Welcome back to the 241st episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Bill Bachrach. Bill is the Chairman and CEO of AdvisorRoadMap, which provides training and mentorship to help financial advisors better attract and communicate with their ideal clients.
What's unique about Bill, though, is that as the creator of the values-based financial planning framework and the father of the now-famous question - “What’s important about money to you?”- he pioneered a repeatable process to put a client’s values and goals at the center of the financial planning conversation at a time when the industry was still focused almost exclusively on product sales.
In this episode, we talk in depth about how Bill’s “What’s important about money to you?” question not only gives advisors a powerful way to start a meaningful conversation, but also gives prospects an opportunity to communicate the value that they’re seeking from a financial planning relationship, how that opening question is just a part of Bill’s script for having values conversations with prospects to create a foundation of trust and, ultimately, helps advisors (as Bill puts it) rescue prospects from their current advisors, and how Bill uses his values roadmap as a deliverable to visually show prospects the steps that they can take in order to fulfill their most deeply held values and achieve their most important goals.
We also talk about Bill’s five prospect conversations (each of which occur during the first prospect meeting, including the Opening, Values, and Goals conversations, as well as All The Money and Commitment To Hire steps), Bill’s techniques and suggestions for leading those conversations without overly “controlling” the conversation, and how recording prospect conversations for later review not only helps advisors build even more trust and relevance, but also ends out helping advisors learn to listen more, say less, ask better questions, and answer prospect questions more effectively.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Bill shares his recommendations for helping prospects more concretely identify and define their goals, with not just the name, target date, and cost, but also the emotionally compelling words that describe what achieving that goal will feel like (to include on their financial roadmap), why Bill feels that it’s an advisor’s obligation to take full advantage of the financial planning tools that are available to them (and why doing so makes it even easier to “rescue” clients away from other advisors who don’t), and Bill’s view that trust isn’t a function of an advisor’s technical chops, but is instead a function of character, the ability to ask good questions, listen, and ultimately hold clients accountable to the advice that they’re given.
So whether you’re interested in learning about how Bill’s “What’s important about money to you?” question, his five prospect conversations, or how financial advisors can build trust, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Bill Bachrach.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Bill Bachrach
- Your Advisor Roadmap
- Financial Advisor Success Requires Just 50 Great Clients
- Values-Based Financial Planning by Bill Bachrach
- Foundation for Financial Planning
- Singularity University
- Human Longevity
Michael: Welcome, Bill Bachrach, to the Financial Advisors Success Podcast.
Bill: Well, thank you, Michael. It's a pleasure to be with you. I appreciate all the great work you do for financial advisors. And I feel privileged to have an opportunity to chat with you today. Thanks for inviting me.
Michael: Oh, I really appreciate that. I really feel honored that you're willing to come out and join us. I started in the business a little over 20 years ago and remember very early on being given one of your books, "Value-Based Selling." You later did "Value-Based Financial Planning", but this is even still in the value-based selling days, and I got introduced to some of your work and this question that you put out there that I think you're now pretty well-known for of asking clients, "What's important about money to you?"
And I'll admit I started out in the insurance side of the industry selling variable universal life at the peak of the tech boom because that's what we did in the industry back then. And I will fully own and admit I didn't get it when I first read it. I thought I was supposed to... I'm gathering data from the client. I need to know about their income and their financial situation because I'm trying to figure out if variable universal life is an appropriate sale for them and if so, how to position it to get them to buy our company's product and why our company's product is better than another big company's products. I'm like, "Why would I ask them what's important about money to you?"
I didn't really get how it fit into my sales process. And I think that's, in part, because I don't know that it really entirely does fit into a sales process. It fits into an advice process. It fits into a financial planning process. And as the whole industry I think is evolving from sales to advice, not only does it just change the value proposition and the business model of what we do but it really changes at a very fundamental level the client conversations we have, how we connect with clients, how we get clients, and just the whole nature, I think, of what it means to sell a product, which is all about the features and benefits of the product my company makes available to you through me versus what happens when we actually have to sell advice and financial planning. My value is me and my knowledge and the information that I've got between my two ears and the way that I can deliver that to you to give you recommendations to get to your goals. And I feel like you were very prescient in seeing this coming long before I ever got it when I showed up in the industry of how different your conversations have to be when you go from the product business into the advice business.
Bill’s Purpose Behind His Values-Based Financial Planning Framework [05:45]
Bill: Yeah, that's a great story, Michael. And I wouldn't be so hard on yourself about not getting it because that's really, I think, how we all started. We all started either on the investment sales side or on the insurance sales side. And, to your point, we were really focused on some particular kind of product. I happened to start on the investment side. And then, hopefully, I think the best of us, we have this epiphany at some point that “Yeah, just selling investments or selling insurance, that's good, that's valuable, but there's something bigger than that.” And so, I would say I created values-based financial planning. And the crux of it is that “what's important about money to you”, it's the question that starts it. But more importantly, it's the conversation that follows it. I created that not as a technique for financial advisors to get clients. It was created to help people recognize the value of planning and to inspire them to either engage in planning in the first place or to significantly improve their planning to increase the probability that they would achieve their most important goals and fulfill their most deeply-held values.
And so, the crux of that is the values conversation. And then, of course, the by-product of that, these intimate conversations, because everybody has embedded in their subconscious minds an imaginary trust dial, the by-product is that everything that's said and done between a client and advisors moves the needle on the trust dial one direction or the other. So, a by-product of the values conversation is a high level of trust. And we all know that trust is the most important element. And, ultimately, what we're trying to do is we're trying to inspire someone and give them a reason to hire you as their financial advisor and, effectively, fire their current advisor. And so, values-based financial planning is the blending of the most important or effective fundamentals of personal and professional development with financial planning. And, ironically, to this day, long after I had invented values-based financial planning and proved that it worked for me, and now it's worked for thousands of other financial advisors, is even today, most advisors still seem to be product-centered. They do sort of “light financial planning” as a means to their end, which is to gather assets and sell insurance. So, if you do something bigger than that, what I call “real financial planning”, and I know you're supportive of that as well, you can actually steal, or as I like to say, rescue clients, from those unenlightened advisors who are still focused on gathering assets and selling insurance.
Michael: Yeah, I call that segment the “financial advicers”, right, just the people who are actually in the business of advice, because unfortunately, the term "financial advisor" has kind of been stolen or distorted into the product industry to the point that, right, there was a point a few decades ago where stockbrokers were actually called "stockbrokers", insurance agents were called "insurance agents", and investment advisors who managed money had their own titles. But we've thrown everyone in one giant pod of just calling them "financial advisors", regardless of whether their business or their training or their experience actually has anything to do with advising on anything. And so, yeah, we've taken to creating a new term and calling them "financial advicers" to talk about just the people that are really in the business of advice. Their value proposition is advice. What they're paid for at the end of the day is the advice. And, as you've noted, it shows up differently. It relates differently. It connects differently to the point that I feel like we need a different label just to distinguish them from the rest. And the opportunity is, clients are still slowly and steadily going from advisors to advicers.
Bill: Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate the tag that you've put on that because I think that does distinguish it. The good news is that clients have always been willing to make that shift based on the experience that they have in interacting with that person who is truly giving financial advice and is doing something bigger and better than what most generic financial advisors do. The term wealth manager is another one of those ambiguous, means-nothing terms. And to your point, there's no consistency to any of this. There's no way to really tell by someone's title what they actually do. And, unfortunately, if your “financial advicer” title catches on, and I like it, there'll be some group of people who try and bastardize that too and pretend that they do something more than they really do.
Michael: Marketplaces are competitive and constantly evolving. That's why the whole system is so fascinating.
Bill: I know.
Michael: I am really struck, though. So, the comment you made at the beginning of where did the "What's important about money to you?" question come from that as you cited, the question starts it. The conversation that follows it is really valuable. And I think, as you put it, it helps people recognize the value of financial planning, which, to me, there's something really profound in that when so many of us today are in this world where, “I feel like what I do is valuable. I know it's valuable. I've got these clients who pay me very well and I have wonderfully high retention rates. I know I'm doing good things.” But so many of us seem to struggle to figure out how to describe what the value of financial planning is for the next prospect that you're sitting across from. And I think there's something really powerful in how you frame it, that if you start out with a question like, "What's important about money to you?" what your clients (or I guess at that point your prospects) answer, they are going to describe what the value of financial planning is for them, right?
If someone says, what's important about money to you is about security and peace of mind, “Well, it's great news because I'm in the peace-of-mind business.” If someone says, "What's important about money to me is it's a pathway to free up more of my time to spend it with my kids and family and things that are important to me," it's like, "Well, great news. I'm in the business of freeing up your time so you can spend more time with your family." I think there's something striking. We try so hard to try to figure out how to supplant what the value of financial planning is for the client. And that question of yours and that framework at the most fundamental level shifts the value of conversation of, well, the value of financial planning can actually show up in a lot of different ways for a lot of different people. If you really want to know what the value of your financial planning is, ask clients what's important about money to them. And then, just shut up and let them answer and they'll tell you exactly what the value of financial planning is.
Bill’s Fundamentals Of Building Trust [12:24]
Bill: Yeah, that's a great way to describe that. So, you build trust by listening to their story, not by telling yours. So, I find it's almost entertaining, certainly ironic, at how much effort financial professionals put into trying to describe what they do and then being frustrated when their so-called elevator pitch doesn't accomplish the outcome. And the whole premise is wrong. The attempted premise is, “If I am better at describing what I do, people will respond,” when the premise is actually, the effective premise is you shouldn't be just trying to describe what you do at all from the very beginning of meeting someone any time, any place, anywhere is to they should be talking. You build trust by listening to their story, not by telling yours, whether that's in the prospecting phase, whether that's in the face-to-face meeting phase, whether that's someone being a client, because if you will ask good questions and really listen, then you're right. It's actually a principle from adult learning theory called creating relevance. And so, you can't really describe financial planning. In fact, if I were to... I'll make a statement and I'll encourage your listeners to never say this again. “People don't plan to fail. They fail to plan,” right? So, those ridiculous platitudes and cliches...
Michael: I think I might have actually used that at some point. Why am I not supposed to say that? It's okay. I'll own it.
