runs you instead of you running the business, and you will never be replaceable; the number one thing you should be as a business owner is replaceable.

Connor: It’s just the way of the world. Because then everybody can help out at the same level, caliber, quality, quantity. At the end of the day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, eMoney’s mission and vision at least once during this podcast, but it’s helping people talk about money and financial peace of mind for all—definitely where I think you are headed, and definitely where we would like to enable you to continue moving toward.

On the flip side of the coin, so we talked a lot about some of the internal ways that technology can support the team and I’d say, definitely invest the time to set up those standard procedures. But from a client engagement standpoint, I know you talked about the portal. I know that you love the portal. I want to reiterate the importance of building it into the standard process because that’s how you end up with adoption. But more broadly, what do you feel like the most valuable pieces of technology? I know that it’s difficult to say between client engagement tools versus planning delivery versus efficiency and scale. But if you had to pinpoint one thing today, what would it be?

Greg: So that’s an easy answer for me because I have them in order. It’s definitely Client Portal number one, right? The interaction. But number two is Decision Center. So goals inside of the Client Portal. Like, I wish, if I had my ideal world, the first page of eMoney wouldn’t even exist in the Client Portal. Your investment balances don’t matter. It’s probability success. That’s all that matters to the client. And so Decision Center in every way, that’s the heart of eMoney, that’s what the clients interact with. All these reports, people don’t care.

Perspective: Like Math Class or a Dental Checkup

You know, there was a psychologist one time at the FPA Annual Conference. This is, like, six or seven years ago at the FPA Annual was one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard. She got up and said, “You know, we all hate you financial planners.” We’re like, “Read the room, lady.” Right? Like, “This is all financial planners.”

“You want to know why we hate you?” We’re like, “Yeah.” And she shows this picture and it was a picture of Good Will Hunting with all the math. She’s like, “It’s like going to math class and, nerd alert, most people’s least favorite course in high school or college was math. And I’m not saying everyone here thinks math is their favorite, but it probably wasn’t your least favorite if you joined this profession.”

Now that’s a problem, and why our profession needs to change. Because there’s very little math required. The software does that stuff for you. It’s all human interaction and psychology.

But what she’s saying, is that’s how a lot of people feel. And it’s because financial planners get in front of people and they start showing them equations and charts of the cash flow report and the client is like, “I just want to know if I’m OK.” Right?

She said the second thing is, you’re like marriage counselors. And there was a picture of a couple fighting. And she said, “You don’t understand that probably 90 percent of your clients have had a fight after leaving your office.” She referred to it as pillow talk. She said it’s that 10 minutes before you go to bed. That’s when most people have really difficult conversations because if you’re mad at each other, you just roll over and go to bed. Now in my house, we always said we’re never going to go to bed angry until we had kids. I was like, man, she’s in my head. Right? Like, we do that. But your clients do this; a majority of your clients fight after meeting with you. You just don’t know it.

I know we all think we’re great and everyone loves us and we’re all sometimes we’re the most arrogant professionals ever seen in terms of how great we think we are to our clients. But just switch companies. We’ll see how good you really are.

And then in the third part of it, she’s like, “Marriage counseling: bad. Math: bad.” The next one, she showed a picture of a dentist chair. She’s like, “You’re like going to a dentist. You have to do it once a year—meanwhile, I think it should be twice a year—but she’s like, “You have to go once a year.” And, quite frankly, we have anxiety going there. And we don’t want to do it, and we actually hate it. But we only do it so we don’t have pain in our teeth. And so when you really fundamentally understand that that’s what clients could be perceiving, you have to interact with clients. You’re hired as a business for one reason. One reason and it is to solve their problem. What’s their pain point? It’s not “make my money grow” or “beat the market.” I just had this prospect this weekend. We call them potential clients, but for the sake of this, it was a prospect.

They’re like, “Hey, I want to know about your investment philosophy. I have money with Fisher Investments.” I was like, “Yeah, our investment philosophy is the market does what the market does and we can’t beat the market. But we don’t do investments. We do financial planning. If you need investments, we can talk about that.”

Talk Triggers and Decision Making

I’ve learned that people want typically two things out of their money. Number one, they want an income or future income. And two, they want to get their cha cha cha. Then I say “It’s supporting your children, church, or charity.” Then they get it. Right? It just helps them remember.

Sasha: I was like, I don’t understand, are we dancing?

