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Some consumers view financial planners as stockbrokers. They expect their advisor to feed them hot stock tips and produce market-beating returns.
In recent decades, advisors have tried mightily to educate the public about comprehensive financial planning. It extends beyond portfolio management to include an ever-expanding mix of services, from helping guide clients’ philanthropy to teaching their children about money.
The trick is teaching prospects and clients to recognize — and harness — the multifaceted expertise that comprehensive planners possess. Some advisors say they take a holistic approach, in an effort to convey the broad range of needs they can address.
“People may not understand the full financial planning process,” said Andrew Lubben, a certified financial planner in Alpharetta, Ga. “They may think I do investments,” without realizing all the other aspects of his practice.
To explain his role, Lubben uses an analogy: Just as his clients see their primary-care provider for medical checkups, he serves as a general practitioner for their personal finances.
From there, he reviews all the elements of a comprehensive financial plan, although he may not use the word “comprehensive.”
“I want to speak the language they understand,” he said. “And they may not understand what ‘comprehensive’ really means,” at least at first.
Another term that advisors tend to avoid is “deliverables.” Instead, they may craft a one-page summary of all their services or review all their firm’s offerings in a short, conversational video.
Customize A ‘Here’s What We Do’ List
A written overview of a firm’s host of services is a good first step. But it’s only effective if recipients read it and retain the contents.
Lubben gives newcomers a one-page handout that covers “what we can do for you,” he says. Some individuals prefer a printed copy to hold in their hands, while others want a digital version.
When courting prospects, advisors seek creative ways to convey precisely what they will do — and the fee they will charge. It’s an especially opportune time to discuss the nature and scope of services they offer, because new clients want to see what they will receive in exchange for what they pay the firm.
Jason Field, a certified financial planner in Princeton, N.J., introduces prospects to his comprehensive services by hosting two introductory meetings. In the first one, he gets to know them while highlighting his firm’s four service areas: tax planning, investment planning, benefit planning and estate planning.
During the second meeting, he presents prospects with a one-page bulleted list of specific ways that his firm can help them.
“The customized list drives the point home that we listened to them in the first meeting,” Field said. “We refer to it as a ‘fee proposal,’ just like a contractor who writes up a proposal for work to be done.”
Prospects thus come away with a full picture of what Field can do — and what it will cost. He personalizes the document so that it’s more impactful.
“If the prospect has kids, we refer to their kids’ names,” he said. “And we’ll refer to their employer by name” if, say, one of the bullets is incorporating equity compensation benefits into the individual’s overall financial plan.
See Clients’ Financial Life Through A Wide Lens
While some advisors, like Lubben, avoid describing themselves as “comprehensive” planners because they want to speak in plain English, others steer clear of the word for other reasons.
Lauren Sigman, a certified financial planner in Vail, Colo., does not refer to herself as a comprehensive planner because she’s concerned the word might prove intimidating to some consumers.
“I find the word ‘comprehensive’ is very scary,” she said. “To me, it sounds like you’re trying to sell me something.”
Others might assume that comprehensive planning involves lots of time-consuming and potentially expensive work with an advisor, she adds.
Instead of trying to educate newcomers about all the services she provides, Sigman invites them to ask questions about their immediate concerns. She responds by broadening the discussion to encompass other relevant financial issues.
She uses phrases such as, “To answer that, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.” By shifting from a narrow focus to a more sweeping analysis of their net-worth statement or cash flow, she can show how her firm addresses clients’ interconnected financial needs.
“If you dig a little, what you find out is there are five other areas you can touch on to get an answer that’s comprehensive,” Sigman said. “They become more receptive to comprehensive planning when they see what other questions come to bear in answering their question.”