Bill: Well, you might have done it in the past as I did. But it's because it uses negative emotions, right? So, you build trust by listening to their story. You build trust by inspiring people with positive emotions. So, we were also taught to sell using fear and greed. Well, trusted advisors don't resort to those kinds of things because you don't have to. So, when you understand what's important to people, and you described it very, very well, you inspire them to want to either do plan planning in the first place or elevate the level of their planning for their personal, emotional payoff. And so, when you have something better than a cliche, which would be their personal motivation for doing something, Roy Disney, Walt's brother, and the former Disney CEO, said, "When your values are clear, your decisions are easy." So, circling back to that adult learning theory, adults need to understand the relevance. They need to understand, "So, what's the outcome for me of doing this?" And the more personal you make that, the more compelling it is. So, there's no more compelling relevance than that by doing planning, it will help me fulfill my most deeply-held values and achieve my most important goals.
So, it's values first because that's the emotional wire, the emotional payoff. Then, it's the goals, and the goals are the tangible what they want. And when you combine the power of that... And we actually do that in a visual document. It's a 17 by 22-inch piece of paper you maybe remember called the financial roadmap. And so, both spouses' values are on the financial roadmap. And it's not just that their words are there. It's that each spouse got to listen to the other talk about what's important to them, from their most basic survival values to their desire to help others and make a difference in their world to their most personal, self-actualizing core values. And what I found so shocking as a young advisor when I was creating this, the things that exist today, the scripts and the explanations and what questions to ask, and how to follow up, and how to tie it all together, and how to put your offer on the table, and how to answer the questions using their personal values and their goals, I was experimenting with all this.
I was just studying financial services and financial planning and the personal and professional development. And the values conversation came out of personal development. And I remember sitting in this psychological funky class, a communications skills class, thinking, "How would I ever incorporate a values exercise into an initial meeting with a prospect who may become a client? How do I help all these people who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s?" I was 26 years old at the time. And I know their financial advisors suck. I know they're working with a stockbroker. I know they're not really getting this. How do I help them recognize and discover that there's something bigger out there without just sounding like a 26-year-old talking about the features and benefits of financial planning saying things like, "People don't fail to plan. They plan to fail." I didn't find that very compelling for millionaires in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, which is who I wanted as clients. And so, putting that all into perspective inspires people to say, "Yeah, I want that." And they want it before they really understand what it is. Does that make sense?
Michael: It does. And to me, this helps in setting context as to, well, both in retrospect, the name “values-based financial planning” that you put forth. But it's the sequence to it of the values are the Why, the goals are the What, and that, I guess, to use the Simon Sinek thing, you have to start with the why part first, which is just striking to me because we are, I think, particularly in today's environment, so focused on goals, right, goals-based management planning, goals-based investing, goals-based planning software. Everything is goals, goals, goals, goals, goals. And you're essentially making the case of, no, you actually shouldn't start with goals. Not that you're not going to get there but that's actually not where you start because they may not even be clear on their goals yet. You, actually, have to get the values part first, of which, “what's important about money to you,” is going to very quickly start getting to someone's values around money. What's important about money to you is not a goals question. That's a values question.
Bill: Correct. And it's always been this way. This is just how human beings are wired. And you would never want to ask somebody a why question. So, in conversation, I'm happy to say that values are the emotional why, and goals are the tangible what, right? But when you're actually talking to someone, you would never ask them a why question because why questions tend to make people feel defensive, right? So, “Why are you doing this, or why are you doing that, or why did you make this choice?” So, I don't know if it goes back to our childhood when our parents were always questioning our behavior and our choices using the why word.
Michael: Yeah. Again, in practice... I think in the parenting context, asking why questions is usually because I am trying to make you second-guess your prior behaviors.
Michael: I'm asking you to think through why you should have not done what you did. That's why I ask a why question as a parent.
Bill: Exactly. And so, the "what's important about money to you" gets to that without framing it in a way that would create, again, someone creating a negative emotion versus a positive emotion. So, to wrap this up or put a pin on this perhaps, and I'm happy to answer a follow-up question, values first. Values are like the vision, right? So, the vision of what's important to you. And then, ironically, what I found as a 26-, 27-, 28-year-old financial advisor when I started and I was creating and perfecting this and using it, it was stunning to me how many people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s would literally look across the table at each other. People who had been married for decades, right? And Sue would look across the table at Bob and we're eight minutes into the meeting. This is literally the first thing you do at the very beginning of the meeting. And so, you introduce the question and I'm happy to explain how you do that. But just to make this point, Sue would look at Bob and go, "Boy, we've just never really talked about these things." And I remember as a 26-, 27-year-old single guy, I just always assumed if you've been married 40 years, you’d have talked about these things.
Michael: Yeah, “You've been married for 40 years, you should have figured this out a long time ago!”
Bill: So, I wasn't expecting it to be a new conversation. I was just expecting it to be a way that they would put that, they would articulate it, and they would put it into words. And it isn't that they didn't know what was important to each other. It's that they'd never really heard their spouse say it in exactly this way using these words. And now, here it is on a big piece of paper in front of them. We call it a Value Staircase. And there is Sue's value stack, 10 or 15 answers or words, and there's Bob's value stack. And it's just right in front of them. And then, the other beautiful thing, Michael, that they would say is, "Boy, in all the years we've been working with John over at XYZ competitive firm to mine, we've never had these kinds of conversations." And so, ironically, I found the longer they had their advisor, the relationship with their existing advisor, the easier they were to steal, because here I am in the first 10, 15, 20 minutes. And it's funny. They would also say things to me like, "I don't know why we're telling you all this." And I remember sitting there thinking, "Because I just asked you the question." But in their mind, they're spilling their guts in the first 15 or 20 minutes. And they've never actually done that with anybody before. And the real answer to the question is because, shockingly, people don't ask each other what's important. People don't ask each other what's important. They don't really listen.
It's a classic listening mistake, right? We're not really listening to understand and hear. We're just listening and waiting for our turn to speak. We're actually formulating what we're going to say. We're not really listening to the other person speak. And so, these are just fundamentals of building trust, fundamentals of inspiring people to want financial planning, and then, to implement the planning because now, this becomes the reasons to implement. So, every time you give someone advice, you connect it to the reason we want you to allocate your assets this way, the reason we want you to get your taxes more effective or more efficient, the reason to get your legal documents done, the reason to make these changes to all these various types of insurance, the reason to have cash reserves, the reason to pay off your debt. The reasons always become because it's connected to your goals and your values. So, values first, emotional payoff first, tangible goals, second. It's much easier for people to define their specific goals after a values conversation than before. So, circling back to your point, values first, goals second.
How Bill Sets Up The Values Conversation With Prospects [23:09]
Michael: So then, help me understand how you do set this conversation up in practice if I'm sitting down with a new prospect. And maybe this is in my own head but I just feel like literally sitting across from Mr. and Mrs. Jones, "I'm so glad you came in to join us today. I'm looking forward to the conversation. But to get started I'd like to just know what's the value of money to you?" And I just starting right there of like, "Let's go. Game on?"
Bill: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. The first thing is you have to have a process. And so, just... Well, one of the key lessons here is do you have a scripted, repeatable process for conducting a meeting with a prospect where the probable or potential outcome of that meeting is you're going to invite them to become a client? And then, there's some possibility or probability that they're going to say yes? So, that should be a scripted, repeatable process. It should also be visual. It should be experiential. It should be engaging. And so, I'm happy to, and you'll see I can very easily drop into what the script is to start the meeting. The first lesson though is there is a scripted, repeatable process. And most financial advisors don't have that.
Most financial advisors... If I say, "Well, show me your flowchart for how you take someone through the pipeline of a prospect to becoming a client and then what you do for them," it's usually deer in the headlights, there is no flowchart. And then, if there were a flowchart behind every geometric shape on the flowchart there is a script. There are talking points. There is a script of exactly what to do. And, of course, you can't have scripted out what the other person is going to say. But you certainly would know your questions and the sequence that they're going to be asked. You're a good example of that. You're an expert at interviewing people, Michael. And so, you have a game plan of what questions you're going to ask today. So, you don't know what my answers are going to be. But you know what questions you're going to ask. And then, you can do a little adapting and responding with follow-up questions to my answers. And so, that's the first point that I would make about having every advisor, there should be consistency of what you do to take your prospects through an exercise that culminates in them wanting to be a client or not.
Michael: And I know we're going to get a little bit more into the scripting in a moment because I actually do want to hear how this plays out. But I'm channeling what I know is going to be the response for a lot of people listening. And I'm sure you've many times as well, "But Bill, if you do it scripted, it's canned. No one likes canned presentations." We all get angry when we're calling into customer service and you can tell the person's on the script. And we're like, "For Christ's sake, would you stop being stuck on the script and just answer and solve my problem." Arguably, that's probably scripting done poorly. And there are better ways to do it. But I just feel like a lot of people have a gut response of negativity around the idea of scripting conversations. And so, how do you think about scripting in a more positive way?
Bill: Well, first of all, that's just such a bunch of bull___, this whole idea that oh, I have this bad reaction to scripting. I'm laughing as you're saying it because what it really is, is it's, “I don't want to do the work to memorize and internalize the script to the degree that I don't suck at it.” So, it's a ridiculous idea that somehow, well, I'm better off. What's the alternative? My meetings are more effective if I win them than if...because all scripting is, “I planned what I'm going to do, I am prepared to do it, and I'm good at it. I'm so good at it that it doesn't come across as canned. It doesn't come across as stilted.” That would be like saying to a professional athlete, "You shouldn't have a playbook. You should have no plays scripted out. And you should have no plan to go out and execute the plays in the playbook." But I think you can probably talk about this even more. I think it really explains why so many financial advisors are stuck in the mediocre middle. And I think we could agree that most financial advisors, they're, at best, average communicators. They're, at best, average financial professionals. They're not advicers as you've described. And it's largely this crap that they create in their mind, which is just a justification for not doing the work.
Michael: Because what it comes down to is when you actually practice it at the level that should be done, if you're doing it right, you are not just reading a script or even memorizing the script. You have internalized the script to the point that it's going to come out as natural conversation. And I guess...
Bill: Right, absolutely.
Michael: ...I'm imagining the performer on stage. You don't go to a Broadway play and think, "Well, that would have been so much better if they had just been winging it instead of doing the script," right? Instead, they learn the script so well that it sounds genuinely like a natural conversation they're really having on the stage, even though all 100% of the thing's scripted...
Bill: And not everybody can do that.
Bill: ...and, certainly, at a Broadway level but we could all do it... Again, the beauty today is there are already existing scripted, repeatable processes that are proven to work. In fact, I did not want to create one. It was not my goal to create values-based financial planning. My goal was to be the poster child implementer of my company's methodology. And I worked for Merrill Lynch. And I was just enormously disturbed when I asked for the playbook and they didn't have one. I remember just...
Michael: Yeah, they had a phone book and a cubicle.
