by Lisa A. K. Kirchenbauer, CFP®, RLP®
Recently, I spoke to a local FPA chapter about how we build trust and alignment with our clients. I was focused on communicating how unnerving the first visit to a financial planner can be and asked if any planners in the room had seen a planner themselves. As I have found when I've asked other planner groups, only about 10 percent of planners in the room had done so, and that got me thinking about this year's FPA Retreat theme of "trust from the inside out."
Building trust with clients begins with having trust in ourselves-not a blind trust that we must be doing the right things because we're planners ourselves, but a deep-down trust that what we are recommending to our clients is something we believe in and in many cases have explored and implemented for ourselves. It's from this perspective that I make the case for why all planners should see another financial planner at least once in their careers.
Planners can gain three main benefits from a visit to their own financial planner:
- An appreciation for the client's experience
- A confirmation that their own financial affairs are in order
- An opportunity to step out of their businesses to learn how others offer their services
Each of these benefits contributes to planners feeling more confident that they are standing on solid financial foundations themselves (or at least know what they need to do to get there) and to providing the best experience and service to the clients they serve.
Why We Resist Help
As it turns out, many of us come into the business because we want to help people with their money. It often stems from seeing friends or family members treated poorly by other financial advisers. The genesis of our passion for this work may also be from our own money challenges earlier in life. We believe everyone should have the benefit of talking with a planner ... except ourselves. Heart surgeons don't do their own heart surgery, yet we believe we can do our own financial planning. So why don't we work with a financial planner? I've heard many reasons over the years, including:
- I can do it myself. (Or spouses are resistant because they believe their partners can do it themselves, right?)
- I don't have the time. (Sounds like what our clients say.)
- I'm uncomfortable sharing my financial information with another planner. (For fear of what they might think? Isn't this the fear our potential clients face?)
If we think logically about these reasons, we realize they don't make a lot of sense and sound a lot like the reasons that frustrate us with prospective clients. They also don't build our confidence or inner trust. How can we possibly ask our clients and prospective clients to work with us and follow our advice if we haven't eaten our own cooking?
Now, I realize some of you feel like you really do have your finances in order ... great! Then, for you, the benefit may be to experience what the client experiences or fine-tune your business practices. It can't hurt. You can look the client in the eyes and say, "I do know what it's like to be on the other side of the table." That's a great way to build trust and rapport.
Get Your House in Order
I have worked with a number of planners over the years, and I have watched the unease planner-clients feel when they come in for a meeting. Perhaps their spouse is reluctant (gee, that never happens with real clients!). Or maybe they haven't spent as much time as they should on their own finances, planning for their own retirement or managing their insurance program.
And then there's the portfolio. This seems to be the sacred ground-the untouchable-for most planners. How we manage our portfolios is just not up for discussion; fascinating. Couldn't we benefit from a second opinion just as we might seek one for a medical diagnosis?
I guarantee that there are more than just financial issues to talk about when a planner works with another planner-there are life issues. When you seek out another planner, it's worth asking if he or she has worked with other planners before. You want someone who will be sensitive to what you may be experiencing in this unique situation.
In the end, it seems to me that for us to really do a good job for our clients, our own personal and business financial houses need to be in order or at least on the way to being in order. Our clients are counting on it. If your finances are not secure, can you make the best and most objective recommendations for clients? If you don't have a solid personal and business insurance program, what happens to your business and your clients if you are disabled? This is too important to ignore. Your clients are assuming that your financial house is in order; they trust that it is in order.
A Business Case for Having a Planner
With respect to understanding the client's experience, it's often interesting when you tell your clients that you have a planner as well. At first, some may be taken aback. "Why does my planner need a planner? Aren't they any good at what they do?" But as you explain that it's impossible for anyone to be objective about their own financial situation, they begin to understand and appreciate that even their own planner values planning advice by another professional. Ah, we're deepening that trust and confidence for clients that they have made the right decision to work with us.
I have also learned as a trainer and mentor for the Kinder Institute of Life Planning that we can only take our clients as far as we have gone. That doesn't just go for life planning. Won't we be more effective advisers and coaches if we have gone through some of the same experiences and decisions that our clients have? That isn't meant to shortchange younger or newer planners and their knowledge, but it is fair to say that we will often provide better and more convincing advice if we have worked through some of the same issues our clients are facing. One more note from life planning: we need to be careful that we don't allow our biases to cloud our ability to provide objective, client-specific advice. In short, being able to say that you have a planner, too, can deepen the integrity your clients see in you, so the trust moves from inside to outside.
Finally, there is the business case for having a planner. I have learned a lot over the years from my planners while coming into their offices as a client. You can gain new ideas about the intake process, how you like to be communicated with (and how your clients may perceive your communications), different software programs as well as new investment strategies.
And then there's the benefit of coaching for a planner who actually knows something about your business. That builds confidence and trust as well.
In the end, for us to build trust with our clients, it must start from inside us. By seeking out our own planner, we build and reinforce that inner trust leading to greater confidence and conviction. Have you ever hesitated to recommend a product to a client because you have never considered it for yourself? Clients can feel that and will appreciate knowing that you have walked down the same path you are asking them to take. And you might learn something about your business along the way.
As a side note, in my efforts to seek a planner for my own family, my husband was often a drag on the process. He's not the best client because he tends to defer to me on financial matters. He also doesn't generally do the financial homework and isn't that engaged in the process, or at least I thought. Recently, I said to him that if anything happens to me he should consider several action steps. He replied, "Well, shouldn't I just call Beth?" (Beth is our planner.) Turns out he's more engaged than I thought. That's a big win for planners having planners. Yes, who will take care of things if we're not here?
Lisa A. K. Kirchenbauer, CFP®, RLP®, has been in the financial industry since 1985 and currently owns Omega Wealth Management LLC, a holistic wealth management firm in Arlington, Va. She is a Sudden Money Institute adviser, a Strategic Coach participant and a trainer/mentor for the Kinder Institute of Life Planning. She also serves on the task force for FPA Retreat 2012, May 5-8 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
For more on this topic, see "Becoming Consumers of the Profession We Practice," by Rick Kahler, CFP®, in the November 2008 Journal of Financial Planning (FPA member log-in required).