Originally posted at Financial Advisor, by Mitch Anthony.
Imagine the feelings that horse traders had 110 years ago upon hearing about the “horseless” carriage. Their sentiments had to range from incredulity (“How can you pull a carriage without a horse?”) to cynicism (“Who’s going to take a chance on this unproven contraption?”) to utter disdain, ebbing into panic as they saw their once “established” trade go by the wayside.
Imagine further the horse traders’ agitation and confusion as the new technology measured its capacity and effectiveness in terms of horsepower—and yet, no horses were involved. (“How can a mechanical motor the size of a big dog have the propelling power of 100 horses?”) I need not elaborate any further; we all know what happened. Smug in their role of providing a commodity (the horse), they failed to realize that customers were more interested in progress itself than the means by which that progress appeared.
People will do what they must to expedite progress in their lives.
Presently we are in the labor pangs of a similar revolution in the advice business, but this one is going in a reverse direction—away from technologically driven results to the more organic version of progress. We are entering an age of advice where the chief algorithm is emotion-driven.
This phenomenon has been building for some time on the periphery of the financial services industry. Back in 2001, I first introduced the term “financial life planning” in my book Your Clients for Life. I had reservations about the public coming to financial advice offices for “life planning” services—they are coming for financial advice. Adding the term “financial” to “life planning” has in fact made it more palatable, but I must admit that after almost two decades of effort from me and a few others, the concept abides largely on the periphery of the profession with dabblers of varying degrees sprinkled in every corner.
This slow transmutation is about to accelerate in a big way. What was on the periphery is moving toward the center, and what was in the center is being pushed irrevocably to the perimeter. Investments and investment guidance have been the nucleus of the business since inception. The center is now in flux. I would describe the arc of the business as moving From the Boiler Room to the Living Room—the title of my book describing the change that must take place before this profession can realize its potential.
This realm was founded by investment managers who simply wanted to peddle their products. The business was then re-engineered by advice and planning processes that put the investment products themselves in a secondary or tertiary position in importance. We are now in the throes of the final stage of evolution for the industry—life-centered planning—where the context of how the money will be used in the life of the client can no longer be ignored or quarantined as a “soft-side” issue. Up until this point, the question driving the advice industry has been, “Do you have enough money?” This will now be the secondary question. The primary one will be, “Are you managing your money in a way that improves your life?”
To properly help clients answer this question requires a different skill set than what was required in the past. Just being a capitalist and a student of markets was enough then. Succeeding in the next chapter means being both a service-minded professional and a student of financial behavior. Scripts for selling are being replaced by candid truth-telling. Relative investment performance reviews are being replaced by financial accountability dialogues. The future, I must add here, looks very good for more women joining this profession. If being genuinely interested in others’ stories and building authentic relationships is important, then the future is yours—and it will be far more welcoming for those who have a bigger heart for service than they do an ego for selling.
Allow me to present two very promising examples of this move toward life-centered planning. Recently, I had the honor of speaking at both the XY Planning Network conference in Dallas and the BACK2Y conference in Birmingham, England. Both conferences had approximately 500 people in attendance. The XY group (named for its focus on younger generations) was founded by Michael Kitces and Alan Moore four years ago and has grown at such an accelerated pace that it even caught the founders off guard. At this conference, I met young and middle-aged planners alike sharing some destiny denominators: a focus on serving, not selling; compensation for advice, not products; and a desire to learn how to be better financial coaches.
While many of the young planners attending were just beginning their businesses, others had established practices in their markets. The group shares a life-centered focus, and the majority of planners are off-loading investment advice as they recognize that this piece has been commoditized. The future of the profession is moving toward their ideology—and the average age is 37. You do the math.
The next week I flew to the U.K. and was blown away by the passion, professionalism and determination of the planners I met at the BACK2Y meeting (also in its fourth year). It was founded by Paul Armson of Inspiring Advisers—a visionary rebel who has refused to abide by business as usual in flogging products and calling it “advice” or “planning.” The title of BACK2Y pretty much sums up the maypole around which these vibrant and energetic advisors rotate—going back to “Why?” Asking, “Why are we in this business?” and “Why do people need the money?” Close to 500 advice professionals from eight different countries were in attendance, and the atmosphere was electric with enthusiasm for the next stage of the advice profession.
Time with this group affirmed my suspicions that the ROL (“return on life”) revolution is clearly under way—and it’s not going back to riding horses. The horse-trading in this analogy is the business of investment management (which is necessary but no longer deemed as value-able). The wise professionals are letting others manage the monies while they manage the relationships. It is the horseless carriage that spells progress for both client and advisor.
For those who embrace the inevitability of the life-centered planning profession and the ROL revolution, it is important to understand the difference between evolution and revolution. Evolution is about waiting for the inevitable to take shape, and for what is to morph into what shall be. Revolution takes place when those already convinced decide to hasten the pace of the inevitable.
Life-centered planning is here. Life is the point, the objective, the logical conclusion and the only context that counts for your clients. It’s time to get our eyes off the numbers and get our ears on the stories. Progress matters to people—and is best measured by the impact their money has on their life.
If you aren’t centered on understanding your client’s storyboard, then you will certainly be left behind by “those blasted contraptions” blowing dust into your eyes.