Bill: Exactly. And I said...
Michael: And this is the 1990s.
Bill: So, I want to meet high net-worth, like millionaires. I deliberately went to work. I have no background in financial services. I don't come from a wealthy family. I didn't finish college. And when I was in college, I didn't study finance and economics and accounting. And there was no personal financial planning curriculum when I was in college. And so, I'm like, "Well, you going to teach me." And the reason I went to work for a big brand name like Merrill Lynch is I assumed they were going to teach me how to meet high net-worth people in La Jolla, how to have conversations with them, how to schedule appointments with them, how to run those meetings, how to answer the key questions that people would naturally ask. How much does it cost and what do we get? And then, how to take care of those people who hired you. And none of that was in a scripted, repeatable process or playbook.
And so, really, I'm the accidental successful financial advisor and financial advisor trainer because I would have been very happy to be the poster child of memorizing and implementing a proven playbook, had one existed. And, unfortunately, I know that's the case for most people in this industry. I imagine a lot of people are nodding their heads going, "Yeah, I work for one of those companies now. And yeah, they don't have a proven, scripted, repeatable process." Otherwise, candidly, Michael, if you think about it, I shouldn't exist, right? There should be no Bill Bachrach who ever invented values-based financial planning. There shouldn't be tens of thousands of financial advisors who sign up for our various training and follow our scripted, repeatable process and playbook. I shouldn't exist.
Bill’s Five Prospect Conversations [30:39]
Michael: So, help us follow a little bit more. What does this script look like? I, obviously, don't want you to do the entire financial planning prospect meeting. But maybe just to give us an example, how does this conversation kick off when...
Bill: Well, I'll answer the question.
Michael: ...we're trying to get to the opening of this conversation?
Bill: Yeah, I'm happy to do that. I will deliver that verbatim. And then, you can tell me if it sounds like a bunch of scripted crap that nobody would listen to. But before that, there are essentially five conversations. And notice, I call them conversations. Right? So, they're not presentations. The other thing that you'll notice is let's talk about what isn't there. There is no monologue from the advisor about their background, their credentials, how long they've been in the business, their designations, their qualifications, how great their company is. And I'll circle back. You build trust by listening to their story, not by telling yours. And so, if you look at those companies who do have some scripts, and I've helped a lot of companies rewrite those things, the first thing is I had one where I was hired by a major firm to help recreate their methodology. And I was on the flight out to do a particular training and begin that project. I was reading their manual. And it actually opened by saying, "So, one of the things we want to make sure to do today, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, is we're going to ask you a lot of questions because we need to learn a lot about you. And before we do that, you probably want to know all about us." And then, I read it and...
Michael: No, no, actually, they don't.
Bill: Exactly, they don't. But I read it at a pace that I thought it would take someone to speak it. And it was almost 20 minutes. It was almost 20 minutes. I'm sitting on the airplane turning the pages. And I'm reading and I'm whispering it to myself at what I thought would be a conversational speed. And it was almost 20 minutes. And then, after that, it said, "So, now that you know all about us, let me ask you some questions about you." Now, talk about trying to memorize something? How would you like to memorize a 20-minute monologue? So, I say it's the five conversations. So, there's the Opening, which I'll demonstrate in a moment to answer your question specifically. Then, there's the Values conversation. Then, there's the Goals conversation.
And then, there's what we call the “All the Money”. And it's really an exercise, not a conversation because you have both spouses present with all their financial documents. And I'm happy to explore that. Most financial advisors don't know how to get the meeting with both spouses. And they struggle to get people to bring all their financial documents. It's actually not that hard to do but we can circle back to that later if you want. And then, the last conversation is what we call “Commitment to Hire”. And that's inviting them to become a client. You'll notice we don't use any sales terminology. We don't talk about handling objections. We don't talk about closing. We don't talk about making features and benefits presentations. And that's not just a question of semantics. Trusted advisors have a different way of being and a different way of operating than salespeople do. So, let me just pause there. I want to answer your question about exactly how you open. Do you have any questions or comments about that?
Michael: I think the first is that I just want to clarify these five conversations, the Opening, the Values, the Goals, All the Money, Commitment to Hire. This is, in theory, a sequence of five conversations I'm going to have in one meeting, in the meeting. Just we're just scoping a single meeting here, not a multi-meeting analysis, right?
Bill: These are the elements of what could be the in-person or the virtual meeting. And I'm happy to also maybe explore should this meeting be in-person? Can it be done virtually? How does that work? What's the difference? But to answer your question, yes, these are the elements of this particular meeting. And I'll circle back. Every meeting that you have with a prospect or client, at the very least, should have talking points and a sequential agenda. What we're talking about is leadership. So, who's actually leading? It's not control, right? Don't confuse leadership with control. We're not trying to control people. But we are, effectively, leading them because if they're going to pay you $10,000 or $20,000 or $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 a year to help them achieve their most important goals and fulfill their most deeply-held values, there's a leadership aspect of this, as well. And I think that's a lot of the challenge is a lot of advisors, they're just not effective at leading. The clients end up dictating what happens. So, they walk in and say, "I've got a bunch of questions that I read with in 'Money' magazine. So, I'm going to ask you these questions." And the advisors with no process just go, "Okay." And then, they end up following the questions. And it's no wonder they don't get hired. Who wants to just hire the question-answer person? So, again, I want to get to answering your question about exactly how you open. Any other questions or comments before we do that?
Michael: No, no. I think I'm curious just to understand more of what this looks like in practice. How does this opening work?
What Bill's Prospect Conversations Look Like In Practice [35:50]
Bill: Yeah, happy to do it. So, you and Ellie have come in for the meeting. Let's assume it's an in-person meeting. And you've come together. You've brought your financial documents. We don't start by looking at your financial documents. And the first thing I do is I express some appreciation for the effort you two have put forth to be prepared for this meeting. So, notice how I don't say, "Thank you for coming in," because thank you implies, "You've come in for me." "So, hey, thank you for coming in." Well, what am I thanking you for? Thank you for giving me an opportunity to make money today?
Michael: Well, I do appreciate those opportunities.
Bill: And so, it's always about them. So, there's a better way to communicate that. “So, Michael and Ellie, I really appreciate the fact that you two have come in today. I know that you have taken time out of your busy schedules. You put out some effort to put your financial documents together. And the fact that you're here and you've done that really tells me that you're serious about making smart choices about your money. Is that true?”
Michael: “Yeah, I would like to feel smart about my money. Yes.”
Bill: All right. And then, I know Ellie's not here but I'd say, "And what about you, Ellie?" And both of you would express something about that. “Well, I just want you to know that we take it very seriously, as well. We're going to ask you a lot of questions today. We're going to put things in perspective on this big visual tool called the Financial Roadmap. You'll also notice that I'm recording the meeting today. And the reason that we record is because we're very thorough. You know how you can watch a movie a second or third time and see things you didn't see the first time through?”
Michael: “Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.”
Bill: “Well, obviously, this is a lot more important than just watching a movie. So, should we decide to do business together, my team and I will review all of my notes and this recording so when we come back together, our advice will be just right for you.”
Michael: Interesting. And so, breaking in for a moment, breaking the third wall, so, you would encourage advisors to record meetings. That should be a part of what we're doing. Obviously, you've just set it up to get permission from the client to do so.
Bill: Well, technically, I didn't ask permission. I just told them I'm going to do it. Now, they have an opportunity to dissent or push back, but they never do. And that's another one of those... You talked earlier about, "Gee, I didn't really get what's important about asking what's money to you?" And I've been training advisors professionally for 33 years. And I started teaching my friends in the business when I was still a financial advisor because they couldn't understand why I was so successful given my background. And they wanted to know what I was doing. And clients love the fact that you're recording. So, we want to unpack that for a minute, the next thing I should say is virtually everything that we're talking about here is about putting the client first. So, the reason we ask the client questions is because it's better for them. The reason that we insist that both spouses are present for the meeting, even though sometimes they say, "Well, I take care of the money and my husband or wife doesn't need to be involved," we still insist that both spouses are present because this is a meeting about planning their future. This isn't a meeting about technical economic things.
So, it's better for them that they're present. It's better for them if they get their financial documents together and bring them in. It's better for them if we put it in perspective on a visual tool called the financial roadmap. It's better for them if we have a permanent record of our conversation because it's true. When I listen to the recording, I will pick up things that, for whatever reason, I just didn't remember. I can't remember every single thing that they said. And even if I take good notes, I may or may not have it captured in my notes. And, of course, the other people on my team who will be involved in developing the plan and the advice, they weren't in the meeting. So, now they have the benefit of actually hearing in the client's own words. So, the reason for recording is to do a better job for the client. So, remember, we talked earlier about the imaginary trust dial. Everybody has embedded in their subconscious an imaginary trust dial. And everything you say and does move the needle on the trust dial one direction or the other. And so, this opening that I just did just candidly telling them how this meeting was going to go, take a lot of notes, ask a lot of questions, put it in visual perspective, and record, moves the needle on the trust dial in the right direction because I can assure you what's going through their mind is, "We've been working with Bob over at XYZ Company or Susan at ABC Company. And boy, that makes a lot of sense that you're recording the conversations to do a better job for us. And no other advisor we've ever worked with has done that."
So, I don't have to say I'm a better advisor. You can't say, "I'm a better advisor because I have these credentials or because I have this experience." You demonstrate that you're a better advisor by what you do, not by what you say. So, yes, you record every client meeting, every prospect meeting. Yes, you listen to them. And then, the other byproduct of listening to the recordings is you become a much better communicator. So, you're not only doing a better job for the client. But you will be horrified at what you hear when you listen to these recordings, which is how you'll become a better communicator. You'll learn how to say less and listen more. You'll learn how to ask better questions. You'll learn how when it is your turn to speak. You'll become more effective at answering the questions people ask and putting your ideas on the table. Every person who's an expert in communication, one of the fundamental things that they do is they record, and they review the recordings. Any other questions about that?
Michael: I'm just wondering about a recommendation for how you do the recording. Is this audio? Do you go so far as video? Are we setting up cameras?
Bill: Yeah, you can do both.
Michael: How do you tell advisors to implement this?
Bill: Well, the simplest thing to do, and I appreciate... And, again, it's one of those things. I've never had an advisor who said, "It wouldn't be helpful to listen to a recording of a conversation with a prospect or a client." Nobody's ever said, "Well, I think I'd do a worse job or I wouldn't do a better job if I could listen to that again." Nobody's ever argued...
Michael: Right. I could imagine a few people that say, "I'm not sure I want to even hear myself recorded."
