I'm a financial planner, and there are 3 lessons I've learned from other financial planners that changed the way I do my job

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  • Over the years as a financial planner, there are three lessons I've learned from colleagues that have helped me improve at my job.
  • First, I learned that providing value to a client in every communication is key to sustaining a productive relationship.
  • I also learned that money is an emotional topic and people make decisions based not only on numbers, and that I can better my services by committing to constantly improving my craft.
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Advancing the financial planning profession is a passion of mine, so it is important that we all take time to learn from each other and embrace different viewpoints. Value for clients significantly improves when planners are more open-minded and knowledgeable. 

In my career, I have learned so much from colleagues. These are the three best tips I've gotten from other financial planners.

Provide value each time you communicate with a client

Simply put, clients are paying fees and deserve value in return. I believe that most financial planners do great work for their clients, but the real key is to establish a mindset of consistent value creation. 

So no matter how you communicate, the client should leave that communication feeling like they received some type of value. It can be a scheduled meeting, response to a phone call or email, or sending out a company newsletter. Even further, proactively reaching out (in addition to a planned service calendar) to provide value really shows a commitment to clients.

Take an example. Mary has been Barbara's financial planner for the last five years. She focuses on going above and beyond her service/communication calendar by finding ways to add value for clients. Mary conducts Barbara's annual review meeting, takes very specific notes, and sends the standard follow-up email the next day, but she does not stop there. 

In the meeting, Barbara briefly mentioned that she heard someone talking on television about Roth IRAs. Given Barbara's tax situation, Mary did not recommend this action now, but knows that this topic is something that Barbara is thinking about. In addition to the normal meeting follow-up steps, Mary sees another opportunity to provide value and proactively sends Barbara an email with financial planning considerations on deciding when a Roth IRA conversation is an optimal choice.

Understand that money is an emotional topic

One thing that I learned early on in this profession is that there is more to financial planning than just the numbers, which was a very difficult concept to grasp since I am someone who is very detailed and analytical. At first, it did not make sense to me when clients would not (or would delay) implementing recommendations of mine after seeing the calculations that were provided to them. Through experience, I got clear on the fact that financial planning starts with the "human side" and details are there to provide support for recommendations. 

I am not saying that the numbers should be ignored, because calculations and projections provide much clarity into a financial plan. However, clients' specific goals/concerns, their unique perspectives on money, and their financial journey should always take priority. 

Let's illustrate an example of how someone's financial journey impacts decision-making. Mark and Lisa, a married couple with two young children, hire Jessica to be their financial planner. During the initial financial plan analysis, one of the recommendations is for both spouses to consult with an insurance agent and obtain life insurance coverage. Jessica understands that optimal life insurance amounts vary, but suggests a certain amount to them. 

Mark believes this amount is too low and desires a higher amount despite the increased cost. He has this mindset because of occurrences in his childhood. Mark noticed that some of his relatives who died did not adequately plan, which created much financial stress for their heirs. Mark always thinks about these experiences and wants to  make sure his children would have more than enough financial support in the event of him prematurely dying. Jessica listens to these powerful stories and now understands.

Truly make a commitment to learning your craft

As professionals in our field, we obviously should all strive to become very knowledgeable. A tip that I learned is to really take that "next step" of acquiring knowledge, which means being proactive. It is about having the mindset of always wanting to learn more. There is no way anyone can know about everything, but just taking the approach to being a lifelong learner can provide great benefits. As a result, clients will receive outstanding value from financial planners who make this type of commitment to learning. 

As a Certified Financial Planner professional and NAPFA-registered financial advisor, I am required to complete a specific amount of continuing education hours over recurring time cycles. This consistent requirement of learning is great and has helped me acquire helpful financial planning knowledge. However, I still make additional efforts to continuously learn more by reading articles, listening to podcasts, communicating with financial planner colleagues, etc.

Martin A. Scott, CFP, is the founder and financial planner of Lasting Wealth Principles, a fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm.

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