Financial planning is widely misunderstood. This should come as no surprise. The media regularly tells us financial planners are just commission hungry salespeople looking to sell financial products. But what should financial planning be? And how do you get the best value from your financial planner?
Fortunately, there are some good advisers out there, you just need to know what to look for. Journalist and author, Robin Powell explains.
What are people paying for when they seek out a financial planner? Where are the value-adding benefits in this relationship? What are the key roles of a financial planner? The real answers to those questions may surprise you.
But is that really the benefit they bring to consumers? It may pay to think about this in another framework. For example, when you seek out an automotive service person, what are you paying for? Brake and transmission diagnosis and repair? Auto-electrical maintenance? Collision repair? Cooling systems replacement?
What most people want from automotive services is a car that gets them safely, reliably and efficiently from Point A to Point B. They want the car serviced in good time, they want a fair estimate of what it will cost, an itemised bill and a guarantee on parts and repairs.
Likewise, the value of a good financial planner — at least in the eyes of most clients — will often differ from the advertised services. To be sure, asset allocation and portfolio advice are important components. But these are just means to desired ends.
What people are paying for, in the final analysis, are guidance to a goal, peace of mind, a sense of security, a feeling that someone has their back and an assurance that they will be OK whatever the world throws at them. Furthermore, people value a sense of structure about their financial lives and an understanding of the choices at their disposal.
The technical tools that a financial planner employs — an understanding of what drives returns, the role of diversification, a knowledge of the tax system, the techniques in rebalancing portfolios — are without doubt critical components in delivering those desired outcomes. But they are not what people are paying for.
In fact, a sound financial planner will play several pivotal roles for their clients, none of which are on the typical job description. Here are seven of them:
A Guide — Most people know what they want or, at least, know what they don’t want out of life. What’s often missing is a sense of how they can get there. A planner provides an independent plan, showing possible pathways and the trade-offs involved in each.
An Educator — Many people’s sense of what drives returns comes from the day-to-day noise in financial media. It is all about product and short-term returns. A good planner shows the client what drives long-term returns and connects this to their lives.
A Coach — It is easy to make financial resolutions – to save more, to spend less, to grow wealth, to leave a legacy. It is not so easy keeping them. A financial planner at his best will ensure goal accountability, keeping the client on their desired path and talking them off the ledge in anxious times.
An Organiser — Our lives are busy. Jobs and family commitments leave little time for dealing with the minutiae of insurance, portfolio analysis and rebalancing, cash flow analysis and on and on. A good adviser takes care of this complexity and frees you to focus on what really matters to you.
A Filter — The problem with the world right now is not in getting enough information. We are overloaded with the stuff. The challenge is finding the right information for us in a form we can digest. The right adviser becomes a trusted source and an information filter.
A Counsellor — Few big choices in life are simple. There are always competing imperatives. Planners who can help you cut through the material stuff to your underlying values are worth their weight in gold. Yes, this is your life. But you still need someone outside your circle who can keep focused on the goal and true to yourself.
A Sentinel — The best financial planners are not only looking at your circumstances as they are today, but what might be coming over the horizon to change all that. And they are mindful of your legacy – the welfare of future generations and how your wealth can keep working beyond your lifetime.
These seven roles are not exhaustive by any means. There are many other valuable services a planner provides. But it gives you a taste of the sophistication and depth available.
Again, to use our car mechanic metaphor, a financial planner is not simply trying to fix your car, but is looking to ensure you and your family reach your desired destinations safely and reliably while enjoying the journey along the way.
That is where the value lies.