Bill: Well, sure.
Michael: But, arguably, that's your point like, "Yeah. Well, if you think it's so bad when you hear yourself, imagine what it's like for the prospect who just had to sit through that meeting with you." Go listen and figure out how to do it better.
Bill: And the fundamental issue there is you say, "Well, I don't want to record because I don't want to hear it." Well, you've just breached the fiduciary standard because you've put your desire to not be in pain ahead of something that would be beneficial for the client. And it's, well, isn't that the ultimate putting the client first because you're always putting the client first and not just when it's comfortable for you. But you're always putting the client first, especially when it's uncomfortable for you. That's what it means to put their interests first. So, I like to at least put this out there in a way that is let's call it the least painful. So, let's keep it simple because if you think audio is painful, and I know you've done this because you do a lot of speaking at conferences, and I'm sure you have seen yourself on video. And you are an excellent communicator, Michael. We've been on the same programs together. And I just know that no matter how good of communicators we become, you watch those videos and you just go, "Oh, my God, there's...
Michael: Oh, I'm still cringing.
Bill: ...so many things I could do better."
Michael: Yeah. I look at how I did it 10 to 15 years ago, and it's cringy. And I look at it now and I still cringe, right? We're our own harshest critics most of the time, which makes it hard to watch recordings of yourself, but also can be very motivating and focusing for getting better if you're willing to go to the tape and see how you really could have done that better.
Bill: And you really hit a really important point. You have to do it so many times that you get over just the pain of watching yourself. You can really disassociate, hey, that's me, or that's you up there and really focus on, okay, “This is what I did well, and this is what I intended to do, and here's where I deviated from that. Hmm. This is where I let the client take me off track. If I had to do it over again here's what I could have done so we never went down that rabbit hole. Here's what I could have done to prevent us from going down it in the first place. Here's what I could have done to get us back on track more quickly. Hmm. Well, here's why the meeting lasted an hour and 45 minutes when it really could have lasted 45 to 50 minutes.” You become much more effective at that. So, the more you do it, the more you get able to disconnect from the pain of some of the minor things that don't really matter. Most people hate the sound of their own voice in the beginning. So, even if your voice is quite pleasant to listen to, your voice on recording sounds different than what you hear when you're speaking.
So, to get to the specific answer to your question, when I started, I just... It was in the '80s so we had cassette recorders. And so, I started with just a cassette recorder and literally had hundreds, probably thousands, of cassettes in the hard paper file folders of all my prospects and clients. But in today's world, you've got an app on your phone. Your phone is a recorder. So, you put your phone on do not disturb, you disconnect it from the Wi-Fi and turn all the notifications off, and you literally just use your phone. If you ever watched one of our training videos of me demonstrating an entire financial roadmap, I just point at the phone and say, "And we're recording today because we're really thorough." And I'm just recording through the... I happen to use an iPhone. And there are probably dozens of apps but it comes with an app called Voice Memos. And that works great. And then, of course, what you have to do is then, you transfer that. And, of course, I'm a Mac person. So, I just AirDrop it and it goes into the same encrypted folder where all of your private prospect or client documents would go. That's how you retain that. In the old days, we used to just put it in a locked filing cabinet.
Bill: But in today's world, it's an mp3 or a wave file or one of those. And it's in the folder and you just listen to it from your phone. You can Bluetooth it through your car's media system. And if you start to cry, pull over.
Michael: And I guess, ironically, in the Zoom world that many of us have found ourselves in over the past year...
Bill: There you go.
Michael: ...it just gets even easier, right, recording is built right in.
Bill: It's even easier.
Michael: You just click the button.
Bill: And they can see. Again, you're not doing this surreptitiously. You're not covertly recording. You're telling them that you're recording. And then, very rarely, do you even get a question about it, let alone pushback. What if somebody does say, "Well, I don't want you to record?" You have to have the ability to say, "Well, the reason that we're recording is because we will do a better job for you, should we decide to do business together." "Well, what do you do with the recording if we decide not to do business together?" "I'm happy to destroy it." So, again, you rarely get any pushback. It's a good example of there are a lot of things that we can imagine in our minds. There's a famous psychological saying, “Don't believe everything that you think.” And I wouldn't be teaching it if I didn't work. It's not like I'm sitting here 33 years into my professional financial advisor training career saying, "I think I'll teach people crap that doesn't work and just for my own entertainment value."
Michael: So, take us back to the meeting now. So, we've welcomed them into the meeting. “I appreciate the effort you've put forth into getting your financial house in order. In order to be more effective as advisors and serve you well, I want to let you know that we record the meetings.” So, what comes next? Where does this script take us next?
Bill: Yeah. And let's just be clear. We're 45 seconds into the meeting.
Michael: Right, right, right.
Learning To Lead (Versus Control) The Client Conversation [47:50]
Bill: So, that little opening takes 45 seconds. If you talk slower, it's 55 seconds. If you talk faster, maybe it's 41 seconds. And then, you transition into the first conversation. “So, the first thing we're going to do, Michael and Ellie, is get a perspective from each of you about what's important about money. Who wants to go first?” And so, Michael, if I did that with you and Ellie, which of the two of you would volunteer to go first?
Michael: Oh, that's going to end up being me.
Bill: You said it's going to be you or not be you?
Michael: It will be me, yes.
Bill: “And so, what I've learned, Michael, from experience doing this is to always work with whoever doesn't volunteer. So, Ellie, we're going to start with you today. What's important about money to you?” So, why did I do that? I asked who wants to go first. And you volunteered to go first. And I deliberately said, "Michael and Ellie, I learned a long time ago to always work with the person who doesn't volunteer. So, Ellie, we're going to start with you." What would be the reason for doing that?
Michael: Because otherwise, I'm going to squash a bunch of Ellie's conversation. And Ellie's going to feel a lot more elevated in your eyes because she feels more connected immediately because she's not getting pushed to second in the conversation.
Bill: You're exactly correct. And I think you're describing it because you know Ellie better than I do. I've never met Ellie. But, typically, in most couples, there's a person who tends to be more dominant and a person who's less dominant. And sometimes, it's really exaggerated. In some cases, you have somebody who is super extroverted and somebody who's super introverted. In some cases, it's relatively equal and it won't matter. But the tendency and, again, I think this is... Well, I know from experience this is a classic financial advisor communication mistake, is, and I think this comes from too much sales training, focus on the person who wears the pants in the family. And the mistake is to focus on the person who would be more outgoing when, oftentimes, what happens, and I believe this should at least be an equal decision, I would actually argue that in couples, I think there should be three votes. I think he should have one, and she should have two.
And the reason is just statistically, women outlive men by 10 or 15 years. And so, there is a... If one of these people were to die when they're supposed to die or die prematurely, it's more often the man. So, for most financial advisors, ultimately, you're going to have a relationship with one spouse or the other. And statistically, it's going to be her. And this could be why 70% of widows in the United States fire their financial advisor within 12 months of becoming widowed. They just don't have that relationship. Now, that being said, it could have been the other way around, right? It could have easily been Ellie who would have just said, "I'll go first," and Michael who would have been happy to go second because he always goes second, right? But either way, the goal is to start the conversation with the less dominant person. Whether it's a dramatic difference or a small difference, I'm going to work with that person first.
Michael: Well, and I think there is an important just point in framing to me around this. The discussion to me in the industry's been out there for a long time, hey, you really need to engage both spouses. And you need to connect with them both and try not to focus all on one person or we'll call it the dominant spouse in the conversation, whichever person it happens to be. But I feel like there's a lot of, yes, we say that you're supposed to do that. Then, I think a lot of the time, even planning to have a more balanced conversation with the best of intentions, then the conversation begins and the dominant spouse says the dominant thing because that's...
Michael: ...usually the dominant spouse in the conversation. The couple has figured this dynamic out a long time ago. So, it's really hard to break their established rhythm that, to me, just there's something very powerful for what you said in saying about conversation of just saying, "Hey, based on my years of experience, we actually find that it's often better to start the conversation with the person who doesn't volunteer first. So, Ellie, tell me what's important about money to you," right? To me, that's an interesting, very clear example of, this is what it means to lead a conversation, right? When you said earlier, "You need to lead the conversation. Don't control it, but you need to lead the conversation," that, to me, is just a really powerful, clear, concrete example. That's what we mean when we say, "Lead the conversation."
Bill: Yeah, that's really good. I appreciate the way you framed that, Michael, and you're correct. It's about leadership. It's not about control. It's about leadership because you're going to be their financial leader. Your job is to lead them to make smart choices about their money, to tell them what they need to do, not necessarily what they want to do so that they achieve their most important goals and fulfill their most deeply-held values. You are their leader, right? You're not a salesperson of a product. You are their leader. And that is what you're doing. And then, we'll get into in a moment what do you do if the dominant person now interrupts the person? So, I asked Ellie, "What's important about money to you?" And she's going to give me her answer.
And then, I'm going to build what's called her values staircase, her values conversation. So, this might take five or six or seven or eight minutes. And it's going to build. If we use Maslow's hierarchy as an example, it tends to start with what I call our Level 1 values of security and freedom, and having the lifestyle that we want to have. Level 2 values tend to be about others, taking care of my family, making a difference in the world, having an impact, the world being a better place, doing something in my community. Those are Level 2 values. And Level 3 values, which align with Maslow's self-actualization if you want to use that as a framework, then those are things like I'm satisfied with my entire life. I feel fulfilled. I've achieved my purpose in life. I have a sense of peace. I have a nirvana, and then you'll hear those. And if you want a typical values staircase, a typical values staircase has between 7 and 15 responses and they build that way.
And so, after I've finished with Ellie, then I'm going to pivot and I'm going to say, "Okay, Michael, now, let's hear from you about what's important to you. What's important about money to you?" Now, let me also say though what if you, as the more dominant person, interrupt Ellie, either interrupt her, try to answer for her? This is another leadership moment. And, again, I'm being just very professional if I ask Ellie," What's important about money to you?" and let's say that she needs to have 10 seconds to think about that before she answers. So, first of all, am I comfortable with 10-second silences? And if I'm a good communicator, I am. I give her all the time that she needs to think of an answer.
But what if you, her husband, have a 6-second silence threshold? She needs 10. You blow up at 6. And so, you try to answer for her. Then, I'm just going to very politely say, "Hey, Michael, I really appreciate that you probably have a good idea of what's important to Ellie. And you probably could answer for her. But the way this exercise works is it's important for me, and maybe even you, to hear her answer for herself. So, you'll get a turn in the moment. And in the meantime, I appreciate you just sitting there and relaxing and listening." Again, that's leadership, right? So, you're in my world and this is my process. And, again, I would go back to most financial advisors don't even have a scripted process. And then, the second part of it, even after you have one, is you have to be good at facilitating that process.
