Back in 2015, Carl Richards made a bit of a stir in the financial planning community when he published his book, “The One-Page Financial Plan”, which suggested that most important aspects of a full financial plan could (and should) be delivered to clients on a single page (effectively a form of executive summary). The appeal of this approach was offering a useful and easy-to-produce deliverable for clients (that could be updated on an ongoing basis to account for the fact that conditions and circumstances are in constant flux), and more generally was a way to reframe the concept of the ‘full’ financial plan by drilling down to just the most actionable points of advice (which is all the client really ‘needs’ to implement in the end anyway). Yet if advisors are really going to encapsulate their entire recommendations into a single-page financial plan, the question arises: can financial advisors really get away with eschewing a full financial plan, and if most clients never read the full plan after it’s presented anyway what is the real purpose of producing the financial plan in the first place?
In our 63rd episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss the origin story of the one-page financial plan, the key elements of a good one-page financial plan, and why it’s not meant to be a replacement for a full financial plan (which then exists as a form of “technical appendix” to provide in-depth support to validate the one-page summary), but instead, act as an executive summary of the full plan as well a reference-point that advisors and clients can use when making decisions.
As a starting point, it’s important to understand that the full financial plan is incredibly important. The breadth and depth of the work that financial planners do cannot fit on one page. But it’s equally important to acknowledge that the full financial plan becomes ‘outdated’ the instant that a client walks out of the presentation meeting, and in the end, most clients simply can’t absorb the full extent of numbers and details that are encapsulated in a comprehensive financial plan (which really functions more as support calculations to ‘prove’ that the recommendation itself is technically accurate).
Accordingly, one approach to address the full financial plans that some financial planners have adopted is to also include an executive summary, or, one-page financial plan, that is meant to provide not only a quick reference that advisors and clients to use as a guidepost, but as a living document that is easily updated as life happens and things evolve. Beyond which the entire remainder of the financial plan serves as a “technical appendix” for that executive summary.
While various planners have adapted these one-page plans to fit their needs, items that are commonly found on such a document include: a Statement Of Financial Purpose, which acts as a sort of guiding star, or overarching “Why”; a list of goals, which can be listed in such a way that prioritizes those goals which carry the least desirable outcome if not achieved; and finally, a list of the things that need to happen over the next 90 days. Put another way, the one-page plan summarizes the Why, What, and How of the larger plan, and is a tangible deliverable that advisors and clients can use as a yardstick against which financial decisions can be measured and that can (and should) be regularly updated as action items are completed and goals are achieved (or get shifted).
Which, again, isn’t to say that the full plan doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have a place in the planning conversation. Rather, the action items on the one-page plan are necessarily the result of a rigorous analysis of the client’s situation to demonstrate that it is technically accurate. And while a relatively low percentage of clients have an interest in digging in to examine the nitty-gritty of how final recommendations are calculated, for newer advisors (in particular) who are still establishing their credibility, the full plan can act as an audit trail of sorts to not only show where “that number” came from, but as a tool to boost an advisor’s own confidence levels.
Ultimately, the key point is that one-page summaries of the most meaningful and actionable information in a financial plan (i.e., the Why, What, and How) can be a powerful tool that financial advisors can use both as a living document that can be regularly updated as “life happens” and as a filter through which advisors can help their clients navigate important financial decisions as they arise. Which, at the end of the day, acts as an executive summary of the valuable analysis in the full plan and as a way to keep advisors and clients focused on what matters most.
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
- One Page Financial Plan
- The One And Only Correct Calculator
- Bill Bachrach
- Simon Sinek
- George Kinder
- Dan Sullivan
- Kitces & Carl Ep 48: Why Goals-Based Planning Doesn’t Work And The Possibilities-Based Planning Alternative
- Kitces & Carl Ep 42: Overcoming Objections By Asking More Questions To Truly Understand A Client’s Needs
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Michael: Hello there, Carl.
Carl: Greetings. Greetings. Crazy to see you here.
Michael: Who thought you were going to be here today? Fancy meeting you at this intersection of a Zoom meeting we both dialed to at a pre-arranged time.
Carl: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, what are we here for? I assume we're going to have some conversation about something important.
Michael: Yeah. What are we here for today? Several years ago, you put out this wee bit of a controversial book called, "One-Page Financial Plan," which I know was in part, you were very serious. You have a one-page plan format and I know in part was just kind of trying to challenge the industry because we all do our 50-page plans, so let's go the opposite extreme with a one-page plan. But, we've had a couple of questions that have come in lately of just was the one-page plan just a rhetorical thing that Carl put out there, or were you actually doing a one-page plan with clients? And if so, what was on the page? What was the page? I guess, was this only a rhetorical device or an actual thing you literally did with clients, and if so, what was the thing?
