In financial planning, it’s not just about having expert knowledge and wisdom to dispense to clients; after all, if clients don’t ultimately implement the recommendations and change their behaviors, then their situations will not improve. In fact, many financial planners experience frustration when client’s won’t act, and view the failure of clients to implement recommendations as a sign that the people must be “bad” clients. The implication is that it may be more productive for planners to seek out “good” clients instead – those who act promptly and see the value in the planner and his/her advice.
Yet research from Dr. James Prochaska and his colleagues in the field of psychology suggests that in truth, the process of changing behavior – whether with respect to eating healthier and exercising more, ending a smoking habit, or making better financial decisions – is far more nuanced. Not only does it often take more than just one dose of good advice to bring about significant and lasting behavior change, but just because someone has a meeting with a professional does not necessarily mean that person is really even ready for change in the first place. Accordingly, an ideal process for working with clients may entail first understanding what stage of change the client is in, and then adapting the advice process to help the client move forward, from wherever he/she is at the time.
The most important implication, though, is that it may no longer be appropriate to simply view clients who don’t implement as “bad” clients. Instead, a greater responsibility may rest upon the professional practitioner to help clients, regardless of where they happen to be in the process of change, to move forward. In turn, this means that it may be time for financial planning training to be improved, to develop the understanding and skillsets necessary so that planners can not only inform clients of what needs to be done to improve their financial situation, but also help motivate them to actually do it!