Having vision is a key to success in any industry but perhaps especially in the financial services industry, where market events and other circumstances can affect the financial plans advisors develop with their clients. Visionary planning allows leaders and organizations to be more resilient and focused—rolling with the punches and ensuring that their actions always align with their ultimate goals.
Visionary planning can also significantly affect client meetings, where recommendations are defined and the course of the client relationship is set. But our tendencies and distractions often make it difficult to create and execute vision.
How do we collaborate with our clients to achieve a vision for financial planning success?
Let's start by defining three steps to client clarity.
Step 1: Prepare to imagine. Before your first meeting, prospects may not spend time envisioning retirement (where they want to be, what they want to do). And questions you might ask ("What do you want to do in retirement?") may not elicit a thoughtful response from a client who hasn't had the opportunity to think through his or her goals.
Likewise, your typical meeting preparations, which might involve determining the planning topic (retirement or college) or asking the client to gather documents for the meeting, don't always do a good job helping a client prepare for a meaningful discussion.
Client clarity begins with the first conversation. Imagine if you set the stage before the client meeting with a phone call like this:
We're excited for our first meeting. We plan to cover retirement. Have you and your wife discussed your vision of your ideal retirement? The most important aspect of planning is your vision of financial prosperity. Would you and your wife discuss this vision before our meeting? We'll give you a worksheet to help you focus on the topic. Please come prepared with financial statements and an idea of what you see as your ideal financial situation.
Step 2: Create and test. Financial planning is goal based—but goals don't always get the blood flowing. "Retiring at 65 on 80 percent of current income" provides the technical basis for a plan but nothing more. Visionary planning is sensory and emotional, going beneath the surface and beyond the numbers:
Retirement is about family: summering on Cape Cod and watching the grandkids on the beach. Winters somewhere warm. A standing 7:00 A.M. tee time. No worries about money . . .
It takes time and questions to create a vision. "Tell me more about that" or "paint the picture for me" will prompt your client for more information. Bill Bacharach's values-based questioning—"What's important about 'x' to you?"—can also help you and your client flesh out a vision.
Once you arrive at a vision, test it with questions:
- For couples, is this vision shared?
- With current and projected finances, is the vision a fiscal possibility?
- Are there insurance risks to be managed?
- Is there staying power? Can you review the vision in every meeting until goal achievement?
- Is there client commitment?
Step 3: Execute and review. Familiarity breeds complacency, even with your best clients. It's easy to make small talk, review investment performance, and move on. With a vision-based practice, however, client meetings may drastically change—for the better.
Your client's vision statement is a living document that should be reviewed every meeting. It reminds clients of their commitment—why they pay your fee, meet with you, and sacrifice today to save for tomorrow. You'll shift focus from short-term market gyrations or questions about the value of your advice.
The vision frames goals, progress, and meetings. Read it aloud at each meeting, revising as needed. The idea is to spend less time on charts and more on what's important to clients:
I know you're concerned about recent market dips. Let's review our vision of financial success. If you're comfortable, could you read it aloud? Then, let's discuss if your feelings have changed. If your vision is the same, I'm confident that our plan is solid, and these dips are temporary.
Obstacles and Opportunities
Implementing a visionary planning approach gives you the chance to collaborate more fully with clients, addressing less-than-ideal circumstances and proposing effective solutions.
- Listen and document. Be sure to really listen to your clients and document their goals and dreams in your CRM system.
- Don't overschedule. Leave time for better client meetings. Jam-packed days leave you jetting from one appointment to another. Fewer daily meetings might be necessary for visionary client relationships.
- Avoid the paper shuffle. You discuss the updated Morningstar analysis, they give you a benefits statement to review, you give out a fact sheet, and they ask questions about a clearing firm document. When this occurs, effective communication has ceased, and you lose the opportunity to refine the vision.
- Accommodate different personalities. You can discuss numbers with analytical clients; watch the clock for Type As; and hash it out with talkative, extroverted clients. At the same time, commit to developing a vision that's the basis for your client relationship.
What Could This Mean for Your Practice?
Embracing the visionary planning model and seeking client clarity can have significant effects on your practice:
- Resilient client relationships. An articulated vision helps clients weather the market downs and turn away potential competition.
- More revenue. Advisors who help clients develop their vision may be more referable and can justify their fees.
- Focus. Your meetings will have a unifying theme, instead of focusing on fact sheets, performance, or the paper shuffle.
Clients may not remember the manager tenure of their top fund holding or the A.M. Best rating of their life insurer. With a vision for success, they will know where they're headed and why it matters—and how inspiring and empowering it is to work with you.
Do you work with your clients to develop a vision for the future? Has it led to better client meetings? Share your thoughts below.