While the bulk of financial services has been focused on the baby boomer generation - as the saying goes, they're "where the money is" - an increasing acknowledgement is growing that at some point, financial planners have to expand their horizons to the Generations X and Y that follow. Not just because eventually, Gen X and Gen Y will inherit the remaining wealth of the baby boomers, but also because - in the case of Gen X at least - they're beginning to reach their peak earnings years, and build some serious wealth of their own.

In this guest post, Ted Jenkin of oXYGen Financial, an advisory firm that is squarely focused already on serving Gen X and Gen Y - and is doing so successfully - shares some of his own tips about how to serve Gen X effectively. From reframing away from retirement planning to "exit planning", to recognizing the importance of coaching outside of purely financial matters, to trying to bundle services not just for pricing but for efficiency from the client's perspective, Ted provides insight on how working with Gen X is different than generations past.

So whether you're looking to work more with Gen X clients, or perhaps figure out why you've had limited success trying to work with them already, hopefully this article will be helpful to you in considering how you might need to shift your services to serve Gen X clients more effectively. Alternatively, if you're just thinking about working with Gen X at some point in the future, this article should provide a roadmap of some of the services you'll need to consider - and expertise you must develop - along the way.

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 0 Comments

Even though in the end much of the success in a financial planning engagement ultimately comes down to behavior change - helping a client alter whatever he/she was doing towards something that will better allow them to achieve their goals - there is still remarkably little education and training for financial planners focused directly on behavior change. Instead, advisors must turn to resources from other industries and professions to find ideas and best practices about how to help their clients actually make the behavioral changes necessary to achieve their goals.

A recent new book, however, makes headway in this regard. "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath, provides one of the most accessible books yet on understanding behavior change and the techniques that can help to bring it about. Using a fantastic series of metaphors, the Heath brothers liken the battle in our brains between the rational and emotional sides as an elephant and its rider - noting that at best, the rational rider can help to steer the direction that the two will go, but that ultimately it's the energy and drive of the elephant that will dictate most outcomes. Accordingly, the authors suggest that the best way to ultimately achieve behavior change is through a combination of efforts, to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path that the pair must follow to help guide the outcome.

The book provides a remarkably good framework for financial planners, who arguably spend a great deal of time oriented towards directing the rational rider to long-term goals, but don't spend very much time at all focused on how to motivate the elephant or shape its environment. In fact, many planners are notorious for focusing entirely on the "rational" solutions without engaging "messy" client feelings (a classic "rider-centric" planning approach), and we often spend almost no time at all thinking about how clients can reshape their environment to help themselves succeed (for instance, by encouraging clients to find a social support group for their problematic spending behaviors, or suggesting that they think about relocating to a neighborhood or getting a different group of friends who will be less likely to encourage their bad spending behavior). While the book "Switch" doesn't necessarily provide a lot of new and original research (at least for anyone who's read the works of many of the primary researchers in this space from Daniel Kahneman to James Prochaska), it provides what is easily one of the most accessible treatments of the topic that can help planners to think fresh about how they might incorporate more behavioral change techniques into their own practices!

Monday, November 4th, 2013 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 3 Comments

In uncertain situations, we often look for social cues about what to do based on what everyone else is doing. This kind of "social proof" can be highly effective in helping us to navigate what to do in the absence of proper information. In fact, sometimes the effects of social proof can be remarkably powerful, causing the herd to do something dramatic "because everyone else is doing it too," even if no one in the crowd actually knows why they're doing it!

Unfortunately, though, the principles of social proof are often used unintentionally, and in fact can be unwittingly applied to encourage negative behavior. From teenagers making irresponsible decisions because their friends are doing it, to baby boomers not saving for retirement due in part to a perception that no one else is doing it either, it's important to consider the social proof ramifications of any message that is communicated. Otherwise, there's a risk that explaining the commonality of a bad behavior will actually communicate to people that the behavior is socially condoned and that it's ok to do it!

