The Client Experience

By: Dennis Hall
CEO
Yellowtail Financial Planning

There are two sides to the client experience: the actual process clients go through and the outcomes clients receive. Whilst the outcomes of Financial Planning are positive, the Financial Planning process can be initially daunting.

For most people, Financial Planning is difficult and complex, even when working with a Financial Planner. Consumers (and Advisers) may consider it simpler to stick to specific product related advice rather than dealing with something as nebulous as lifetime cash flow modelling. Financial Planning requires more thought, input and work from adviser and client alike. Compared to even a complex product transaction, Financial Planning can appear to be the harder route.

For clients to commit to the process of Financial Planning they need to be convinced the outcomes are better.

Financial Planning is still a relatively young discipline, and the comparatively small number of clients restricts the ability to undertake rigorous academic research, but that will change over time as more clients and advisers engage with the process.

Better outcomes aren’t restricted to the amount of ‘money in the bank’; there is a psychological value too. Clients say they gain a level of clarity they’ve never experienced before, allowing them to make better informed decisions – including the inevitable trade-offs between spending today and having enough money in the future.

Put simply, Financial Planning done well gives people more control over their financial future. People are empowered to shape a better future for themselves (and their families), with less angst and doubt along the way.

Here are some of the positive outcomes of the clients experience:

  • Having a clear and detailed understanding of their current financial situation.
  • Better articulating their desired financial future, and translating this into money – how much is enough?
  • Having a realistic investment timeframe, and ignoring short-term volatility.
  • Having an investment mandate that fits their objectives, real not imagined.
  • Evaluating the real long-term cost of spending today versus saving for tomorrow.
  • Striking a balance between living for today and living for tomorrow.
  • Understanding the tax implications of their decisions, and planning accordingly.
  • Ensuring adequate provision is made for the financial implications of death or disablement.
  • Understanding the household budget.

Whilst these outcomes are positive, the process is somewhat different. In some focus group research by Dr David Lazenby in the United States with Financial Planning clients, the Financial Planning process was described as a combination of “dental exam, math class, and marriage therapy”. Looking closely at what is involved we begin to understand why it can feel so that way.

The “Trigger”

What drives someone to seek financial advice in the first place is usually something very specific; a change of circumstances, a windfall, impending retirement, and in the client’s mind they’re looking for a financial product to solve their problem.

Most people prefer not to dwell on their finances, whereas Financial Planning is an invitation to do a ‘deep dive’ into everything financial in their lives. If they’ve never experienced it, then they won’t have experienced any of the positive outcomes associated with it.

Difficult conversations

Financial Planning takes people through a process where they are scrutinised to the point of discomfort, and an ongoing relationship with a Financial Planner means repeated scrutiny. It’s uncomfortable, and for many of us it also leads to embarrassment and guilt. We all know we should be doing something more responsible with our money we just don’t want to be told about it.

Part of the problem is that dealing with money and finances involves numbers. Financial Planners may be comfortable talking in percentages and fractions, but for many clients the language of money, finance and numbers is a foreign one.

Financial Planning involves getting more specific about the long-term future, something that humans don’t do easily. Research suggests we find it difficult to look further than 3 – 5 years out.

Working with couples adds another dimension; long term goals and objectives that they may not have previously discussed. Sometimes years will elapse before these goals and objectives can be fully agreed and adequately articulated. Financial Planning needs to remain flexible to accommodate change.

More rigorous Fact Find and Data Gathering

It is a challenge obtaining expenditure details, not just today, but projected well into the future. It means giving some thought to long-term care, and inheritance tax. Most clients don’t have all the information at their fingertips, and the adviser often needs to obtain current information from product providers. It’s a time-consuming process.

Financial Planning involves more effort from the Financial Planner too. Asking clients questions they’ve never previously considered can be challenging, as is pinning them down to an answer – and that’s before any analysis or planning begins.

Throughout the process the client still doesn’t fully understand what they’re going to get, no matter how well the planner has explained it. Several weeks may elapse until the results of the Financial Planning analysis are known, and it may be some weeks further before recommendations are made.

Presentation

If lifetime cash flow modelling software is used, the light begins to dawn when the client is presented with a picture of how their financial future is likely to unfold, and how adopting different strategies changes it. Involving clients in the modelling phase, allowing them to make changes and showing them how they impact the outcome, is where the process suddenly becomes powerful for them.

Ongoing

Financial Planning shouldn’t be regarded as a one-off experience. Using the analogy of sports stars and athletes Financial Planning involves a continuous process of fine-tuning and development for people who want to optimise their financial wellbeing throughout their lifetime.

It doesn’t necessarily require an annual review, but a regular check up in the same way someone will check in with their dentist or doctor will keep them on track, and pick up on things that might be going wrong before it turns into a catastrophe.

These client quotes give the best possible indication of what the experience should feel like…

“As a business consultant I readily relate to the Financial Planning model – it’s exactly how I work with my business clients and I see the value in working that way” S.O. Berkshire

“Being able to see the cash flow model on the screen like that makes everything clear. I’ve never had this level of clarity before and I can begin to stop worrying and start living” J.B. Surrey

“Having spent my whole life saving money, and now worrying about inheritance tax, you’re showing me I can give some away whilst I am alive and I won’t run out of money – that makes a change” L.G. London

“It’s a comfort to know that someone is looking at everything and can see our bigger picture – we value that aspect of the relationship more than the investment returns” M.S. Berkshire “Approaching retirement was a huge worry even with the annual Financial Planning reviews, but at each review the cash flow model has eased my anxiety and I finally took redundancy and felt safe” P.F. Kent

“So what you’re telling me is, I can afford to retire – well I don’t want to but it’s nice to know I can” M.V. Surrey

Convincing someone they need Financial Planning (compared to whatever it was they came to see you about) can be challenging.

I learned to have a script that takes the client on a journey from where they are now, to where they want to be, and shows that the journey is probably impossible without the structure of a Financial Plan.

It should leave the client feeling that Financial Planning is a ‘no-brainer’.


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