Michael: So, we start going let's say down the road of building the values staircase, I guess, up the staircase of building the values staircase, which I'm assuming is just some successive questions and drilling deeper around the what's important about money to you discussion just to get out these Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 values.
Bill: Yeah, it's actually even simpler than that. So, again, through a massive amount of trial and error, listening to my own recordings, and perfecting this 35 years ago when I was still a financial advisor. And then part of what I've done over the last 33 years is as I've trained financial advisors to follow this methodology and to record, depending on the level of training and coaching that they were involved in, I have listened to thousands of financial roadmap interviews and values conversations from various financial advisors. And so, what I've learned from even before I started teaching it is the simplest way is to not change the question or change the question framework. So, if I ask, "What's important about money to you," and someone says, "Security," then I'll capture that and write the word security. and then the next question is, "And what's important about security to you?" So, the framework question is always, "What's important about the last answer to you?" And some people will answer the question in a single word. Some people will use five or six words. Some people will use 30 seconds of words.
And what happens as you get better and better at this is it's like seeing colors. You get good at hearing values. So, not every word that they say is a values word. But the values words that they say stand out. And you pluck those values words. And it doesn't have to be a single word. It could be one word or two or three words. So, they might say, "I want to make a difference in the community," so that whole statement, "Make a difference in the community," that's the values response. That gets captured, written on their values staircase, and then they move up the values staircase one question at a time. And it typically takes... I think I mentioned earlier it's anywhere from 7 or 8 to 14 or 15. The fewest I've ever done is 3, and the most values answers I've had is 17. But, typically, let's call it 7 to 15. And typically, it's a 5 to 8-minute conversation.
Michael: Because, eventually, I just do this, what's important about the last answer to you, what's important about the last answer to you, what's important about the last answer to you. And we just get to either something that is a natural conclusion or we just clearly have gotten up to Level 3 self-actualization level values. And we know you really don't get any others beyond that. We're at the top of the staircase now.
Bill: Yeah, you get to a point where people are... It just gets to pure feeling. And this is the emotional connection that I talked about. And, again, I just thought it would be a good idea to help people explore their values and then define their goals so they'd make good decisions about financial planning. What happened, and to my very pleasant surprise, is how this conversation was going to completely disrupt their relationship with their existing advisor. In fact, in some cases, they would become pissed off at their advisor because, in less than an hour, we have clarified and simplified and had conversations that they haven't had with their advisor who they had been doing business with before me for maybe decades. So, I was definitely looking for a way to help people make better decisions about planning. And I thought that would give me a competitive advantage. The very pleasant surprise was how much it disrupted their relationship. And I didn't feel like I was stealing them. I felt like I was rescuing them.
So, if you've got a relationship with a half-a$$ed financial advisor or planner or, even worst yet, just a stockbroker, money manager, insurance agent and, “You want to do business with me instead, and I will do a much better job for you than they ever did, that's a good thing.” It's good for me. It's good for them. That is a really good thing. But I can appreciate that. I know some of your listeners are younger, newer advisors. I was also intimidated in the beginning thinking, "Why would some millionaire in their 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s basically fire their current financial advisor who oftentimes are also friends?" Their kids go to the same school together. They're both members of La Jolla Country Club. They play bridge on Tuesdays. Can I really steal or rescue clients from those people?” And as it turns out, you can, provided you actually have a better process and a better experience and, ultimately, are offering something to them that's better than what they have. So, if you have any questions or comments about that, great, or I'm happy to continue to put the pieces together of the values-based financial planning process.
Michael: I think just continue the process for us. So, we're gathering... Just the Values conversation segment is just this what's important about money to you? What's important about that? What's important about that? What's important about that? So, we climb up the ladder a few times with the less dominant spouse. Then, presumably, we get to shift back to the original volunteer spouse and we get to go down the same conversation. So, does that wrap up that Values conversation module, and then we move to the Goals conversation?
How Bill Transitions Into The Goals Conversation [01:01:11]
Bill: Right. And so, keep the timing in mind. So, the opening was less than a minute. Let's say each values conversation was seven or eight minutes. So, now we're 16 or 17 minutes into the meeting. And they've been doing all of the talking. And they've been talking about things that are really important. And now, the transition. There's always a transition. So, you have the pieces: Opening Values, Goals, All the Money, Commitment to Hire. You have the pieces. Well, how do you transition between those pieces? So, it's pretty simple. “Well, now that we've had a chance to hear from each of you about what's important about money, the next logical step is to have a conversation about your tangible goals. So, tell me about one of your goals that requires money and planning to achieve.” And they'll tell you. And this is collaborative. So, he'll say something. She'll say something. Sometimes, it seems necessary to say, "And this is a collaborative conversation. So, tell me about a goal." And they'll give you the name of the goal. And I think it's just worth saying here that just for clarification, I've been doing this for decades, thousands of times personally, thousands of recordings I've listened to from other financial advisors. Very few people actually say the word retirement, right?
And it pains me to see... And this happens so often that I started asking people, "You know what? I'm just curious." Again, this was just a practice thing so that after the fact I started asking some of my clients and even some people who didn't become clients, "I noticed that you don't use the word retirement." They say they want to be financially independent. They want to pay for their lifestyle forever. They want to achieve financial security. And what I discovered is, especially financially successful people, they're very turned off by the term retirement. And I've asked even in groups, "So, what do you think about the word retirement?" And they just get this look on their face like they just put their least favorite vegetable in their mouth and they want to spit it out. And I just say, "Well, what are the words that come up for you?" And the words are death, lack of purpose, uselessness. And there are just all these negative words. And I find it enormously entertaining how many financial professionals say, "I'm a retirement specialist," without really any consideration to the fact that by stating that publicly, you may be turning off the very people that you really want to work with. And I have noticed that the more financially successful people are, the entrepreneurs, the business owners, the people who actually like their work. “Michael, you like to work, don't you?”
Michael: “Yeah. I can't possibly imagine retirement. That sounds horribly boring and it would probably drive my spouse nuts because I don't have any other productive things to do.”
Bill: So, you think about that. And well, why would you want to introduce a word that would create a negative emotional reaction? So, I just want to say you're asking them. “Tell me about a goal that requires money and planning to achieve.” You're not suggesting. So, when you're listening to your recordings, one of the things that you'll notice is did you really ask questions or did you turn questions into statements? So, what you would not do is say something like, "Well, if you're like a lot of financially successful people in this area, you probably want to make sure that you're prepared for retirement." That's not a question. That's a statement. So, the question...
Michael: Or my question is, "So, tell me when you would like to retire."
Bill: Yes, there we go.
Michael: "So that we can help you plan for that."
Bill: Right. You can still ask a question and make it wrong.
Bill: So, you're not planting goals or telling people what their goals should be. You're asking an open-ended question. “Tell me about a goal that requires money and planning to achieve.” And your goal when you are putting... You're putting their words on their financial roadmap, right? You don't write every word they say. But every word you write is a word that actually came out of their mouth. This is so important. This is just good communication skills. So, whether you would ever use our financial roadmap or not, hopefully, what you're getting here as you're listening is this is how great communicators communicate. They don't presume anything. They don't project anything, right? But if you're trying to sell something that you've predetermined to sell, then you might, "Well, they've got to want to retire because my whole thing is that our products that line up with retirement." And so, think about who the ideal clients are, right? Would you rather have clients who love to work? Well, who do you think has more money, people like Michael Kitces who loves to work and is good at it, or people who go to work every day who can't wait to retire?
Michael: Right, the ones that deal with motivation and purpose often end up driving a lot more career results and end up being more favorable clients for us as financial advisors in the first place. So, our self-selection bias is there may be lots of people who actually do really want to retire and can't wait to get out of their jobs. It's just least likely to be the people that we actually tend to work with.
Bill: Again, it's not an exact science, but they probably have less money. It's just common sense that people who love their work and love to work... I just read an article about Elon Musk. And before I say this about Elon Musk, I'm not talking about elephant hunting here, right? So, most of us want to work with people who have between $1 million and $20 million. That's just the high net worth, not the ultra-high net worth, because they're paying $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year. And since we can only have a finite number of clients, then every client has to generate enough money so we don't end up like most financial advisors working too many hours for too little money for too many of the wrong clients. So, circling back, I ask the question. And then for every goal, there's the name of the goal, their name of the goal, whatever they call it. Now, if they say retirement, fine. It's their word. But don't be surprised when you don't hear retirement very much. Instead, you hear, "We'd like to be financially independent. We'd like to make sure that we have enough money to pay for our lifestyle forever," the lifetime financial security, financial freedom.
I often hear, and I'm going to abbreviate, but don't be surprised when you hear, "FU money." And they often won't say FU. They'll actually say the whole thing. And if that's what they say, it's their financial roadmap, right? So, you put their words on their financial roadmap. So, you get the name of the goal. And you do one goal at a time. So, you get the name of the goal. And then, the second thing is the target date. So, by when would you like to have enough money to know that you're financially independent for life? And they'll, typically, give you an, "Well, by the time I am such and such an age," or they might already be there. "Well, we think we're there now." And so, you might write, "Now." If it's a target date, if they give you age, then it's, "What year will that be?" And you end up with an actual month, day, and year because that makes the goal much more compelling. It's much more compelling if somebody says, "By May 1st of 2037," than if they say, "By the time I'm 60." May 1, 2037 is much more emotionally compelling. And, again, remember I'm contrasting. I'm not saying I'm better than their current financial advisor. I am just being better than their current financial advisor. And their current financial advisor probably doesn't have it down to a month, day, and year. Any questions or comments about that?
Michael: Am I also drilling towards a goal amount, the proverbial have a million dollars to retire at age whatever or sustain X dollars a month for a year of lifestyle, or whatever is...? Is it just get a boat by the time I'm 60, or is it get a $50,000 boat by the time I'm 60? How much do we tie to the dollars versus just the conceptual goal in a year?
Bill: So, there are four elements. And the first is the goal's name, the target date. And the third thing is, now, let's say that we're talking about the goal I've used to illustrate. And we can talk about other goals like a boat, or sending kids to college, or buying a vacation home, or structuring, funding a foundation. There are lots of goals. So, just keeping consistent with the one that's on the table right now, so, you want to have a lifetime financial independence by this day. How much net spendable money per month or per year would you like to have? Now, there's a reason why I asked it that way. And in anticipating this, Michael, you did a really good job. Some people say, "Well, we'd like to accumulate $1 million dollars, or $5 million, or $10 million." Well, that's them trying to do your job, right? So, their job is to tell you what the outcome is. "We'd like to have $200,000 a year of net spendable for our lifestyle." And it's your job to figure out how much money they have to accumulate in order to be able to do that for whatever their projected lifetime is.