On the plus side, though, financial planners are often in a good position to invoke the positive effects of social proof on behalf of their clients. If the "normal" behavior is bad, we can establish positive role models of what the normal behavior of a "good" outcome would be instead. On the other hand, applying social proof with clients also requires us to let go of the idea that absolutely every client scenario is completely unique, and instead try to identify ways that a client's situation are similar to others, to provide a positive social proof context. But the bottom line is that since our brains are hard-wired to create these kinds of comparisons, just ignoring the phenomenon is not an option!

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 1 Comment

As financial planners seek out differentiation in an increasingly crowded environment, a new trend is emerging towards the use of more interactive software tools to provide a more engaging client experience. While many of these new approaches revolve around the use of financial planning software live with clients - replete with quick data entry support and sliders for clients to manipulate the goals and see immediate impact - the reality is that even the old-fashioned data gathering meeting represents an opportunity to use technology to better engage new clients, and the tool of choice appears to be the mind map.

Although mind mapping has been used in other business contexts - from keeping personal thoughts organized to creative team brainstorming meetings - the tool may be especially appealing for financial planning, as it not only visually captures a lot of client information that is otherwise hard to see all at once, but it does so in a manner that provides a tangible deliverable to what others is some of the most intangible "shadow work" that we do for clients. Whether as a way to justify fee increases, or simply to increase the firm's value proposition, adopting mind mapping becomes an appealing way to create perceived value for work that is ultimately useful for clients but also time-intensive and often unrecognized. 

The rising interest in the use of mind mapping in financial planning has even led to the emergence of a training program being offered specifically to advisors on how to use the tool with clients, build a business model around it, and provides some templates to help get started. Of course, ultimately any mind mapping templates will still become very specific to the planning firm and its clientele - in no small part because the template becomes a de facto checklist process for the client discovery meeting - so some firms may simply wish to dive in themselves and get started! But regardless of the adoption route that is chosen, mind mapping appears to be an increasingly appealing tool for cutting edge firms to create a unique value and experience for clients.

Monday, August 12th, 2013 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 1 Comment

Financial advice revolves around money, and the affluent individuals that most financial planners work with have a good-sized chunk of it, which means the conversations often turn quickly to investments, and how to manage them effectively. As a result, a lot of time is often spent on investment portfolios, asset allocation, and decisions about particular investments, including whether to implement them with passive or active strategies.

Yet the reality is that the value of financial advice extends far beyond just a focus on investment returns. In this guest post, Bob Seawright explains what he thinks are the top benefits to financial advice, beyond just the investment selection and the passive/active debate. The value ranges from advisor insights about taxation and tax efficiency, to helping clients through a long list of their behavioral biases, to all the other parts of financial planning that matter besides just the money itself.

In a world where many financial advisory firms have become increasingly investment-centric, hopefully this will be a helpful reminder of all the other value that financial advisors bring to the table. For those who have maintained a more comprehensive focus to their financial advice all along, this may still be useful as a good recap of the benefits that your clients enjoy by working with you! Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 3 Comments

The proliferation of choice in recent years has given consumers more and more financial options, from choosing a 401(k) investment to selecting a long-term care insurance policy, or even identifying a financial planner to work with. While on the one hand the flexibility of choice is appealing, recent research suggests that in reality too many choices may make us so fearful of choosing poorly that it leads us to not choose at all; in other words, the more choices we have, the less likely we may be to select from any of them.

This so-called "Paradox of Choice" has significant implications for financial planners. On the one hand, it presents an opportunity to deliver value to clients by helping to narrow down and simplify the choices, or at least provide them helpful indicators about how to make a selection from amongst a wide array of complex options. On the other hand, it seems that some financial planners may be creating a Paradox of Choice for clients, sometimes by providing them with too many options about how to even work with the planner, instead of keeping the business model simple with a clear value proposition that clients can just take or leave.

The good news is that with some conscious focus, financial planners really do have an opportunity to create value for clients by helping them avoid "analysis paralysis" and drive forward to decisions and actions that improve their financial lives. But getting there may require us to collectively embrace the inherent irrationality we all have, and recognize that in many situations - including what we offer to our clients and how we help them - that offering more may lead to less, and focusing on less may lead to more.

