In the future we will not tell people what to do, we will clear a path for them.
As financial planners we are armed with rational information on how to make smart financial decisions. We talk among ourselves about the importance of getting out the message that individuals must take more personal responsibility for their financial circumstances and well-being. (As if financial planners, by virtue of being in the “know”, have conquered our own money issues and irrational behaviors.)
What I keep wondering about is the resistance to the message of financial responsibility, and the denial, head in the sand attitude that I frequently confront. I see it in some of our clients, in terms of their acceptance of how much they can spend monthly and annually in order for their money to last their lives. I see it in the responses I receive to my blogs on VibrantNation, aimed at women over 50. I get responses like, “it’s too late for me”; “I might as well shoot myself”; “I can’t manage on my own”; “I can’t . . .I won’t . . .”
So for the future of financial planning, I wish for humility and understanding. I wish for tools more effective than restating “be responsible” messages. (As an example of the lack of effectiveness those kinds of messages have, the messages about the dangers of smoking have actually resulted in INCREASED smoking in Paris, France!) There is a rebellious streak in most folks. So, what might work?
They understand that for change to occur and to last an appeal must be made to the rational mind, the emotional heart, AND the path must be cleared and the way made as easy as possible. In our planning processes, how are we actually making it hard for our clients to comply? To succeed? I’ve often told new planners who berate their clients for not completing their data questionnaires or sending in their documents in a timely fashion, “if it were so easy for your clients, they might not need you!” We put up roadblocks to success instead of facilitating it, although our intentions are honorable.
Day to day life is crowded with the “should, must and ought to do’s” from which we yearn for escape. Money trends to live in the “should do” area for most people. Aren’t we adding to the list? We are listed as a great profession to be IN, but I wonder if we are listed as a great professional to GO TO!
The Heath brothers in their book, make the case that what often looks like resistance, procrastination and denial is actually exhaustion. Change is tiring. To try to change several behaviors at once can create depression, fatigue and set one up for failure. Think of your own attempts to change diet, exercise, or any routine. To become more conscious about anything is tiring, requires new energy, effort and time. I’m not sure financial planners view their plan ‘ACTION ITEMS’ in the way the clients do. We get excited by the list of “to do’s” that represent, to us, forward motion. But for our clients, for individuals, that list may create anxiety, tension and exhaustion.
We want to reach the middle class; the underserved and we want to make a difference in our client’s lives. How can we clear the path to success? Reduce the exhaustion? Inspire change rather than denial? Overcome the denial and lack of understanding?
Can we stop justifying our fees by complicating money? Clearing someone’s mental and emotional fog is worth a ton. Helping someone take one step rather than burden them with ten or twenty action items, might lead to a simple success that builds the “change muscles” to take on more. The future of financial planning will be about clearing the path, not just mapping it.
Elizabeth Jetton, CFP®
RTD Financial Advisors