And so, if they say that, if they say, "Well, we'd like to have $1 million dollars," so, technically, they didn't answer your question. So, you've got to make sure your question is asked in the way that if they answer the question you asked, it will work. But sometimes, you ask the question correctly and they interpret it to be something else. So, if I ask you, "How much net spendable money per month or per year would you like to have," and they say, "Well, I think we need to have $5 million," I would just say, "Michael, that might be true. And when we do the financial planning, we'll do that calculation to figure out. The question I'm asking though is how much net spendable money...? What are you actually spending on your lifestyle?"
And, hopefully, we'll get a chance to talk about this a little bit. But what I'm really talking about here is being a great, at least a top 10% or A player, financial professional. We're talking about you're really good at what you do. You harness your tools. I think one of the questions that could come up is, "Gee, how do you get this much confidence?" Part of it is, yes, you have a really good process that you take people through that naturally disrupts their current relationship and makes them want to hire you. And after they hire you, they are genuinely getting much better outcomes, much better results, a much better process. I call it a client value promise. I'm not a big fan of the term proposition. So, now, I've got three things. I've got the name of the goal, the target date, and the amount of money. And now, I'm going to make it emotionally compelling.
And the way that I do that is I look at both of you, even if you've answered most of the questions about that. And sometimes one spouse or another has more data about a particular goal. Sometimes, one spouse or another has a goal that the other spouse doesn't give a crap about. and there is an interesting dynamic that you discover there. And we'll talk about that in a moment. And now, I just ask a question. “So, Michael and Ellie, so, it's now May 1st of 2037. And you are totally confident that you have achieved lifetime financial independence and that you can have $200,000 a year.” Notice, I don't say stupid things like, "In today's dollars." That's just financial advisor jargon, right? “So, you have $200,000 a year to pay for your lifestyle. What are two or three words that describe what you're thinking and feeling, now that you've achieved that goal? And I'm going to get words from you and words from Ellie. And I'm going to write those on the financial roadmap. There are actually these little... They're called goal shields because the financial roadmap is built like a map.
And so, you've got values. And then, along the road, toward the fulfillment of your values, you're achieving your goals. So, it's laid out in a way that is psychologically, visually compelling. And then, we're going to go onto the next goal, the name of the goal, the target date, the amount of money, words that describe what they're thinking and feeling. And now, I'm 30 minutes into the meeting because each goal takes about three to five minutes. Most people have three or four goals. I'm 30 minutes into the meeting. And now, they have this compelling vision of their future. Wow, that's what's important to us. Those are their goals. The people they're currently doing business with it haven't done it, at least done it this well. It's not this clear. And then, what's missing?
Michael: The money, the resources. How do we make that happen.? Bill, that sounds awesome.
Michael: How do we make that happen?
How Bill Moves Along To The “All The Money” Conversation [01:13:38]
Bill: So, we're going to take a look at the, I call it all of the money exercise. And now, we're going to benchmark where they are now. And then, it becomes very obvious, “Oh, we need a plan, or we need a better plan.” And, of course, how do I know that there isn't a physical plan? Because they brought all their financial documents in. And had there been a plan, it's one of the things I asked them to bring in. And so, I see the tax returns and I see the insurance policies and I see the brokerage statements and I see the mutual fund statements and I see the annuities and I see the legal documents. And I see all these financial documents and there's no plan. So, it's not really complicated. So, we're now at the end. If I want to invite them to become a client, they're now looking at a big piece of paper in front of them. This is where you are now. These are your tangible goals. And this is what's important to you. And honestly, Michael, this came right out of professional development. This is strategic planning. The values are your vision. The goals are the tangible what. And your benchmark where you are now. And this is pretty much how every serious individual in every business does planning.
“Hey, this is our vision. This is what we want to accomplish and by when. And here's our current position. Now, we're going to create a game plan to get from where we are now to where we want to be so we achieve our goals for the reasons that are important to us.” And this is the way I talked earlier about the merging of professional development and financial planning. I just make it really simple. And then, I just look at them and I say, "Well, now that you're looking at your financial roadmap for living your life on purpose, what's been the benefit of the exercise that we've gone through in the last 30 minutes or so that we've been together?" And then, you tell me what you thought was good about it, what the benefit was. Ellie tells me what she thought the benefit was. The risk that I take is that you both look at me and go, "Well, this is a waste of 30 minutes," right? Well, if you think it was a waste of 30 minutes, what do you think the chances are you that I'm going to invite you to become a client?
Michael: Right. A good way to screen out the process. If you really were not in any way shape or form into that conversation, let's just save ourselves the trouble right now.
Bill: Remember, we're building an ideal client community. So, we're either looking for profitable non-ideal clients as what I call bridge financing. The ultimate goal is to have a finite number of ideal clients, no more than 50, because if you do the time arithmetic, and I know you actually wrote a really good blog post about this, and I am in total agreement, if you really do the time arithmetic, you can't actually be a great financial professional or financial advicer for more than about 50 people because it takes a lot of time to really help people achieve their goals and fulfill their values and keep them on track and hold them accountable. So, then, the question becomes well, how much did each of these people have to pay in order for 50 times that number to be enough money for you as the financial advisor to achieve your goals and fulfill your values and hopefully create your ideal life? And so, I get that question a lot. "Well, Bill, what if people don't like the process?" Well, your ideal clients like the process, right?
That's the definition. You don't have seven processes trying to appeal to seven different personality types. Your ideal clients like the process. I remember when I was in my late 20s, I was dating a girl and her name was Annette. And, Michael, you're such a suave guy, you might have never had this happen. But I got dumped pretty unceremoniously by Annette. And one of my good friends, Joe, he looked at me and he said, "Hey, it's Friday night, man. Let's go out. Let's go have a few beers and go to a club." And I said, "I'm just not in the mood." And he said, "Are you still moping about being dumped by Annette?" And I said, "Well, I don't know if I'd call it moping. I'm not happy about it. I'm not really excited about going out and partying." And he looked at me and he looked at me like, "What's wrong with you?" And I said, "Well, I thought she might have been the one." And he looked at me and he laughed right in my face. And he said, "Oh, yeah, she was the one. Other than the fact that she doesn't want to have anything to do with you, she's perfect."
Michael: So, we get too wrapped up in the people that we're chasing. And so, I'm just saying, "You know what? It probably wasn't a fit."
Michael: "Let's go find someone else who is."
Bill: We're trying to convince people to hire us. Again, that comes back to that's a sales tactic. “People don't plan to fail.” We're trying to sell planning. And I would agree. Everybody would be better off with planning. I don't think there's any argument there. But not everybody can afford somebody as good as I'm going to say you. I'm going to project that everybody listening to us have this conversation is a great financial advisor, right? Well, one of the ways we know that you're great is how much people are willing to pay you, right? We're all in Western cultures. That's one of the metrics. Chances are if you're cheap, you're probably not great. And part of the problem is if you're cheap, you have to have too many clients to actually be great for all of those clients.
So, if you're really that good, you've got to be paid enough to make this work. So, just because people need planning just doesn't mean they can afford planning. That's one of the reasons why I was fortunate enough to co-found the Foundation for Financial Planning. So, yeah, I believe everybody should have access to planning. But as a smart business person, you want to work with people who can pay you enough so that the metrics work. So, while you're helping them achieve their goals, you're also making enough money to achieve your goals and fulfill your values.
What The Financial Roadmap Deliverable Looks Like [01:19:01]
Michael: So, explain to us this financial roadmap document deliverable thing, whatever it is. You've referred to it many times as we're creating and filling this out. And I'm presuming this is literally a physical document, a deliverable. Is it a template you build? Is this a thing you're literally filling out or handwriting out in the meeting? Talk just a little bit more about what the financial roadmap is.
Bill: Yeah, it is what you described. It is a physical document. It's big. It's 17 by 22 inches, which is, when you fold it into quarters, that's an 8 1/2 by 11. You unfold it. It's 17 by 22 inches. And just visually in the upper right-hand section, those are the value staircases. And then, below the value staircases are the goals. And in the bottom left quadrant, that's a little summary of their current financial situation. How much cash reserves do they have? How much debt do they have? You can't really list all their insurance. You do that on the back of the financial roadmap. And then, there's a number for the current amount of money that they have to fund their goals. So, all of their money may not be available to fund their goals. So, it's the goal-funding money that they currently have. And so, it's really simple. It's really clean. It puts it into perspective and, particularly for the generation that you want to do business with, right? So, we're talking about people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s because that's who has all the money. So, this is much more effective when it's much more analog. So, a lot of people, they say, "Well, hey, we want to put everything on the big screen." And I do think, for the implementation meeting, when you are actually opening up your planning software, which is after you've been hired, so, the financial roadmap gets you hired to do planning.
So, the mistake that a lot of advisors make is they think, “Well, I'll open up my software and I'll show you how cool planning is, and then you'll want to buy it,” right? So, our approach is you actually get hired and paid. And then, you start doing planning. You don't do technical work until after you've been hired and paid. You actually don't answer any technical questions till after you've been hired and paid. That may be a whole other conversation that we have. But just to answer your question, it's more compelling if it's analog because if you open up a big screen and you have a big television in your room, now, that becomes the focal point. So, now, everybody's turned, and they are looking at the big screen as opposed to either sitting next to each other or across from each other. And then, of course, it's more emotionally compelling to see it written in your handwriting, which anybody can have legible handwriting if they choose to versus some computer-generated text. So, computer-generated text is less personal.
Michael: So, I'm writing this out as the advisor or my clients are writing this out?
Bill: You're essentially the scribe. So, they're thinking and communicating. And it's another way that you demonstrate that you're listening. So, one of the challenges, and I've done this for a lot of years, is, remember, I'm listening to some of the advisors in our higher-level training and coaching programs. They're sending in recordings. I actually coached one yesterday. And I'm listening to the recording. And I'm looking at a picture of the financial roadmap that was submitted with the recording. And one of the things I'm paying attention to is what's written on the financial roadmap. Does that match the words that came out of the prospects' mouths? And oftentimes, it doesn't. So, we're not paraphrasing. If somebody says, "Financial independence," again, the worst thing you could say is "Oh, so you want to have enough money to retire." They didn't say, "Retire." They said, "Financial independence." So, you write what they said, right? So, if they say, “Security," you don't write, "Safety." It's literally every word on their financial roadmap came out of their mouths.