Monday, May 6th, 2013 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 4 Comments

In financial planning, it's not just about having expert knowledge and wisdom to dispense to clients; after all, if clients don't ultimately implement the recommendations and change their behaviors, then their situations will not improve. In fact, many financial planners experience frustration when client's won't act, and view the failure of clients to implement recommendations as a sign that the people must be "bad" clients. The implication is that it may be more productive for planners to seek out "good" clients instead - those who act promptly and see the value in the planner and his/her advice.

Yet research from Dr. James Prochaska and his colleagues in the field of psychology suggests that in truth, the process of changing behavior - whether with respect to eating healthier and exercising more, ending a smoking habit, or making better financial decisions - is far more nuanced. Not only does it often take more than just one dose of good advice to bring about significant and lasting behavior change, but just because someone has a meeting with a professional does not necessarily mean that person is really even ready for change in the first place. Accordingly, an ideal process for working with clients may entail first understanding what stage of change the client is in, and then adapting the advice process to help the client move forward, from wherever he/she is at the time.

The most important implication, though, is that it may no longer be appropriate to simply view clients who don't implement as "bad" clients. Instead, a greater responsibility may rest upon the professional practitioner to help clients, regardless of where they happen to be in the process of change, to move forward. In turn, this means that it may be time for financial planning training to be improved, to develop the understanding and skillsets necessary so that planners can not only inform clients of what needs to be done to improve their financial situation, but also help motivate them to actually do it!

Monday, March 18th, 2013 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 16 Comments

A common challenge in financial planning is getting clients to actually implement the recommendations they've been given to help themselves progress towards their financial planning goals. While in theory, rational human beings should easily be able to take the necessary steps to improve their situation - especially once an expert has provided a list of recommendations and required action items to do so - the reality is that we're far less rational in practice. External influences that "shouldn't" be relevant can often impact our decisions and actions anyway, and in turn this means it's possible to influence decisions, or "nudge" people in certain directions, by paying attention to how the choices are presented.

This concept of "choice architecture" - acknowledging that the way choices are presented can influence their outcomes - is relevant not only for those making public policy decisions, but also anyone who is trying to help people make positive behavior changes... such as financial planners. Whether it's helping clients to change their own behaviors, to implement your financial planning recommendations, or even to help them determine whether to hire you in the first place, it may be time to pay a lot more attention to how those decisions are delivered to clients in the first place.

Monday, February 25th, 2013 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 4 Comments

As professionals, we take financial planning very seriously, and generally hope that our clients do as well. After all, if clients don't take their financial situation and its outcomes seriously, how will they ever change their behavior for the better? However, the reality is that in many fields, some of the best progress in helping people change their behavior comes not from raising the seriousness and penalties for making mistakes, but for turning the subject into a gaming experience that rewards positive outcomes. In the context of financial planning, this process of "gamification" creates the potential to help clients making the changes they need to achieve financial success. Although some aspects of financial planning would be difficult to turn into the kind of instantaneous feedback necessary for gamification to work - at least until technology moves along a few more years - other parts can be implemented now. For instance, even just making a financial planning action items list continuously available to clients, with checkboxes left blank until the task is completed, can help compel clients to finish what they need to in order to get to check the box! Will gamification have the potential to help clients having difficulty with change get to the financial planning outcomes they need and want?

Monday, September 10th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 4 Comments

Although operating a business that delivers financial planning services is called a "practice" the reality is that most financial planners do little to actually practice their skills outside of the ongoing work they do for clients. Yet while this is standard in the financial planning world, it seems almost absurd in other contexts; if a professional athlete only practiced during the time that actual games were played, he/she wouldn't last long. In fact, looking at the history of top performers in most fields, from sports to business, shows that those who are most successful have an ongoing process for effortful practice and a deliberate strategy for self improvement. Nonetheless, financial planners do little to hone and practice their own skillsets, especially once meeting the experience requirements for the CFP certification. Is the problem simply that most financial planners, like most people, aren't entirely comfortable with criticism and feedback - even if it's purely constructive - and would rather avoid the situation entirely? Or is there some other reason why financial planners don't actually do much to practice?

Monday, August 13th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 10 Comments

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