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Use Accountability to Promote Client Motivation

Sasha Grabenstetter April 9, 2024

Multi-generational family celebrates graduation milestone

At the core of creating a successful financial plan is establishing goals that resonate with clients—goals they will be motivated to achieve. A good place to start when establishing these goals is with client values.

Financial decisions are often based on feelings and emotions reflecting what is valued and important to each individual. If financial professionals want to see their clients achieve their goals, crafting a financial plan that adheres to this notion is crucial. Once values-based goals are established, advisors can further ensure their clients are motivated to meet them by using accountability.

Uncovering Client Values

Our values represent our unique, individual core. They highlight what we stand for and can drive our behavior and choices. Helping clients uncover these values requires conversations focused on soul-searching and self-reflection.

Begin uncovering client values by explaining how those values will form the foundation for establishing their financial goals. Illustrate to your clients how values lead to specific goals.

Your example could include values around family or giving back to the community. Values that reflect the importance of family might include goals that protect the family’s future such as establishing life insurance, creating an estate strategy, or planning for college. Community-oriented values may lead to investing in donor-advised funds or establishing a charitable trust.

A thorough discovery process is vital to uncovering client values in any new financial planning relationship and shouldn’t be rushed. Focus on a thorough, mindful approach.

The Case for Establishing a Motivational Process

One of the objectives of establishing values-based goals with your clients is to ensure an emotional connection to those goals—leading clients to act on the behaviors that will lead to success.

While researching goals and motivation, I came across a study by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University that I believe translates well into the financial planning process.

The study found that people who wrote down their goals were 33 percent more successful in achieving them than those who did not. This included both personal and professional goals, and the researchers concluded that the act of writing goals down helps to clarify them, increase motivation, and hold people accountable.1

This is a powerful finding for anyone working to achieve their goals. However, the study participants were also divided into groups with different goal-related tasks that take goal achievement to the next level and provide an excellent parallel to the financial planning process. These groups were broken out as follows:

Group 1 was simply asked to think about their goals and then rate them according to difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation to the goal, and whether or not they had pursued this goal before, and, if so, their prior success.

Groups 2-5 were asked to write their goals (in this case, type them into the online survey) and then to rate them on the same dimensions as Group 1.

Group 3 had the additional task of formulating action commitments.

Group 4 was asked to formulate action commitments and also send their goals and action commitments to a supportive friend.

Group 5 was asked to formulate action commitments and send their goals, action commitments, and weekly progress reports to a supportive friend. Participants in this group were also sent weekly reminders to email quick progress reports to their friend.

There were several conclusions drawn from this study. However, I believe the most powerful—which can be replicated in financial planning—is the positive effect of accountability. Those who sent weekly progress reports to their friend improved their chances of achieving their goals by up to 65 percent, significantly more than all other groups in the study.1

Building Goal Accountability into the Financial Planning Process

Once you have established your clients’ values and used those to determine their goals, it’s time to build their financial plan. Financial technology provides an excellent means to replicate the steps followed by Group 5 in the study.

Write the Goals

There are various methods of giving your clients the satisfaction of capturing their goals in writing. If clients prefer to write their goals by hand, use your planning platform’s secure document vault by having them write their goals, snap a photo with their phone, and upload it to the vault. The client can then revisit the document to reinforce their commitment.

When it comes time to add the goals into the planning software, provide clients with a way to do this themselves through a client portal. To ensure the goals truly reflect the client’s values, encourage them to be specific in their entries. For example, instead of using a default option that merely indicates that they want to start a new business, have them clarify by specifying exactly the type of business they want to start.

Whether handwritten or captured in the planning platform, talk with clients about their goals within the same parameters of the study:

  • Difficulty
  • Importance
  • Extent to which they have the skills and resources to accomplish each goal
  • Commitment and motivation to the goal
  • Whether they have pursued this goal before, and, if so, their success

Formulate and Share Action Commitments and Provide Updates

Using a client portal will not only help clients track their progress toward goals but will also give them a place to capture notes about that progress. Use task-setting capabilities to set and track behaviors that will keep them on their journey toward goal achievement. By allowing the client to capture and maintain their own goals, they’ll not only be more engaged in the planning process, but these acts will effectively serve as the sharing step—with the advisor acting as the supportive friend—that will reinforce goal accomplishment.

In addition to the updates you’ll receive from clients via your interaction in the portal, periodic meetings with them are also an excellent opportunity to discuss progress and hear about any changes to their plans. Collaborate with clients during these meetings to update their goals in your planning platform in real time. Be sure to discuss action items, set up tasks for the client to continue their progress, and check in with them every step of the way.

Values-based Goal Setting Makes It Personal

Values help us define ourselves and by living by them, we can bring about the most positive impact to our lives. It is crucial to ensure that you help clients uncover and consider their values when setting goals for their financial plan.

A top challenge often cited by financial professionals is client motivation.2 Values-based goal setting ensures clients’ goals will resonate with them—adding methods of ensuring accountability will take their motivation to achieve those goals to the next level.

To go deeper into the psychology of client motivation, watch our on-demand webinar, From Client Resistance to Action.


1 Matthews, Gail, “The Impact of Commitment, Accountability, and Written Goals on Goal Achievement” (2007). Psychology | Faculty Presentations. 3.

2 eMoney Leading with Planning Research, May 2022, Advisors n=360

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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