So, they not only know that you're listening by how you're communicating. But they can see that you're listening because the words on their financial roadmap match the words they actually said. So, it's much more compelling. And it also speaks to the idea, and I get it.. I was a 26-year-old kid when I entered this business. And I wanted to work with people who were millionaires. And it's a life-stage thing. It's not so much a generational thing. But it takes decades for most people to become millionaires, right? So, most of the largest group... When most people become millionaires, if they ever do become millionaires, are in their 60s, right? So, 50s on the young side, 70s on the old side, most in their 60s. So, there are exceptions to that but for the most part, that's when you become millionaires. So, I had to learn how to... There's a saying. It's like, "Talk the way they buy." So, you have to be like them. And I think the mistake that most of us make, and I think it's a natural mistake, is we want people to buy the way we would buy. And so, that's why everybody wants to use all their technology. So, I want to put this on a big screen. and I want to type things in on the screen because that seems cooler. Well, that's not how people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s view it.
What Bill Sees As The Biggest Blocking Point For Advisors Who Are Struggling With Growth [01:24:17]
Michael: So, when you look overall at this process that you've created... I know you've trained many thousands of advisors over the years. I guess I'm just wondering as you look back on this, what do most advisors not understand or not get about growing an advisory business?
Bill: Yeah. I think it's a couple of things. And a lot of it we've talked about it today. I think it's believing that “Boy, if I just become a great enough technician, that will be the key to being a successful advisor.” And I think as we know... And, again, I'm not saying there's anything wrong. You want to be a great technician. And I can tell you a story about what I did to compensate for my lack of being a great technician. But I think it's underappreciating the value of what... And I bristle when I say this because I don't like them being called “the soft skills”, right? Because they're really the soft skills that produce the big results, being a great communicator, and understanding that trust is not a function of your technical ability. Trust is much more a function of your character, your ability to ask good questions and listen, holding people accountable to the advice.
There are these soft skills, really appreciating the value of being a great communicator, being able to facilitate people through a powerful process, being able to create an experience. People make their decisions experientially, not by you speaking some words to try and convince people. And so, that was something I was fortunate enough to recognize very, very quickly. So, Merrill Lynch is going to fire me if I don't bring in business. They're not going to fire me because I didn't become X better technician. And so, that's why I became fixated on mastering the communication skills side of this. And actually, I found it comparatively easy to do the technical work. And I think it's even easier in this day and age to get the technical work done. And we could talk about that if you want. But that's probably the biggest thing.
I think the other thing would just be the work ethic. We were talking about it as part of our conversation before we rolled the recording. And you've got that great visual about the iceberg and that we tend to see only what's above the surface but what's below the surface is much bigger. And I love your philosophy about that and I think you're right on with that. And I think most people just don't appreciate just how much work is involved, how much pain might be involved. “So, are the best advisors really recording their meetings and listening to those recordings? How much time does that take? How much pain is that?” And the answer to that question is, “Yeah, they are.” But you don't see everything that they actually do. So, I think there's an underestimation of the most important skills and an underestimation of just how much not just amount of work is involved but how much maybe painful work is involved to actually be successful.
Michael: So, what was the low point for you on the journey of building and learning and teaching all of this?
Bill: You're talking about learning it when I was an advisor, or teaching it now?
Michael: Just whatever stands out over the past 30-odd years that you've been on this journey.
Bill: Yeah. I think the low point for me, both as a financial advisor and training, is... And I hate to sound cynical about this because I'm actually a very optimistic person. It's sort of a Catch-22 . But the low point is I'm just so disappointed at how average people are willing to be, just how easily they accept being an average financial professional doing average work for their clients, making an average amount of money to have an average lifestyle. And I guess that's just my overachiever and achiever nature. But, again, we talk about putting the client first. It's just stunning to me how great some of the tools are and how many advisors make no attempt to really master the tools that they have. And I'll start with the financial planning software. So, if you take eMoney, Money Guide Pro, I think it's just called Money Guide now, Right Capital, NaviPlan, Buoyant, going all the way back to financial profiles and some of the early planning software, those tools are so robust. There's so much that they will do. And yet, most financial advisors, I don't think they're even aware of all the features and benefits of the tool that, first of all, would be great for the clients.
So, when you're not really accessing all those tools, you are failing to do what is your prime directive of being a financial advisor. A little "Star Trek" term for you, your prime directive is to put the client first. And when you choose to not harness 100% of the features and benefits of your tools, you're basically putting the client second, especially if it's your own comfort. And I hear that all the time from veteran advisors, in particular. "What kind of planning tools do you use?" "Well, I created this little Excel spreadsheet." And I just go, "How is that the best thing that's available in 2021 to serve your clients?" "Well, it's what I'm familiar with. It's what I like. So, I like my spreadsheet better than eMoney." "But if eMoney is actually better for your clients, don't you have an obligation to deploy that?" "Well, I don't really want to do that at this point in my career." And that was ... But it's a combination thing. So, I remember when I was a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch and I discovered financial planning, we had a financial planning department. You could outsource the money management to pros. And yet, frankly, most of these morons just said, "Well, I'm just the stockbroker. I'm just going to sell stocks and bonds."
And there were all these things that would be valuable for their clients. And the Catch-22 was and the light bulb for me was, "Oh, well, if all these stockbroker morons at Merrill Lynch are operating this way, then I'll bet they're doing the same thing at Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter and EF Hutton and Shearson. And those are the clients I'm going to steal because how easy will it be to disrupt a relationship with somebody who's been working with basically a stockbroker?" And that's how I see most financial advisors today. They're just wealth managers. The only difference is they just gather assets, put it on a platform, and collect 1%. And really, even if they say they do planning, they don't really do what we would call planning. So, on one hand, it's enormously disappointing. And I think it's bad for the clients and bad for the advisors and the business. On the other hand, hopefully, you as the listener is sitting there going, "Fantastic because there's still a lot of opportunity for me to steal or rescue those clients from those people." And I've just made peace with that, Michael. I've just made peace with the fact that I had hoped that I would transform the whole industry from salespeople to trusted advisors. But I don't have to tell you the salesperson-financial advisor is still alive and well.
Michael: Yeah, I think the distinction though is the trusted advisor, as I call it the financial advicer, the advicers are growing. That's the segment of the industry that's growing...
Michael: ...right now. And all the rest are collectively shrinking and struggling for a wide range of competitive reasons from advicers taking their business on one end and more automated tools taking the business from the other end because if you're really solely in the product sales business, at some point, anybody who actually wants the product will just be able to get it with a couple of clicks of the mouse button, not holistic advice and not powerful conversations that we're talking about here. But if you need a financial product the internet's going to increasingly serve that up to you.
Bill: Yeah, I agree with you. I agree with you.
Michael: I think the transformation's happening. And in an industry where good advisers have 97% or 98% retention rates and bad advisors have 92% retention rates, it takes an astonishingly long time, I think frustrating for a lot of us. But it takes an astonishingly long time for clients to actually shift from not very good advisors or people who aren't really even in the advising business but put it on a business card to the financial advicers. But it is happening.
Bill: Yep, I agree with you.
Michael: It's just really slow, frustratingly slow.
Bill: Remember, I'm an achiever, overachiever type. So, nothing happens quickly enough for me. But also keep in mind, I started this... This is why I left being a successful financial advisor, a career that I loved, was to create more leverage. So, for me it was a values decision. Well, if I keep doing what I'm doing, I'm only going to have 50 people who are going to get the benefit of what I do. And it was actually one of my mentors who challenged me and said, "So, Bill, if you took this methodology that you've created," he said, "I don't think you realize what you have here. You're just sharing with a couple of friends and it's working for them too. What if you took this out to the whole industry and you set up a training company?" I was 29 years old. It was a big risk, although he helped me understand, "Well, you're not married. You don't have kids. You can always come back in if it doesn't work and be a successful advisor again." But I guess I thought 33 years would be enough because it was starting to happen then. So, I hope you're right. I think it may be a bell curve thing. I think it may just be that the reality is that no matter what you do, if an advicer is an A player, just like there'll probably always be A students, B students, and C students, there may always be people who just choose to be average. And it may just be the global human condition. And there will always be an opportunity for the cream to rise to the top.
But what I think needs to happen is there really just needs to be some kind of serious standard in the industry. The government standard is just low. And the company standards are equally as low. And imagine what would happen if everybody who was putting themselves out there as a financial advicer or a financial planner, what if there just had to be some evidence that you've actually done for yourself what you're proposing to do for clients? It's stunning how many people in this business who hold themselves out as planners don't have a plan and/or aren't making enough money to fund the plan if they had one. So, how does someone who isn't on track to achieve their own goals going to help somebody else achieve their own goals? It's a Catch-22 irony. I'm not saying you have to be rich to give advice to rich people but you don't have to rich to have a plan.
You don't have to be rich to have cash reserves. You don't have to be rich to live within your means. You don't have to be rich to be adequately insured. You don't have to be rich to have a reasonable debt-to-income ratio and a good credit score, right? But there's no requirement in this business that anybody actually do what it is that they are, and I hate to word the selling, but there's just no requirement. And that stuns me as well. But, again, it's the opportunity for those people like you and I know your followers who are choosing to be great. The opportunity is since most financial advisors are not choosing to be great, how hard could it be to take their clients? And I get that question a lot. “Bill, you're awfully cavalier about stealing other people's clients.” It's like, "Well, yeah, because I know the truth about what the quality is out there about what most financial advisors are doing.” So, how hard can it be?
Bill’s Advice To Newer Financial Advisors Entering The Industry [01:36:00]
Michael: So, what advice would you give to your newer financial advisors coming into the industry today who do want to choose to be great, as you put it, but are starting from square one in the industry as it exists today? What advice would you give to the newer advisor that wants to become one of the great financial advisors?
Bill: Yeah, I love these people. These are my people. I know it's been a long time since I was a 26-year-old rookie. But it just feels like yesterday to me. I don't know why. There are some things in my life I don't remember well. But I just have this affinity for people who are newer to the business. And it breaks my heart when they get stuck listening to some limiting belief that's hoisted on them by some well-meaning executive or manager or even a teacher or a trainer. So, a few things come to mind. The first is to be more confident about moving up-market to work with people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and older. First of all, they have all the money, right? These are the millionaires who can pay $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year and up for real financial planning and services and advice. And don't believe that clients who have worked with their current advisor for decades are loyal to that advisor. They can be stolen or as I like to say rescued from their current advisor. Most financial advisors, even financially successful veterans, are shockingly average when it comes to what they actually do for their clients. They simply aren't nearly as good as they would like you to believe you are.
