Originally posted at fa-mag.com by Mitch Anthony, March 1, 2022.

During the past year and a half (and counting), I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us have experienced epiphanies and made positive changes to our lives as a result.

While not dismissing the toll the pandemic has taken on many of us, I think it’s helpful to recognize the good things that have occurred. I have seen many people rediscover the importance of family and friends and focus on what really matters in their lives. It’s not coincidental that the philosophy underlying my concept, “Return on Life”—which means living the best life possible with the resources you have—has likely become many people’s philosophy.

According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, “59% of Americans say they want to spend more time with family. And 44% said they enjoyed spending more time at home during the pandemic and hope that continues afterward.” The survey also found that more than a third of us want to try “something new.” A Fidelity Charitable poll of 1,500 people found that philanthropic giving has expanded as people are more in tune with the problems and suffering of others.

I’m betting at least some of your clients have been looking at assets under management (AUM) in a new way as well:

A: Aligning means with meaning
U: Understanding what makes them unique (and what they really want out of life)
M: Monitoring the life changes and transitions they are experiencing both now and moving forward

When you refer to clients as a number (as in “my $6 million client,”) it’s a guaranteed way to dehumanize them by degrees—no one wants to feel they are simply a means to an end. We must never forget that our clients are not one size fits all. They want you to look at—and treat—them as unique individuals instead of simply an “asset under management.” Your numbers may impress your advisory peers, and maybe even some clients, but that approach will surely catch up with you, especially when it comes to the younger investors who are your future. Return on investment is important—even critical—be it’s not the be-all it once was.

According to a dozen experts interviewed by AARP, the pandemic has changed us in several ways:

1. We appreciate family more than ever;
2. We need to be financially prepared for whatever the next crisis might be;
3. Paying attention to our health is essential;
4. Remote work is here to stay in some way, shape or form;

5. We must expect the unexpected.

The list goes on, but I’m focused on the items that I believe most affect the relationship you have with your clients.

How do we move forward?

It’s not rocket science! Instead of just asking clients, “How much do you have?” or “How much do you want to have?” you have to develop a financial lifeline for all the life transitions they’re anticipating (when they move to a new job, when their children leave home, etc.). Mapping out that lifeline over the next two decades allows you to engage more closely with the clients about their key life stages and plan accordingly. Your value proposition to them immediately goes up because you are not only thinking about one number (i.e., retirement) but also everything that comes before—and after. They may find that they can take a family trip sooner than they thought because you helped them understand how planning involves more than number crunching. They’ll thank you when you give them permission to enjoy some of what they have gathered.

The pandemic has given you the opportunity to empathize with clients and help them move forward. What’s going on in the markets isn’t nearly as important as what is going on in your clients’ lives. Time and again I’ve seen that advisors focusing holistically and on the long term enjoy a more fulfilling and prosperous career (usually it also means they have fewer clients).

When it comes to the bottom line for your clients, it’s not just a number: It’s not about how much they have as much as it is about getting the best life possible with the money they have.

In Life Centered Financial Planning, the book I co-authored with Paul Armson, we introduce readers to the “Return on Life Manifesto.” It’s a tool you can share with your clients to let them know you understand that priorities change, and that financial planning is so much more than a one-and-done event. The manifesto includes several words for advisors to live by:

1. Money is simply a tool.
2. Comparative measures are neither helpful nor necessary in making progress.
3. Progress must be personalized.
4. The primary measure of success for our clients is “Return on Life,” or ROL.
5. The ways we’re compensated require absolute transparency.
6. You can provide quality and value to a limited number of clients.
7. We are stewards of wealth, not owners.
8. The greatest value you can bring to your clients is to bridge their means with their meaning.
9. You should not entrust your clients’ well-being to anyone who does not put their interests ahead of their own.
10. An ROL advisor has a calling, not just a job.

As we tarry for some sense of return to “normal,” it’s a great time to remind your clients that you’re there to help them focus on their priorities and reach their goals—and that you’re more than a money manager. You’re their fiscal philosopher: there to deliver reality checks and planning to help them live the best life possible with the money they have.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to appreciate what we have and plan for the future … while taking full advantage of the present.

Mitch Anthony is the creator of Life-Centered Planning, the author of 12 books for advisors, and the co-founder of ROLadvisor.com and LifeCentered Planners.com.