To really help people, financial planners have to delve into the the feelings and emotions that drive their clients' financial decisions. One planner explains why that's so hard.
While most of us financial advisers want to do the best for our clients, we often struggle at the task.
The main problem, as I recently wrote: We don’t know our clients well enough. We may say that a client’s values and goals are important, but most of us don’t adequately explore these more personal (a.k.a. “touchy-feely”) parts of a client’s life.
Why is this?
One reason we avoid deeper discovery with clients: No matter how we’re paid—whether by commissions or fees—most of us don’t get compensated until the financial planning process has neared its end.
Last month I attended a presentation that explored, in depth, the notable differences and financial tendencies of several generations, from the silent generation through the millennials.
The presentation described certain representative traits perceived as common among each generation and what financial advisors should consider when communicating with members of them as prospects and clients.
When discussion of the younger generations came up, I noticed advisors around the room rolling their eyes and scratching their heads. The expert at the front of the room was providing well-researched data to help us understand what is important—and less so—to these generations and how we might consider breaking through to them.
But, as the attention of this group of well-heeled advisors descended into a collective yawn, the presenter scurried to wrap up before answering the most important questions:
- Why exactly should financial advisors dedicate themselves to working with younger clients?
- Why should advisors apply valuable time and money to crafting services and messaging for a demographic niche notorious for inspiring descriptors such as "entitled," "ungrateful" and "distrustful"?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released its annual “Cost of Raising a Child” report. The news from it is really no news at all to us parents—kids are stinking expensive and growing even more so. However, if you read between the lines, there are three extremely important points that don’t show up in the executive summary:
1) Parents still have a choice. The USDA estimates that households with less than $61,530 in income will spend a total of $176,550 per child. Meanwhile, “middle-income parents” making between $61,530 and $106,540 each year can anticipate spending $245,340 per kid. Those blessed with household income over $106,540 should expect to spend $407,820.
Here’s how I read these numbers: It likely costs approximately $175,000 to care for a child’s needs in today’s dollars. Beyond that, it’s our choice as parents if and how we spend additional money on our progeny. When your household income jumps from $106,000 to $107,000, the USDA isn’t holding a gun to your head and demanding that you spend an additional $162,480 per child.
It’s completely up to you, and you may choose to spend more or less than some of the USDA estimates. For example, you may choose (wisely) to spend more on one child than another for various, justifiable reasons, including each individual child’s own gifts and weaknesses. If you choose to put even one child through private school, from kindergarten through a graduate degree, you could easily spend a million bucks just for education—and college isn’t even included in the USDA’s numbers.
There is no shortage of receptacles clamoring for your money each day. No matter how much money you have or make, it could never keep up with all the seemingly urgent invitations to part with it.
Separating true financial priorities from flash impulses is an increasing challenge, even when you’re trying to do the right thing with your moola — like saving for the future, insuring against catastrophic risks and otherwise improving your financial standing. And while every individual and household is in some way unique, the following list of financial priorities for your next available dollar is a reliable guide for most.
Once you’ve spent the money necessary to cover your fixed and variable living expenses (and yes, I realize that’s no easy task for many) consider spending your additional dollars in this order:
You might think that the most important work a financial advisor can do is related to allocating a client’s investment portfolio, or perhaps helping secure a timely insurance policy or drafting the optimal estate plan. In fact, their most important work is done when clients are in the midst of navigating life’s major transitions.
I have very recently undergone two of these major life events — a job change and a move — in the span of five months. Crazy, right? Who would willingly subject themself to two of life’s most stressful changes within such a small window of time? Fortunately, I had at my disposal three keys to surviving major life transitions, and I’d like to share them with you:
Key #1: Flexibility
“Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.” — Albert Camus
In February, I left the company I loved after seven years of life-changing work to lock arms with a national alliance of financial advisory pioneers dedicated to the practice of “building relationships by doing the right thing.” But in order to build a new and rewarding relationship with them, I had no choice but to sever some relationships with others.
"I was wrong."
There are few words strung together that possess such power to free us. In less than a second, we're able to reconcile the inconsistency between our previous conviction and the apparent truth. Humbling, yes, but also strangely euphoric.
Well, I've earned the opportunity to claim said euphoria, as I must confess that I had bought into the most prevalent myth du jour surrounding bond investing. You'll forgive me, I hope, because this misconception—like all of the most powerful ones—is especially deceptive because it's grounded in half-truth.
Let's be quite clear: Rising rates simply do not guarantee negative bond returns.
Having the privilege of walking through life with people vocationally, aiding in the acquisition, maintenance and dispossession of earthly resources as a financial advisor, I’m burdened with a heightened sense of the battling spirits of scarcity and abundance.
The dehumanizing poverty that torments the Majority World screams that resources—here and now—are scarce. Remembering when I handed a bowl of vitamin-charged oatmeal to a boy who lives and breathes in La Chureca, the Nicaraguan squatter town subsisting off of Managua’s trash, I occasionally twinge at my willingness to pay $5 for a cup of premium Central American coffee. That expenditure could buy a week’s worth of mush, keeping children of the dump alive.
This is one of the children at the feeding center in "La Chureca," the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua.
How could I not consume less?
And share more?