Everybody wants to believe that their clients are totally satisfied and loyal. But the truth is that most financial advisors haven't been fired only because a better financial advisor just hasn't come along, right? So, their clients would move to the other financial advisor. They just haven't met them. So if they did meet that better advisor, they would leave. And your job is to be that better advisor, better communicator, better process, better experience, better client value promise. And be very careful, I mentioned this earlier, about well-meaning advisors and corporate trainers and other teachers even passing along their fears and limiting beliefs to you, like my sales manager who told me when I was 26 years old that I'd have to start working in my natural market, worst advice ever. If I had listened to that BS, I never would have created values-based financial planning. And I certainly would not be your guest today on this podcast. So, many of the members of our advisor roadmap virtual training platform are children of financial advisors. And totally unintentionally, their mother or their father, they're often passing along beliefs about the business that may or may not have been true in the '80s when these people started but definitely are not true today. And they never have been the truth. So, I'm not saying they're lying. But just because they believe that to be true does not mean it's actually true.
The other thing that comes to mind is don't make the mistake of working with small clients like they're somehow the practice clients, right? And that's awful if you think about it. Yeah, I'm going to work with these little clients because their money is just as important to them, maybe more important, as the clients you'd ultimately like to work with. And if you work with too many small clients, well, that's how you end up working too many hours for too little money for too many of the wrong clients. And once you get stuck in that quagmire of working too many hours for too little money for too many of the wrong clients, it's really hard to break out of. It's not easier to get people with less money to hire you. It's exactly the same exercise. So, you might as well focus on working with the people that you want to work with.
And I think I might have always said this. But I'm just going to double down on communication skills are your most valuable asset. Your ability to ask the right questions at the right time, to listen with empathy, and make a strong emotional connection with those spouses or life partners, and to be able to articulate your advice with conviction in a way that motivates people to actually take action, like hiring you in the first place, and then following your advice to implement. And this skill is your most valuable asset. It's always been an advisor's most valuable asset. And especially as we move faster and faster into a world of AI where machines are progressively doing more and more of the technical work, the last thing the machines will be able to possess are incredible people skills and communication skills. By definition, a machine can't make a human connection.
And I guess the last thing that comes to mind, I think it's the last thing, is to outsource as much of the technical work as you possibly can. Outsource it to other humans, better experts, and maximize the use of technology like the full capability of your planning software. This is much better for your clients than you trying to be the smartest person in the room. You should definitely have a high financial IQ. But there really isn't a need for you to be able to answer every technical question about asset allocation, interest rates, insurance policies, Medicare, Social Security, retirement plans. So, you can outsource a lot of that because you're the expert at acquiring ideal clients and holding those people accountable to execute or implement the advice. So, I'm really passionate about that. And I'm also equally... I challenge my peers, those advisors over 50... I think the average financial advisor is 57 or 58. I'm very happy to challenge them. Either get yourself up to speed, or get out of the business. Your clients deserve somebody who's really staying current. I call the most old financial advisors the coasting generation. They put a bunch of assets under management. They do light financial planning. So, I encourage the next generation of financial advicers to steal or rescue clients from the coasting generation.
What Comes Next For Bill [01:42:30]
Michael: So, what are you working on now? What comes next for you?
Bill: Yeah, I'm having fun. I'm mostly living my ideal life. So, I think I'm a reasonably good example of that. The advisor roadmap virtual training platform is essentially my legacy. It's really the culmination of 33 years of training financial professionals to be totally trusted advisors or, using your vernacular, really true financial advicers. And we put everything we know about client acquisition, client service, leadership, time management, and more, we put that all on a virtual training platform so virtually every financial professional in the world would have access to what they need to do to build an ideal business with ideal clients and create their ideal life. And I went ... Five years ago, our program was $5,000 a month on a 4-year contract. So, I was training a smaller number of advisors for a large amount of money each. And now, I've flipped that whole thing. So now, it's a membership site like Netflix for financial advisors, success training for such a small amount of money that I really want price to not be an obstacle for any advisor who's serious about success. So, that's what I'm doing.
Michael: And so, for advisors who are interested, just what is the cost to go through the program?
Bill: Well, they actually get a discount because we have a relationship with you. So, go to youradvisorroadmap.com. And that will take you to the information site about our membership site called Your Advisor Roadmap. It's literally a roadmap of exactly what to do to meet high net worth people, to set appointments with high net worth people so they come with both spouses and all their documents. It's literally a roadmap, step by step, all the scripts. And you have a couple of options when you get there. So, at the top right-hand corner, if you're not ready to invest any money, then just sign up for our free online training. We do an online training every month called Mastering Client Acquisition. And you can sign up for that, or you can get the very thorough explanation about our virtual training platform. And it's $1,800 for the year. So, money shouldn't be an issue for the fraction of the value of even an average client, it's $1,800 for an annual subscription renewable at that rate.
Michael: One client, not even one client. One client will probably cover a few years.
Bill: Yeah, certainly not an ideal client. But, again, I understand that advisors, some of them got to walk before they run. And maybe some of my numbers scared you off. $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 per client per year, that's where you should be living. And then Kitces. All you have to do is put, Michael, your last name, K-I-T-C-E-S. It's not case-sensitive. That's a promo code. And so, anybody who knows that, frankly, because we don't have any way of saying, "Oh, are they really a follower of Michael Kitces? Do they listen to this podcast?" So, if they knew that, just put in Kitces. And that will knock 20% off. It's, then, $1,440.
Michael: Oh, I appreciate the discount for our listeners. And for anyone who’s listening along and couldn't scribble all of that down, this is episode 241. So, if you go to kitces.com/241, we'll have links out to Advisors roadmap so you can find your way over there if you want to check it out.
What Success Means To Bill [01:45:13]
Michael: So, as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success. And one of the things that always comes up is just the word success means very different things to different people. And so, as someone who's built an incredibly successful platform, and I know there was a point where you were charging a quarter of a million dollars in coaching for a single advisor over a 4-year period and now, you're living the virtual online advisor roadmap to reach the masses of advisors. So, the business has done well. How do you define success for yourself at this point?
Bill: Well, I define it, and I would say I think we all should define success, in this way. But it's different for everybody. So, it's what is your vision for your ideal life? That's the first course inside the advisor roadmap is creating a vision for your ideal life. And there are six ideal life questions. What does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? What are you doing? Who are you with? And who are you being, right? So, I have my view of my ideal life. And then, the goal is to put your business to align with your vision of your ideal life. For me, I still love helping people and making a difference. And it's why... If I had stayed as a financial advisor, I made plenty of money. My mentor even told me that. He said, "Bill, I think you're going to be fine financially. The question is how will you make the biggest impact?" And so, maybe I would have actually made more money if I had stayed as a financial advisor. But he was right. I have plenty of money to live my ideal life. And so, health and fitness is a high priority for me. So, in fact, I have expert interviews inside our virtual training platform.
And I'm fascinated with AI and the positive impact it's going to have on the world. I'm a big student of the singularity. So, I'm actually on the adjunct faculty at Singularity University. And if you don't know the singularity, I would suggest you just Google the words "the singularity" and learn more about that. And there are interesting implications for the financial services industry, but more important for health and longevity. And so, I'm fascinated with that. I have a relationship with a business called Human Longevity, Inc. And so, I'm primarily a client. But I also send a lot of my friends and clients and people to that. If you looked up Human Longevity, Inc. and they have a service called Health Nucleus. It's also referred to as 100 Plus. And I think one of the things we don't consider both as both humans and as financial advisors is, boy, how long are we actually going to live? And there is legitimate science and technology that could extend our lives but more importantly the quality of our lives by many more decades than an actuarial table of an insurance company. And boy, what if that's true? So, hey, how much money do you need if you live to be 120 when you thought you were going to die at 90? And so, that's how I keep myself mentally stimulated. I exercise 12 to 15 hours a week, not including massage and physical therapy. So, health and fitness is a high priority and helping people. I'm on a couple of boards. So, that's what I do with a lot of my time. So, it's still aligned with my values and it is evolving.
Michael: Well, very cool. Very cool. Well, thank you so much, Bill, for joining us on the Financial Advisors Success Podcast.
Kaleb Paddock, CFP® says
This was good for me to listen to since I personally HATE and LOATHE that question ‘What’s important about money to you?’ Admittedly I first heard this question when a life agent was hard-charging me with pitches to buy life insurance in my early 20s, but this put a different spin on it which was interesting.
I still think it’s more of a ‘brutal’ question vs. ‘helpful’ question in the planning conversation. For example, I think George Kinder’s questions (any of the three) are more ‘helpful’ and provide better conversations, at least in my experience with clients.
Ultimately, if you go down this route, prospective clients may start to say ‘this feels like therapy’ or ‘I didn’t sign up for meeting with a shrink’ (true story, btw). Not every financial advicer (see what I did there Michael?) will want to be part therapist/psychologist and ‘correct’ spouses to ‘be quiet, it’s not your turn yet’ but if it’s in your DNA it can be a great way to deepen relationships and go beyond the technical side of planning and investments.
Steve Smith says
Right. Which is why there is nothing wrong with starting the conversation around goals and working back to a values conversation. They’re sides of the same coin. When someone has a goal, for example, of owning a vacation home, it often inherently carries with it a deeply held value of spending more time with family. Etc.
Elliott Weir - III Financial says
Great conversation! Did I miss the Commitment to Hire conversation?
I polled 6 of what I would call “great clients” TODAY about what their thoughts would be about me recording a meeting. The answer was “hell no”, “probably not”, “that’s creepy”, “I’d believe you were overthinking this”, etc…… I’m not sure what clients you are managing Bill?
I’m comfortable remaining “mediocre at best” Bill.
PS – you also sound arrogant, so you might want to check on that via your recording.
Interesting contrast between the two most recent interviewees.
Bill seems to eschew technical expertise in favor of bonding, and Thomas has built several very successful business by focusing on technical expertise that most advisors lack. I do understand, however, that Thomas has technical expertise and Bill does not, so there’s that.
I also tend to put more weight in an advisor who’s in practice versus one who was so awesome he had no choice but to quit and go teach everyone else how it’s done.
I’ve taken several clients from Bill’s former students. One-hundred percent of them sold 100% fixed indexed annuities. Their planning went like this: “Stock market bad, annuities good. Sign here to move all your money into FIAs.”