I am asked occasionally what I might do if I were to start another financial planning practice, and how I would set about differentiating its services.
Taking the usual governance, systems and the like as read, the starting point for me would genuinely have to be about building a more fulfilling client experience.
The very best financial planning firms are constantly evolving, exploring, testing and trying to improve. So many of those I admire share my insatiable curiosity in improvement, and believe as I do that small wins add up to huge improvements.
To look ahead, it's almost always worth looking at what has come before.
The journey from sales to advice to planning to lifestyle financial planning looks set to continue into the future, with further exciting developments still to come.
This progression so far has definitely benefitted clients. We have all got better, we deliver better outcomes for clients and the years of learning, improving and exploring better outcomes is plain to see.
The next stage of the journey
I would suggest that the next steps to be taken, and I recognise that many firms and planners are already taking them, will be far less about the money but much more about the possibilities that it affords to clients.
More about their personal financial security, and being able to comfortably explore and address the difficult decisions money brings with confidence.
This will take time. But there some incredibly powerful opportunities for adding properly delivered behavioural insight and coaching alongside lifestyle financial planning.
By adding this expertise, I believe this can maintain the forward momentum we've seen thus far for client good.
Those advisers who supplement their technical and client relationship skills with true empathy-led coaching will, I suspect, be in real demand.
This will take continued effort on our part. Coaching takes training, if you will.
Once we move past the technical and more routine money talk, we are then into the realm of exploring attitudes, fears, biases and all the rest. It will take genuine interest in clients, rather than self-interest.
Clearly there are many among us who do care, who genuinely want to help clients understand the benefits of addressing their biases.
For those who are willing to put the graft in to learn and develop their empathy skills and understand how we make financial decisions, I think they will be rewarded by much richer, deeper client relationships across decades and even generations.
This may be through self-study, by joining behaviour-focused events or networking with others with the same willingness to go further in using behavioural techniques as part of the planning process.
Thankfully we're in a position to learn from those who are already well known and well down this path.
Brian Portnoy, Daniel Crosby, Neil Bage, Andy Hart and his excellent Humans under Management events are all incredibly engaging on this subject, and really do help us understand where we might get to.
(Octo hosted a video chat with Brian, Daniel and Neil earlier this year, where they discussed how people can face their fears, the emotional baggage of lockdown and why targeted adviser communication matters. You can watch part of their conversation below)
To truly understand our clients’ attitudes to their money, life, family, and work, and being able to work with them to address their personal situations is the real privilege of being a financial planner.
And the better we become, the more privileged that relationship will become.
My only word of caution would be that to learn will take time and effort.
To reach competency will be both time-consuming and will demand real commitment.
However, in terms of the potential for genuine rewards for both clients and advisers, I can think of little else that should compete for the effort.