Slowly but Surely does it

By: Damien Rylett
CEO
Brunel Capital Partners

Much has been written about the first meeting with a prospective client. What happens when the prospect decides to proceed? By Damien Rylett.

Bringing clients into a life-long relationship

It’s important to describe three distinct roles we perform in our relationship with our clients: Coach, Financial Planner and Financial Adviser. Each role is dependent on the other and finding out the right information through continuous, careful questioning.

The coaching role begins in the first meeting when you talk about the clients lives. You help tease out what a great life might look like. You gather what might be described as soft facts: aspirations, goals, some immediate concerns and desires and a broad understanding of their current financial position. We will discover enough information about financial inflows and outflows to evaluate what our role will look like as their financial planner.

Knowledge of life goals is fundamental

In my view, there is no such thing as financial goals, just life goals that need money to achieve them. The Financial Planning role begins when you know what these life goals are. The goal isn’t …

‘I want to live on £40,000 when I retire’, it’s ‘I want to stop working so hard when I’m 55 so that I can spend more time with my family and do more of the things I enjoy’.

The financial planning role involves gathering all the hard facts about the client’s financial life; the nitty gritty about plans, policies, income and tax. There are a number of different approaches to collecting this information, some arrange another meeting, we gather information
via email and client portal.

We have come away from that first meeting with the knowledge that someone wants to retire, or they want to fund the kids through university or they want to travel or whatever.

In our role as Financial Planner it’s time to dig deeper

What does it actually cost to put two kids through university, crunching numbers and attaching some numerical values to each agreed objective. If you want to retire, how much money will you need? If you want to travel to North America, what kind of money should you be thinking of spending?

You need to know everything

It is a big, big beast and you’re never going to get this covered off in one go. Comprehensive, lifestyle Financial Planning is about getting all the details about the client’s financial situation. You link the finances to life goals and discover what they need to do with their finances to make things happen.

You need to know everything: the values of all of their assets; their income split between dividends and salaries; savings and investments; the balances on all of their accounts; details of all their inflows; and a detailed breakdown of their expenditure. We write off to insurance companies and investment houses to get portfolio values, pension values, details of life policies and other protection policies. We also liaise with accountants.

We get state pension forecasts, details of defined benefit pension plans, detailed information on any financial item that our client has. We load that into a cashflow forecasting system to show the client their current position.

With any forecasting system, there are a huge number of assumptions that have to be made. The options are things like inflation, the national average earnings index … If you were doing this for university fees, you’d probably make an assumption for how they may increase and you would do research around that – how any cost has to move forward within the forecasting steps.

Once these details are in the cashflow modelling system, you may have a second meeting with the client which is a planning meeting. This is when you revisit the objectives. Present some of the numbers; clarify and ask more questions and perfect some numbers around these objectives. All the time you are gathering information, discussing amounts, weighing up which goals can be pursued, and which goals may need some further thinking.

You need to have done your homework

It’s important that you have evidence to demonstrate where your assumptions have come from. The assumptions need to be well qualified, discussed and agreed with the client. That’s a fundamental part of doing any Financial Planning. It’s no good me saying that I’m going to assume 7% inflation in your Financial Plan when there are no grounds for it. If I assume a 5% increase in income, the client has the opportunity to say that they don’t think they will get a 5% increase. It’s an important discussion to have between client and Financial Planner because, the plan belongs to the clients at the end of the day. It’s a collaboration.

Collaborative use of cashflow modelling

Cashflow modelling is exciting because it brings everything to life. Each time decisions are made it gets you closer to what the clients are trying to achieve. Once the core information is there, you can start exploring ‘what if’ scenarios. If the client wants to go traveling, you need to have a conversation about what that actually means and you can suggest provisional figures until the real costs are put together.

Once you have numbers against all of the objectives you can compare their current situation with the forecast and you see if they can get there. Is there a gap? Is there something that needs to happen? If they can’t achieve those goals, then something has to give. You need to discuss the short fall and discuss what needs to be done to close the gap. It may be that the client should defer a goal or retirement might not be 65, it might be 70.

Or, could they retire on less money or do they need to move some money off deposit into investments to get a greater return to ensure that they’ve got a bigger fund at the point when the kids go to university?

This is where the cashflow system helps you work through everything with the client to achieve a realistic plan that they are happy with. It takes a lot of time to gather a serious amount of information from clients and for us to input it.

Spend time on the detail

In our experience we’ve never regretted spending the amount of time it takes to prepare a very detailed cashflow. It is fundamental to achieving great client outcomes and turning goals into a reality. It also brings clarity, certainty and peace
of mind. The work is all about helping to get to know your clients better and provides you with some firm foundations as you prepare for a long-lasting relationship with each other.

A live planning session with clients is effective. The Financial Planning role is complete for now. You have a plan and the next step is to execute it.

Suitability reporting becomes easier

The financial advice and recommendations may not take as much time. The clarity of the current financial position and the quantifying of goals makes it obvious what needs to be achieved and in what timescales.

Once ‘the beast is tamed’, you know the whole picture. You also know you have created a long-lasting client and an easier workload going forward. You still have all of the usual financial adviser issues of who you use from a product point of view, but it’s much easier to justify your recommendations and suitability if you’ve gone through the Financial Planning and cashflow modelling processes first.

The compliance piece is easier

The compliance regime has never ever changed from, ‘Is whatever you are recommending, suitable for the client? What are the client’s goals? What are they trying to achieve?’ If you go through the Financial Planning and cashflow process, it’s very difficult for you to recommend anything that’s unsuitable or not aligned with the client’s goals.

Meeting to confirm the plan

It can be easy to avoid a final implementation meeting, particularly if you know and feel the clients are bought in, want to sign the paperwork and get the plan executed as fast as possible. From a regulatory perspective, best practice is another meeting to go through the recommendations, key features and products. It gives you another opportunity to check that nothing has been missed and catch any other thoughts that have started to emerge. A lot can happen throughout the process.

There are no short cuts

One of my favourite analogies is to compare the results of a slow cooker to a microwave. Does the food taste better when you use a slow cooker? I think so and it’s because the food in a slow cooker has been given a longer time for the flavours to infuse and develop.

Financial Planning shouldn’t be rushed. I’m not saying it has to take 25 meetings and that you just do it slowly for the sake of doing it slowly. But the more time you spend on this front end of engaging the client and during the planning, the outcome generally is better. Just like the food from a slow cooker genuinely tastes better. Try it from the microwave!

SOME SUGGESTIONS

  • When bringing a client into a comprehensive, life-long Financial Planning relationship, it’s good to consider your role split into three different parts: Coach, Financial Planner and Financial Adviser.
  • Time spent discovering life goals and everything about a client’s financial position makes the final task of financial advice and recommendations a whole lot easier.
  • Cashflow is an exciting tool to use live with clients and to bring the whole financial planning piece to life.
  • You need to do your homework to make each assumption as accurate as possible.
  • Spending time on the detail is fundamental to achieving great client outcomes.

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