How We Partner With Our Clients

In traditional financial services and wealth management models, the work of partnering with the client to reach their financial goals is primarily transactional. Whether that client compensates the advisor on a fee-basis or commissions-basis, the work of the advisor is to gather the client’s assets up under their umbrella of management. And while making investment selections is a critical part of financial decision making, is that really all that’s at stake for our client? Does it come down simply to taking over his assets, maybe supplying him with some insurance products as needed?

This question is the divining rod which determines the difference between the transactional asset gatherer and the comprehensive financial advisor. The asset gatherer, in some worst case scenarios, will use the face-time with the client to collect the basic required information, warm them up with a little personality and sales skill only to return a week later with a set of boilerplate suggestions.

It Begins With Disclosure

The comprehensive advisor, by distinction, takes the initial meeting to begin the process of disclosure. Disclosure in the financial planning relationship (as with any relationship) always goes both ways. The advisors discloses her intentions for the relationship, the critical stages of her process and what she expects from Joe should he and she agree to build a advisor/client relationship. But as important, she sets the stage for the client and his relationship with money. The advisor draws out the storylines that every client face, the unpredictable intersections of past, present and future meeting in the strange brew of the prospective client’s best intentions and their very real decisions.

Every financial planning prospect comes to us with two competing plots: the one they think they are living and the one their money is living. Both have grains of truth, but the job of the comprehensive advisor is to move beyond the granular out to the narrative in order to reconcile the two. Eventually we will move back into the specifics through the tools endemic to full financial planning, but before that the prospective client must be understood through the rhythms of their financial story.

Managing the intersection between people’s intentions and their financial actions requires complex disclosure. We must both understand what they’ve done, but more-so, why they’ve done it and what they’ve learned in the process. Our goal is to improve the financial decision engine of the client and we cannot alter an engine we don’t fully understand.

Understanding the prospect’s financial actions through both their motives and implications helps us bring clarity to their priorities, and priorities give us the frame for helping them act on the decisions that must be made next. Our usefulness to clients is catalyzed by their ability and willingness to unearth their competing storylines: the pasts, presents and futures that are intended to align into one cohesive financial plan.

When we are invited into these very real challenges that financially-conscious consumers make, we are empowered by the client to make real differences in their future. More than simply putting money places and making investment choices, we have the opportunity to alter the decision engine of the client. To help them transform not just the “what” of the decision but the “why” and in doing so, to bring their financial storylines into a more harmonious path.

This process of partnership with the client’s storied path is not just one conversation or one set of decisions. It is a journey with them, wherever their story takes them. And our focus is to have the resources to be with them and forge suitable plan wherever they’re path leads.

Full Financial Plans

This process of disclosure establishes the guard rails by which we will travel the journey of financial planning. The comprehensive advisor will then utilize the information they’ve garnered from the client along with the experience of tax professionals, estate attorneys (when necessary), and other planning professionals and specialists within the firm to craft a unique financial plan for the client.

This financial plan, by definition, will not in one fell swoop address all the client’s financial needs. It will lay out a set of recommendations to do a few immediate things:

  1. Align the client’s existing accounts and investments with their stated goals and objectives. By addressing misalignments in the personal balance sheet of the client with their stated objectives, the advisor may be able to mitigate risk and/or address growth opportunities that may have gone undiscovered.
  2. Explore tax inefficiencies in the client’s planning. While we do not provide explicit tax advice, we can work with the client’s tax professional to help find opportunities for tax mitigation that may not already exist.
  3. Address substantial risk exposures. Financial planning stands on the belief that life will not go as planned. For this reason, every financial storyline traverses with inherent risks that are unique to that person. We seek to utilize suitable tools to mitigate that risk.

Once some of these immediate term issues have been addressed, the financial advisor will also address long-term strategic moves which can help establish patterns in behavior for the client which are more likely to get them to their goals. These may include some or all of the following:

  1. Establish or realign savings rate strategies according to the goals and time horizons of the client’s unique storyline. While we cannot always save at a rate that gives us the highest levels of confidence that goals will be reached at the ideal time, it is rare that we cannot make progress.
  2. Pay Down Debt. We all know that debt, particularly of the consumer variety, is poison to long-term financial health. Where high interest rate debt exists in the plan, we will develop a strategy to pay it down over reasonable periods of time.
  3. Structure Legacy Planning: Working with a qualified estate attorney, we will help the client craft a thoughtful estate and legacy plan to make sure that their wishes are honored after they pass for certain, but also in case they should incur a medical crisis that puts them in need of advanced medical care.

It is sadly true that for many financial services companies, they set out a line of boilerplate actions that every client must adhere to with little awareness of the real story behind the money. We know better. We know that real people of all levels of wealth never stay on a straight line. Their life meanders, turned to the right and the left by unexpected events, new opportunities, transformed aspirations. And our work is made complete by our ability to traverse those turns with them, to follow their line, not ask them to follow ours.

By utilizing a process of open and honest disclosure to develop unique and goal-centric plans we work to integrate the past, present and future of the client into one cohesive plan for action. Then year-after-year we partner with the client to re-investigate changes in their plot line and address those changes through tactical adjustments to our long-term financial plan.

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