An essential step in creating a financial plan is data gathering: getting the particulars on the client’s pensions, investment, savings and insurance policies. The traditional way to obtain this information is asking the client to submit these details via a fact-finding form.
On the face of it, this method of data collection appears straightforward. However, it is also generally ineffective and off-putting for clients.
Why? Some clients find it daunting, while others do not have their financial affairs organised well enough to provide the planner with this information in the first place. A better way to tackle this process is to replace the orthodox fact-finding meeting with a ‘get organised’ meeting, a concept that involves the planner taking an active role in uncovering the client’s ‘hard facts’.
So what does a get organised meeting look like? As American financial planning guru Michael Kitces said: Data gathering meetings are for advisors. A get-organised meeting is client-centric.
And it is. It revolves around the client’s needs during that critical process of fact-finding. The aim is to empower the client and make them feel confident they are getting their finances shipshape, and to reduce any embarrassment if things are a bit skew-whiff.
Crucially, this meeting is a practical way of sorting out the client’s financial information, including paper copies and online accounts. Planners also benefit because they can quickly obtain the key facts they may otherwise struggle to get hold of, facts that aid the discovery process and help when building the financial plan.
Many clients cannot remember where they have stashed documents, or have only kept an intermittent supply of paper copies. Coupled with lost or forgotten online passwords, recovering this information can be a stressful undertaking.
Although it involves some legwork on the planner’s side, approaching the client’s financial providers directly to gather data (after creating letters of authority) could result in it being supplied more quickly, while avoiding any tension in such an early stage of the client-planner relationship.
Good file management may not be the client’s strong suit. Be mindful they may be a bit embarrassed if that is the case, and reassure them.
The planner could provide the client with folders or dividers and even roll up their shirt sleeves and help them sort out their files. At the end of the meeting, the client will leave with their finances in better order than they were before, providing a tangible benefit they can take away with them. This is the kind of peace of mind you can provide at an early stage.
The planner could also offer to scan documents to create a digitised client vault, or work with the client to track down online accounts. That could be hugely useful. Walking the client through the registration process of an online portal during the meeting will also save the client time and allow them to ask any technical questions about the system. Additionally, the planner can ensure the client’s online accounts are linked up correctly, which in turn offers the benefit of being able to access the client’s aggregated financial data with ease.
To retirement and beyond
When the financial planner fully understands the client’s hard facts, they can begin to uncover soft facts by delving deeper into their goals and lifestyle aspirations. Leading financial planning coach and theorist George Kinder’s three questions are useful at this point for weeding through superficial answers and getting the client to think deeply about what they long for in life; what truly motivates them.
Only after doing all this can a planner put together a solution that enables the client to live a meaningful life based on their wants and needs in the lead-up to retirement and beyond.
Amyr Rocha-Lima is partner at Holland Hahn & Wills