Financial Planning: What’s Your Process?

I’ve been in the business for a while at this point. I’ve heard many stories from financial advisors about how they lead initial consultations and what the different methods are which they use to extract vital information from clients. The problem we often face as advisors is that clients offer us a decent amount of ‘hard’ information such as income and expenses but we have a more difficult time getting through to the ‘soft’ information such as a true tolerance for risk, attitudes about money and spending, attitudes about charity and legacy planning, etc. At the end of the day, it’s a relationship that involves trust; the more an advisor understands about the client’s truest feelings, the more they can think through ideas and come up with the best possible solutions for handling one’s financial life. So what’s the solution?

After reviewing many different methods for conducting meetings, I realized that most of the popular fact gathering systems out there do the same things – they capture most of the hard information and use a variety of hypothetical questions to tap into the soft information. For example, some of the soft questions include: if money wasn’t an issue, what would you do with your life for the next 10 years? Another one asks what your earliest childhood memories involving money are. These questions reveal more than a client may realize. The first question gives a clear picture about what the clients goals are, a question they may not answer as clearly if you simply ask them what their goals are. The second question about early childhood memories gets at attitudes about money – something clients often have a difficult time communicating but can be explained largely by what parents teach their kids. For example, many of my wealthier clients are much more reluctant to spend money than my clients who may only have $50K or $100K saved up. Knowing a client’s asset levels doesn’t tell you much at all about their attitudes about spending.

I did a post a few months back about Money Capsules, a system created by an advisor in our office which aims to organize financial priorities, understand the balances and imbalances in your financial life, and make smarter decisions by applying your personal information towards optimizing your financial health. Using this system, the client looks at 7 cards (cash, growth, income, risk, time, giving, and integration) to figure out what is most important and where the financial planning process should start for them. Between those 7 cards you actually end up covering a very wide variety of topics.

Another financial planning formula used by some of the people at our firm (this system is more geared for retirement) aims to categorize spending into ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line,’ with above the line being mandatory expenses and below the line being discretionary spending. This system aims to get all mandatory expenses covered by guaranteed income sources including social security, pensions, and annuities. Anything discretionary can be covered using brokerage accounts and other savings which may fluctuate (similar to how your discretionary spending fluctuates). Using this system you can increase your chances of not outliving your money while keeping a handle on what you need to cut if your investments don’t perform well.

As with most things in the financial planning world, the perfect system will depend on what your needs are. Some clients of mine are purely concerned with performance. They want to own stocks which may outperform the broader market indexes. Other clients aren’t so much worried about performance as they are organizing and understanding all the components of their financial life. They want to know when they need to take withdrawals from retirement accounts, how much tax they will owe, how to gift money to children and grandchildren, when to do that, etc.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Russell Bailyn

Wealth Manager
Premier Financial Advisors, Inc.
14 E 60th Street, #402
New York, NY 10022
P: 212-752-4343 *231
F: 212-752-7673

Securities and certain investment advisory services offered through: First Allied Securities, Inc., a registered Broker/Dealer. Member: FINRA/SIPC. Premier Financial Advisors, Inc. is a Registered Investment Advisor. First Allied Securities & Premier Financial Advisors are not affiliated entities.

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