Greg: You just proved my point. It’s a talk trigger. If you’re not familiar with the term “talk trigger,” we build our whole firm around talk triggers. It’s things that make people talk about you. That and great service. White glove service. If you’ve never read the book “Iconic,” it’s one of my favorite books of all time. The author talks about what makes brands iconic. The number one grossing steak house in all of America is in Indianapolis, Indiana, they have one location. They’re famous for, in that booming sea town of Indianapolis, Indiana, their cocktail shrimp. It’s Saint Albert’s Steakhouse. Why? Because their cocktail shrimp sauce is so strong with horseradish, they actually make it in the basement with a gas mask on.

It’s famous because it’s a talk trigger. It forces you to talk about it. So the cha cha cha becomes one of those things that sticks in their head. We do a lot of weird stuff like that. We make our own bourbon and people are like, “Why do you make bourbon?” It’s a talk trigger.

So the moral of the story here is, I’m telling this person, those are two things to see here, cha cha cha or income. Most people’s goal is not just to grow assets. Again, there are always exceptions to the rule. But they come in focused on growing their assets because they think that’s how they’re going to get an income. Or they think that’s how they’re going to get their cha cha cha. Those are the things that really matter. I said, “Does markets up or down really matter? Because if you have enough income to manage all your goals, does it really matter what the balance is?” He goes, no. “If you give it to your children and there’s enough income to do everything they want to do, does it really matter what the balance is?” He says no. Then I said, “Why do you care?” He says, “Because I was told that’s what I should do.” I said that’s why we need to talk.

We have to understand what clients want. We have to recalibrate clients because ultimately, that’s what they want. So how do we explain this? Decision Center. The name’s “Decision Center.” Clients want help making decisions. It’s one of the greatest names. The way it flows, the way that it’s structured, and most importantly, that’s where eMoney is developing all the new shiny tools. And they’re getting it. They’re all new. It’s the best part of it too.

So it’s definitely: Client Portal number one. Number two’s Decision Center, and then number three would be Next Steps. I love Next Steps. That’s one of the greatest tools ever.

Connor: Underutilized.

Greg: Underutilized. My clients know what that checklist is. I could copy and paste it into an email. They can see it in their Client Portal.

The biggest mistake we make with “white glove service”—it’s not how fast you return a client call. It’s how well you solve a client’s problem. And we get down to it. If you’ve ever read “Excellence Wins” with Horst Schulze, I had the privilege and honor to have breakfast with Horst Schulze. He’s the founder of the modern Ritz Carlton. And, man, he’s just one of the most remarkable, not to mention for his age, he’s spry. He’s in his 80s, and he looks and acts like he’s 50. But the guy’s just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to hospitality, and we just get hospitality plain wrong in this profession. We think it’s answering calls, returning client calls, being available at evenings and weekends. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about solving a client’s problems.

And I think where we fail is the follow-up. How many times do we tell a client to get a will and power of attorney and never follow up? And how many times do we hear that somebody dies and it’s like, “Oh, I have this trust. But the lawyer never helped me put all the stuff in the trust.” That Next Steps, man, it keeps everyone honest and keeps everyone on the same page. I could go on and talk about all the different features. But to me, Client Portal first, Decision Center second, Next Steps third.

There’s the Hedgehog Effect, it comes from the book “Good to Great.” But it’s the spear that comes together. What are you really passionate about? What are you also really good at? Right? And that’s what it is. I’m just extremely passionate about this profession because of the impact this profession can have on lives, and that’s why we do it.

Connor: And good at.

Greg: And good at. Thanks. I’ll take that Connor. Thanks.

Connor: You can feel the passion. I won’t spend too much time on it, but I do think it’s super important and it was kind of an undertone to most of our conversation today of how important it is to understand what your “why” is. While most of what we talked about is the implementation of technology and financial planning and the impact it has on your clients, you’re only able to do it as successfully as you have for yourself. Understanding your “why” and your values and how those align with your business, with your clients, and why you’re doing it and who you’re helping. I’d say definitely we talked about spending time. I would also spend time and look in the mirror and understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But as it pertains to this discussion, Greg, I want to leave you with our final question, which is how would you define the heart of advice when it comes to financial planning?

Greg: I think, honestly, we get this really wrong in our profession. Advice is not defined by any type of success metric or numeric metric in my opinion. Our mission statement at Beratung is to educate and empower clients to pursue their goals and live a fulfilling life. To pursue goals and live a fulfilling life is also part of our “why.” Right? So our “why” is in the mission statement. But I think ultimately, that’s all firms that are doing financial planning. It’s about creating change. So often, we get high and mighty on the fee schedule. Right? Like, oh, do you charge a flat fee or do you do fee-only or fee-based or whatever? That’s not the right “f” word. The right “f” word is fiduciary, not fees. All different fee models work. That’s from the CFP® ethics course. That’s straight from that. Right? The “f” word is not fee, it’s fiduciary.

