Lessons learned from Steve Jobs

Financial advisers should ‘think different,’ just as Apple’s technology visionary did

As appeared in “Investment News”

There is plenty that financial advisers can learn from the late Steve Jobs. Often compared to Thomas Edison and Walt Disney, Mr. Jobs is recognized as one of the greatest visionaries of our time. He dazzled the technology world by creating devices that are beautiful, powerful, highly efficient and, most importantly, simple.

Think of the iPod as the game changer. Rather than having to trek to the corner record shop to buy your favorite music, a song can be purchased instantly from the comfort of your own home.

Simplicity promotes acceptance. Acceptance results in trust.

As advisers, our main aspiration should be to evolve our interaction with clients from the equivalent of a vinyl LP to an iPod. We can do that by equating a client deliverable to a customized play list, organized by intuitive “apps” representing different facets of a client’s financial life.

My seven favorite apps, which I call moneycapsules®, are cash, growth, income, risk, time, giving and integration. Advisers can put these labels on their websites, along with appealing visuals; by clicking on one, clients can identify and attain a more intimate understanding of their financial resources their.

Clients favor different apps as a function of their needs. A retired client, for example, would be more focused on lifetime guaranteed income than growth. A wealthy individual probably would want to learn more about giving substantial sums to family members or favorite charities than would a less affluent client, while a client who can’t cope with unnerving market volatility may favor the risk app.

With the “Apple” approach, in the end, the client picks and chooses his or her favorite apps, and the adviser proposes solutions.

This approach to wealth management is straightforward. It combines nontechnical language with appealing and intuitive visual choices to simplify the way financial resources are organized and understood.


Just as on an iPod, the user actively builds a customized playlist so that at the discovery meeting, a client organizes her financial life by priority, using simple labels and appealing graphics.

All too often, the discovery meeting reminds me of a trip to the corner record store to buy a vinyl record. In those days, the customer asked the sales clerk to help him or her locate songs. After rummaging through dozens of albums, customers had no choice but to buy a big clunky vinyl disk, even though all they really wanted was one song on the entire album. Back then, there was no such thing as a playlist.

In the advisory world, instead of a vinyl disk with unwanted songs, the client often receives a complex “comprehensive” report, which has more information than can be digested and acted on. As a result, the client often is overwhelmed, paralyzed and surrenders to the dreaded four words advisers dislike most: “I’ll think about it.” Using the Apple approach can simplify the discovery experience by transforming complex financial language into an easy-to-understand process.

For example, a client’s concept of risk may be to capture 100% of the upside and 0% of the downside. Unless client and adviser agree on the meaning of risk, decisions will be misdirected.

Using simple language and visuals shifts the balance of power from adviser to client and ultimately elevates the relationship.

It isn’t surprising that clients often hand over control of their decisions to the advisers due to miscommunication. This is dangerous for both parties.

Simplicity builds trust and results in more-appropriate decisions, which lead to better financial health.

Although advisers are trained to create holistic solutions for their clients, there often is a disconnect between what the adviser creates and what the client accepts. To bridge that gap, clients need to feel confident that their unique perspective is represented in the solution.

A conversation promoting the inclusion of the client’s perspective should include the immediate effects of an adviser’s plan, its relevance and an opportunity for the client’s self-validation. A process of building on the client perspective requires less adviser input and more client output.

That is important because in most interactions with advisers, the client hears every financial perspective except his or her own.

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