Shortly after I launched my firm, a woman I’d worked with in my past life reached out to me. She wanted to talk about how I might help her with some company stock (okay, a lot of company stock). And out of the gate, she asked, “So what’s your financial planning philosophy?”
I knew what my investment philosophy is. That’s pretty much table stakes for a financial advisor of any stripe. (Me wonders if it is acceptable to use gambling metaphors on a financial planning blog…) It was on my website from Day 1.
I knew what my financial planning process is. It’s one of the first things that prospective clients ask about because it will define how we work together. This software, that meeting, those documents…frankly, it’s kind of a (necessary) snore.
But my financial planning philosophy had remained unconscious and undefined until she asked me that question.
If you have any interest in working with me, you should know my financial planning philosophy. If you have any interest in working with any financial planner/advisor/coach/muggle-wrangler, you need to ask them what their financial planning philosophy is. (And then graciously give them time to put words to it, as they most likely they will not have thought about it, as I hadn’t.)
Because while the financial planning process defines the “how,” the financial planning philosophy defines the “why.”
And we need to agree on that.
My Financial Planning Philosophy
1. There is no “special sauce.” The value is in personalizing the advice and the attention I give to my client.
Sure, fancy technology, a fancy process, fancy boxes of chocolates as client-appreciation gifts (just kidding, don’t get yer hopes up)…these might strike you as “special sauce,” but any twit can do that or buy that (this twit did, after all). It doesn’t say anything about the efficacy of the planning.
What can’t be replicated is how I tailor my financial planning knowledge, my experience, and my communication to my client’s specific needs.
2. It’s a process, not a deliverable. I start by getting a comprehensive understanding of my client’s life and then we adjust individual parts (estate planning, employee benefits, 401(k) investments, etc.) from there. And I keep on adjusting because those parts continue to change.
So while I will provide only a comprehensive financial plan for people (everyone has different needs and constraints, after all), I think the real value is in the ongoing relationship. That’s where accountability lives, that’s where client education lives, that’s where a deep relationship lives.
3. Simplicity is worth paying for. And I don’t just mean “Pay a financial planner to manage your finances. See, simple!” (Although, hey, not a bad idea.) I mean things like keeping your money in only one bank even though you could eek out 0.50% more interest elsewhere.
The simpler your finances, the more likely you are to understand them. The more likely you are to make the necessary changes and make better decisions. The mental hurdle to change is smaller the simpler your financial life.
4. Optimize the whole, not the parts. Like a set of gears, or project management, your financial life is a collection of different but interlocking pieces.
You can’t touch one without affecting the others. Optimizing one doesn’t necessarily optimize the whole (saving more in your 20s and 30s is good, but spending some of that money on career improvement is often better, for example), and the goal is an optimized whole.
5. Impartiality is important, if difficult. As third parties, we planners can more easily provide an impartial perspective than a client’s spouse or friend can, and certainly more easily than a client can provide to herself.
But we’re not immune to bias. We all have our idiosyncrasies, our “money scripts,” as it were.
I myself am fairly risk averse (I mean aside from having my husband quit his job to look after the kids and me launching my own firm so that we have to live on savings. Whee!) I’d rather focus on lowering expenses than earning more. I have to be careful to not impose those values on my clients.
6. Traditional financial planning topics aren’t enough. Cash flow management, retirement savings, insurance coverage…no doubt these are important. But if you’re my typical client, a woman in tech, then you need more.
You need help with your career because while the tech industry offers tremendous financial opportunities, it also suffers from serious, acknowledged gender issues that hurt my clients’ financial prospects. No financial planning article or continuing education session ever taught me about cultivating a network of recruiters, patent lawyers, engineering managers, leadership coaches, and career coaches in order to better serve my clients, yet that’s what I’m doing.
7. Accountability and discipline is essential. I’m sure there exist people out there, somewhere, in a place I haven’t visited, or heard about, who have enough drive and self-discipline to keep making the hard financial decisions throughout the year, every year, without outside help.
More likely they might find that support in a spouse, a mom, or a friend. Most likely of all, frankly, is that they could find it in a trusted financial professional.
Why Bother with a Financial Planning Philosophy?
The more intentional (my favorite word again! Maybe I need a drinking game or something…) my practice of financial planning, the more my clients benefit. The better other planners and I convey why we do what we do, the more likely you are to pick the planner who’s right for you.
For some of you, that’s not me. And you know what? That’s great.
I have developed an unofficial motto since launching my firm: “There’s a planner for everyone.” By which I mean, every has unique needs and personalities, and there’s planner out there who will fit those. If I can’t help you, I bet I know someone who can.
If you want special sauce or a complicated portfolio you can discuss endlessly at parties, I’m not the planner for you. If you want someone who’s interested in your story, not just how to maximize your dollars, maybe I am. If you’re a woman in tech who wants to take the most advantage of all the many opportunities the industry provides, well, then, we should talk.
Question: What would you want to be in your financial advisor’s planning philosophy? You can leave a comment below.
If you want to work with a planner who cares about aligning her process with her underlying professional philosophy , just as you should align your financial behavior with your underlying goals and values, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a free 30-minute consultation.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner and/or an accountant for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.