It is absolutely possible to beat the market, just as I’m sure it’s possible that someone could climb Mt. Everest in a pair of roller skates.
It is so improbable, however, that it’s rendered a fruitless, if not counterproductive, pursuit.
After 16 years in the financial industry and seeing countless great investors eventually humbled by market forces they could not control, I’ve finally relinquished my skates.
I love Michael Lewis’ writing, but I have some surprisingly good news to share about the high-frequency trading scandal revealed in his new book:
High-frequency trading is not likely to hurt disciplined, long-term, low-frequency-trading investors. In fact, it might even help.
You know what has to be done, but it doesn't make it any easier. You've done all the research, asked all the questions and mulled over your options, and you know that moving on from your current company is the right thing to do.
You wince, imagining the look on the face of your boss and co-workers when you tell them. You're no longer an insider, but an outsider or—worse—a competitor. Even your relationship as friends could be compromised. It's stressful for everyone, but especially for you because ultimately it's your choice.
As you go through your morning routine on the day you're delivering the news to your company, every step seems more pronounced than it typically does. Maybe it's because you recognize it could be the last time you'll go through the paces exactly like this. Or maybe it's because the adrenaline has already notched up in anticipation of the discussions you're about to have with your boss and colleagues.
Indeed, along with marriage, divorce, death and personal injury, changing jobs is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful things a person can do. That stress can be substantially reduced, however, if you're better prepared for what comes next. Here are three ways to make the most of your job transition:
1. Leave well. "It's more important to leave well than it is to start well," a good friend once told me. And it's true. You've already made a good impression on your new company—you got the job! But while you're heading on to new and exciting adventures, your former employer is left to deal with the rejection and cleanup from your departure.
Make it easier by offering to stay on for a reasonable period of time, but not longer. In most cases, shorter is better for all parties, as it reduces the awkwardness and hastens the healing.
Part of leaving well is preparing to deal with impulsive counterattacks mounted consciously or unconsciously by your former co-workers. Especially if you brought or maintained client relationships, the words "I'm leaving" may magically transform you from friend to foe—but let that be their choice, not yours. Take the high road whenever possible.
2. Don't leave anything behind. Along with your personal Swingline stapler and the letter opener your parents gave you, don't leave your 401(k) or any other transferable benefits behind.
Specifically regarding your 401(k) or other comparable plan, you typically have three options, depending on the design of the plan you're leaving and the plan your new company offers. The first option is to leave it there; I rarely recommend this unless you're in love with the plan investment options and pay close attention to them.
Option two is to transfer the old 401(k) into the new plan, if they allow it. This gives you the benefits of consolidation and, while rarely advisable, the ability to borrow from your plan—a provision not available in old retirement plans or IRAs.
For most, the sensible choice is to aggregate the newly antiquated 401(k) plan with other prior plans in the form of a direct rollover to an IRA. In this case, you are not limited to the investment options in the new 401(k)—options that are notoriously mediocre. Be certain to check all the right boxes to ensure that your rollover is not a taxable event.
It's also important to take stock of any company benefits that are transferable. Although they are nearly extinct, pension plans of various sorts accrued during your tenure may do nothing for you now but could be meaningful in the future.
One client recently had a premonition that she'd left a small pension behind from a previous job. I encouraged her to call the company's human resources department, and indeed, there was $9,000 sitting in a plan earning 3 percent per year that she can't touch for another 15 years.
If you're blessed enough to have annual income in excess of your saving and spending needs, you may have a qualified or non-qualified deferred compensation plan to handle. And while also rare, there are occasions in which group benefits—such as life, disability income or long-term care insurance through your company—can also be traversed to private policies with the vendor.
3. Make the most of your fresh start. Nobody's perfect—including you. But as the saintly image of yourself you've been promoting to your new company starts to settle into something closer to reality, you do have an opportunity to trade some bad habits for good ones.
Take advantage of this clean slate by embracing the time-management method that's worked so well for your friend, or finally start using a system to seize control of your email inbox.
Develop a healthier rhythm of life and work. Be careful not to overextend yourself at the beginning of the new gig, lest you set expectations you'll never be able to live up to.
Make wise choices with your new benefits package. Increase your 401(k) contribution to the level you know you should be saving, and put sufficient time into really understanding the new investment options and determining the optimal mix for you. Don't forget to add beneficiaries to your new 401(k) plan and any group life-insurance coverage in the new benefits package.
As you review your group benefits—especially health, life and long-term disability-income insurance—be sure to actually understand them and acknowledge whether or not you should be supplementing them privately. (You can be almost sure that the base level of free life and disability-income insurance is insufficient.)
Consider opening your mind to a high-deductible health plan, which gives you the option to utilize a Health Savings Account (HSA). Many assume this is too complicated or costly, especially if you have a young family, but even in that case, this can be a great way to make nearly all of your household medical expenses tax deductible.
While certainly stressful, a job change navigated well can be an amazing personal and professional launchpad—especially when you leave on good terms, don't leave anything behind and take full advantage of the fresh start.
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Tim Maurer, a certified financial planner, is director of personal finance at the BAM Alliance and an adjunct faculty member at Towson University. He has co-written two books with best-selling author Jim Stovall. Their most recent release is "The Ultimate Financial Plan: Balancing Your Money and Life."