I have always believed that financial planning must follow a life-centred approach and have spoken at many conferences about the value of life planning. My message was not always well received; in part, because it’s difficult to measure the return on investment, and because it takes time and skills that planners don’t necessarily have.
Including life planning in our process at Chartered has been a hugely beneficial and rewarding experience. It gives us the opportunity to dream with our clients, we celebrate their successes with them and most of all, our clients feel valued, supported and safe. They become part of the Chartered Family and clients for life. Our value proposition is not just about the return on investment – it’s about giving our clients a return on life. Every interaction with clients has one purpose: to help them get the most meaning from their money, where money enables the life they dream of living.
For life planning to be successful, it must be at the core of everything you do as a business. It needs to be part of your DNA, your values and your culture. It’s about building trust, relationships and changing the dialogue with clients. And it has to be authentic. It’s not a process that is rushed so that financial discussions can begin.
It is critical that planners embrace and believe in life planning and have the skills to guide clients to plan a roadmap for their lives; help them prioritise according to their values; and base their financial strategies and decisions on the clients’ priorities.
At Chartered, our business is based on life planning. It’s the reason why clients come to us. In fact, we do not talk to clients about their money if they do not agree to life planning. We have implemented five steps to integrate life planning into our business model.
1) Firstly, know your Why
If you are considering incorporating this process into your business, you need to be clear on why you are doing it. The process is not a quick fix or about adding a once-off additional meeting to the financial planning process. It is also not something that you can charge extra for. Life planning becomes a way of doing, a way of being with clients, and is the centre point around which all your business processes are aligned.
So, first of all, be clear on your rationale, the value that you are adding and what you want to achieve for your clients.
2) Design and implement a life planning process that suits your business
You may not need or want to follow the same process we do. This is simply our way of doing. At Chartered, we start our process with a personality profile. This is not only a valuable tool for gaining insight into our client’s world view and values, but it helps them understand their core personality and why they feel, think and behave in certain ways.
We follow this assessment with a conversation about the past: the client’s history; where they’ve come from; and the contributing factors that have shaped their lives up to this point. This includes talking about their earliest, most significant money memories. Many clients are not aware how the money messages they hear as children impact their behaviour with money as adults. We also use this time to guide clients to let go of the money beliefs and habits that no longer serve them. As planners, it is so important to understand a client’s relationship with money. It helps knowing what money beliefs could trigger emotional and irrational responses, and how their habits can potentially sabotage a solid plan.
The next part of our process is to guide clients to define their values and life principles. We know that our core values drive everything we do as humans, so this provides invaluable information on what the client holds most dear. When we talk about transitions that clients are undergoing, or may still be going through, knowing what they value above all else directs the planning process.
It’s about building trust, relationships and changing the dialogue with clients. And it has to be authentic.
Finally, we encourage our clients to dream and ask them to visualise a life that they are excited to live. The dreaming exercise steers the goals and objectives of the life plan, and the financial plan is then structured to enable this. The process takes time. We often schedule at least two meetings with clients before we even start talking about money. But every meeting is another step to creating trust, respect and rapport.
Our clients receive a copy of the life plan once its finalised and our planners and support staff keep it on record. They will always refer to the life plan for every subsequent meeting with the client.
3) A life planning culture
To be authentic, your company values must align with life planning, and pull through every experience, every department and every individual in the company. From the security at the gate, to the receptionist who greets the client, to the planner, administrator, associates and articled planners, the philosophy must filter through the entire culture.
4) Training – enhancing your client conversations
Planners need to be equipped with new skills so that they are comfortable having brave conversations and building life-long relationships with clients. Planners start taking on the role of coach and mentor – and this role involves authenticity, vulnerability, empathy, non-judgemental listening skills and the ability to inspire.
It starts with self-awareness and the commitment to invest time and energy into self-development. We cannot ask clients questions that we ourselves are not comfortable answering, and I encourage planners to practise on each other. Learn how to ask probing questions, how to read body language, how to respond with empathy and how to cultivate real connection. Listening is one of the most important skills.
If you listen, your client tells you what they want and need. It makes them feel valued and you can build the financial plan according to their wishes.
We encourage our clients to dream and ask them to visualise a life that they are excited to live.
We have found great value in the work of Dr Brené Brown and use her teachings to be comfortable with emotional responses such as vulnerability and shame that often stems from money conversations.
5) Marketing life planning as a value-add
Your staff become your most important marketers, and your clients, your most valuable ambassadors. It’s about walking your talk and placing your life planning philosophy centre stage.
Our Chartered website showcases our philosophy, and our additional Retire Successfully site is a platform where clients and retire mentors share tips and stories on how they are living their best lives in this phase.
We communicate regularly with our clients, through newsletters, social media channels and a variety of lifestyle events, always reminding clients that we are here to support them throughout their journey.
A WOW client experience
Clients deserve to feel supported and valued and we express our gratitude and care through thoughtful gestures and creating a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Many of our clients pop in for a slice of cake and cappuccino well before their review meetings.
Feedback is important. We schedule lunch meetings with small groups of clients, and for the duration of the lunch, they become the directors of our company. It’s invaluable to hear what’s working, what should change and what their recommendations for improvement are.
Everything we do is about building relationships. It’s not a transactional process – it’s helping clients to own their power and feel confident that they can take the driving seat in the design of a truly meaningful and fulfilling life.
Benefits for Chartered
It’s a mutually-beneficial relationship – as much as our clients enjoy spending time at our offices, connecting, learning, enjoying delicious meals at our events, and meeting with their planners, our staff feel that they are truly making a difference. We love what we do!
If you invest time and energy in getting to know your clients, and continuously work on building solid relationships, they will be your most loyal ambassadors and trust you to invest 100% of their money. Life planning offers a unique value proposition with the client at the core of your service. It may be a time-consuming process, but in the long run, a win-win for both your client and the profitability of your company.