It’s funny, the people that believe in permanent life insurance typically are paid commission on permanent life insurance. People who think it’s evil are typically paid an advisory fee. Who’s in the middle? Who thinks it could be a right thing and a wrong thing? Right? Everything’s villainized, and you just follow the box. So often it’s like, I’m fee only, and I only charge an advisory fee, and then they don’t know anything about annuities. You get Fisher out there saying annuities are always wrong. What do you do for somebody with my mom that can handle a single downturn? Needs income for life and is a spendthrift. I would love to see that solution. If you put her in the markets, I think you should go to jail if you put my mom in the markets. I feel like it doesn’t make sense.

Financial planning is about solving people’s problems. It’s about changing their current lifestyle habits to get to their future goals. Whatever those future goals are, I’m not supposed to tell somebody to rent or to own based upon what’s a sound financial principle. I’m supposed to tell them whether to rent or to own based upon achieving their goals in life.

One of my favorite professionals says, don’t “should” all over them. You should do this. You should do this. You should do this. Right? That’s Amy Florian. And I think we “should” all over our clients all the time.

Part of why I don’t believe in the AUM model is, what about small business owners who have all their money in their business? They don’t get advice. Like, not everyone needs traditional investments. If you’re really good at real estate, then do real estate. But if I only get paid on investments, I’m somehow changing their lives by getting them out of real estate, putting them into what makes me money. So ultimately, the heart of advice.

The heart of advice is about understanding your clients’ goals. And given whatever tool, I tend to think Decision Center and eMoney are the best tools to explain this to clients. But if you think another tool is better, it doesn’t always have to be the extreme comprehensive. Because the mark of success and why I believe in financial planning, is a client’s ability to pursue their goals and live whatever they define as a fulfilling life. Not that they had mathematically the best plan. Not that they were optimized, but that no matter what happened, we helped create a plan for them to pursue their goals over their lifetime. That’s the heart of advice for me.

And I have found eMoney is the best tool and that’s why I’m passionate about it because that’s where I can make that conversation and take the abstract numbers and things that people don’t like, the math they don’t like, and package it in green, red, and yellow, and help them make informed decisions instead of making decisions without being informed.

Connor: Powerful. I do want to ask, for anybody either for your master class or if anybody has any follow-up for you, do you want to just throw out a way for folks to get in touch with you?

Greg: The best way to get in touch with me is honestly LinkedIn. With that being said, please feel free to direct message me. I am very responsive. We also have an eMoney tip of the week that comes out every Tuesday, so they’re less than 10-minute tips on eMoney. We have our master class on our website. Our website is Beratung Advisors. It’s a German word for advice, guidance, counsel.

You can find me on LinkedIn, Greg Furer. They screwed our name up at Ellis Island. We don’t have an “h,” so I’m pretty easy to find inside of there. But that’s the best way to connect with us. We do release our tips of the week and our master class through our LinkedIn. A lot of our LinkedIn content, honestly, is focused on financial planners because we want to make this profession great. If there’s any way that I can help you become better because I believe we’re a noble profession when financial planners come better, the whole world gets better. If I can help you in any way to have a greater impact, then I serve God by serving others, and I’d be honored to serve you. Connect with me on LinkedIn, and I would love to help you.

Connor: I’m going to “should” on everybody that’s listening right now. You should reach out to Greg if you have any questions.

Greg: I appreciate you guys. It’s been an honor and a pleasure, and I just want to give a heartfelt thank you for all that you guys do to enhance this tool and make me a better financial planner because if a team at eMoney is not constantly updating and enhancing this tool, then I don’t have the best arrows in my quiver to have the impact I need to have. So thank you to everyone at eMoney. Keep up the great work. I’m really excited about the roadmap for the next two years. I believe the next two years are going to make this tool jump ahead of its competitors in a way it never has before. So thank you to each and every one of you.

Connor: Thank you.

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.

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About the Author

Sasha Grabenstetter, AFC®, BFA™ is a Financial Planning Education Consultant at eMoney Advisor. She is an integral part of the internal and external financial planning education programs, as well as financial planning content development. Sasha won the 2020 Outstanding Symposium Practitioners' Forum Award from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. She previously co-authored “Apple Seed: A Student Guide to Pro Bono Financial Planning” and “All My Money: Change for the Better.” With close to 10 years in financial education, Sasha received her AFC® designation in 2015 and graduated with her master’s degree from Texas Tech University in 2012.

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