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Life Planning: The Conversation of a Lifetime

Life planningIt’s just not enough to give your clients the tools they need for long-term financial planning; to really connect with them, it is good practice to humanize your approach by integrating life goals with financial goals. This is “Life Planning.”

When I started my practice, about 50% of my clients were psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. After I began attending their workshops and learned more about human psychology, I started thinking about my own business relationships. To truly be a benefit to my clients, I needed to find a way to develop an authentic relationship they would value.

How Life Planning Differs from Traditional Planning

Life Planning is about discovering a client’s deepest and most profound goals, and inspiring clients to pursue their aspirations. The process really is different than traditional planning and uses a variety of tools:

  • The Seven Stages methodology enables advisers to help their clients find freedom and financial security by developing clarity and ease around their relationship to money. A client’s unexamined beliefs about money can disrupt the advisory process with things like self-sabotaging behavior, inappropriate risk-taking, lack of interest in executing a plan and goal confusion. Using the Seven Stages methodology gives the adviser a philosophical and psychological framework to understand client behavior and enhance coaching skills; this greatly improves the ability of the adviser to inspire the client to action toward their personal and financial goals.
  • Because listening is so important to truly grasp what a client desires, Life Planners are taught listening skills, including how to listen respectfully, with no judgment. This is probably why many people have confused this process with “money therapy.” Life Planners are by no means therapists; we just express interest in our clients’ goals and listen to their concerns and fears regarding money.
  • To find a client’s true passion and life goals, we use a process we call the EVOKE® Life Planning Process. The purpose of this process, delivered in one long or a series of meetings, is to explore the vision for the client’s life, identify obstacles preventing those things from happening and develop a plan.

The Benefit of Being a Life Planner

There is a profound difference between the value propositions of Life Planners and other traditional roles in the financial planning industry:

  • Investment Managers – Beat the market and grow the client’s portfolio. Life goal conversations with clients may not enter into the equation.
  • Financial Planners – Create a comprehensive financial plan for their clients to achieve a specific amount. Life goals are considered, but the goals may be in the background.
  • Financial Life Planners – Help clients develop a meaningful plan to create the life they want. Life goals are integrated into all financial decisions.

Traditional financial planning questionnaires may provide you with organized goals, but they may not reveal your clients’ passions and what they want to accomplish in life. With the Life Planning process, the client has already thought about what excites them about life. As a result, that passion is then directed at figuring out, with the planner, what needs to be done financially to meet the client’s goals.

The Most Important Life Lesson

The most common response clients give after leaving a Life Planning session is, “that was the conversation of a lifetime.”

Let me give you an example. After working with our firm, Martin discovered he really wanted to spend more time with his wife and child, despite his demanding career. He worked 55-60 hours a week, so we asked him, “what if you had an extra 15 hours a week?” We suggested that he negotiate with his employer to work fewer hours so he could spend time with his family. This strategy was successful and, in fact, Martin’s employer found his productivity was the same or higher working fewer hours. Other clients talk about writing a book, traveling, purchasing a lake house or even becoming part-time jazz musicians. When you understand what you want to do with your life, you can make financial choices that reflect your values.

The Life Planning process helps identify what the client wants and, of course, money aids in the delivery. However, the joy of being a Life Planner is that we have the financial knowledge to help deliver what the client truly desires. That’s the most important life lesson of all.

For additional information on this process, join George Kinder’s keynote presentation at the AICPA Advanced Personal Finance Planning Conference, January 18-20, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nevada. He will also offer a two-day workshop on the Seven Stages of Money Maturity® preceding the conference, on January 16-17. If you want more information about Life Planning, the EVOKE process and the Seven Stages of Money Maturity, download and listen to George Kinder’s recent AICPA Webcast,  The Life Planning Perspective: An Interview with George Kinder.

George Kinder, Kinder Institute. George Kinder is the founder of the Life Planning movement and the author of four books, including Seven Stages of Money Maturity, Lighting the Torch and Transforming Suffering into Wisdom. He also recently co-authored with Mary Rowland Life Planning for You: How to Design & Deliver the Life of Your Dreams. George also recently launched a free companion website to this book, LifePlanningforYou.com, that allows consumers to complete a self-guided version of the EVOKE Life Planning process. A second site, LifePlanningforYou.com/adviser enables advisers to work virtually with clients, assigning exercises and managing the EVOKE process. He has been a practicing financial Life Planner and tax adviser for more than 30 years.

Life planning courtesy of Shutterstock.

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