“No one knows they need a financial planner until they have one.”
Those are the words of a client I recently interviewed for a video to use on a financial planner’s website.
Unwittingly she pinpointed perhaps the biggest problem our profession faces; a lack of awareness both of what financial planning is and how it benefits consumers.
This isn’t an isolated example either.
I recall another planner telling me about how a client's partner refused to engage in the financial planning process.
The planner knew he could add value. His client knew the planner could add value, but his wife wouldn’t listen.
Instead, she chose to engage a restricted product-led adviser, despite circumstances which would have led to her benefiting immensely from working with a financial planner.
The bigger picture
If we zoom out, there’s plenty of evidence from elsewhere to further demonstrate the problem. Boring Money’s Advice Report 2020 shows that only 9 per cent of adults in the UK have a financial adviser.
Even fewer will have experienced financial planning.
There’s no doubt in my mind though that the problem can be fixed.
Let’s think back to 27 January 2010.
Apple had already changed how we listen to music with the iPod, giving us “1,000 songs in our pocket”. Now, Steve Jobs stood up and launched the iPad.
Those two products, which most of us had never conceived of or thought we would need, have each sold around 400 million units over the past decade. That allowed Apple to become the first $1trn company in 2018.
Yet it’s still true that people didn’t know they needed either the iPod or the iPad until they had them, or saw other people using them. The same is true with financial planning - as the client I interviewed so intelligently pointed out.
As a professional collective, we need to do for financial planning what Steve Jobs did for the iPod, the iPad and, of course, the iPhone.
To bring financial planning to a wider audience, we need to raise awareness among consumers of:
1. What financial planning is and how it’s different from financial advice; I’d take a decent bet that many consumers could explain what a financial adviser does. But can they explain the difference between advice and planning? I doubt it. Hell, plenty of people inside the profession struggle with that question!
2. How financial planning can change their life; We know that financial planning changes lives. You will be able to think right now of a client whose life you changed because of financial planning. But the majority of consumers don’t know how it could benefit them.
If we don’t raise awareness, financial planning will remain a niche service only a small proportion of people ever experience.
I’ve said elsewhere that in order to achieve these aims we need to engage with two key channels of communication: the press and social media.
I’d like to see positive engagement of journalists.
Some will need help weaning themselves off the financial porn they’re hooked on. Others make no effort to differentiate between financial advice, financial planning, wealth management, investment management and lord knows what else.
But if we can help them to understand what financial planning is, how it’s different from product-led advice and how it benefits consumers, they’ll soon start to talk about it positively.
Social media is hugely important because it allows financial planners to talk directly to consumers in large numbers.
Consider the 2016 US presidential election.
Trump’s direct engagement of voters on Twitter, rather than through the media, was instrumental in him winning the election. That result shows the power of social media.
It helped perhaps the most unsuitable presidential candidate ever to become the leader of the world’s most powerful nation.
We all need to harness the power of social media to promote the benefits of planning.
At the same time, if some people could stop taking chunks out of each other, particularly on Twitter or the comments section of online articles, that would help. We need to remember that consumers read this stuff too.
Let’s take planning into the mainstream
We all believe in the benefits of financial planning; you see every day how it changes lives and leads to improved wellbeing.
Unfortunately, only a handful of people ever get to experience it.
To change that, we need to engage with consumers, and collectively do what Steve Jobs did for Apple over a decade ago.