A One-Page Financial Plan’s Place Alongside The Full Plan [01:29]
Carl: No, an actual thing, actual thing. I realized, first of all, I think we got to get some philosophy stuff just out of the way. There's a tension that we need to acknowledge...I was going to say, we need to resolve, but actually there's no resolving it. And the tension is that plan that we all produce, let's just go with the 2-inch thick plan, that's incredibly important work. I think what I miss...if there was any controversy around it, which I have ignored if there was, but I may have miscommunicated or maybe was misunderstood, probably I miscommunicated, was that 2-inch thick thing is still incredibly important. The tension is that we have to be able to hold, mature adults have to be able to hold two conflicting facts in their minds at the same time, right? That cognitive dissonance is something that we have to be able to deal with. And the two conflicting facts are that 2-inch thick plan is incredibly important work. Establishing a baseline, we go through all the reasons why that's incredibly important. And at the same time, it's a paperweight, if not used correctly, right?
The competing thing is balancing, a real financial planner has to balance this idea that the line they draw on the page is represented by 2-inches thick, right? That line we draw, the plan is incredibly important to get right and at the same time, it's wrong. And we have to know it. And we try to run from that tension and I think we should just embrace that tension, explain it to clients early and often, "Hey, we're going to do the best work we can. We're really, really good at this. We know how to use spreadsheets and calculators. We're the best guessers, best assumers, best everything here, and the moment you walk out the door, we know that will be wrong, which is why we use this overlay." That's kind of what I was thinking of the one-page plan as sort of the living, breathing version of this thing, right? And so, that's philosophically, I know there's more than one page to the work we do, right? Even just from a compliance perspective, there's more than one page. But, I found clients really, really appreciated it, and since the book came out, it's become even more obvious that people love things like an executive summary.
And I knew a lot of planners, I still know a lot of planners that don't actually produce 2-inch thick plans, right? They do it all on a legal pad with what is that thing, that 12B Reverse Polish whatever, 17B?
Michael: Well, Carl. You want to go to the calculator. There's the 12C and there's the 10B. I was trained on the 12C, which means the 12C is the right and only answer, not the 10B. No offense to everybody who's trained on the 10B, but you should’ve learned on the 12C. But yes, all Reverse Polish Notation.
Carl: Some of the best planners I've ever seen know what you just said, and they'll do it on a legal pad with the thing, the square calculator that is sideways.
Michael: It's rectangular. That's the correct one because the 10B is...
Carl: It's got the gold, the brown...
Michael: The 10B is the vertical one. That's the wrong one. The 12C is the horizontal one with the gold bar across the top. That...
Michael: That is the one.
Carl: I used to use, I think mine was a 17 though, I used to use that, and the wrong calculator, and a legal pad and we all know planners who do that. But, most of us are still printing out, we still have this big thing that sits behind it. What sits on top? Why do you use a one-page plan? With that philosophy out of the way, and maybe that explanation, should we dive into that a little bit? What's on that document?
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. How do you actually do this?
What’s Actually On A One-Page Financial Plan? [05:30]
Carl: Okay. At the end of the first meeting, we normally say, "Look, we've gathered all the information to have a clear understanding of where you are today and where you want to go. We're going to get together as a team and we're going to put together a plan." And as soon as that word comes out of my mouth, I see an asterisk hanging in the air. And the asterisk says, "Don't worry. I'll try and reduce it to one page." Right? Client leaves, and I'm saying that because I've heard over and over and over, thousands of emails at this point, from New York Times readers about “I don't want that doorstop, that paper”... because what happened is they got sold a product, right? We went through that phase and you and I deal, and everybody listening to this, we're in an intellectual, awesome bubble. But, I don't know if you know outside of this bubble, people are still selling 2-inch thick doorstops as products. The people out there have been sold those products, and so, they know when you say, "plan," they're like, "Oh yeah, it's either a tool to sell me life insurance or it's something we'll never revisit." Asterisk, don't worry, I'll try to reduce it to one page. They leave.
When they come back...here's the components, so we'll just go though the components, then we can talk about. This is literally what I would do and we now have hundreds, if not thousands of advisors who are doing this, or planners who are doing this. Top of the page is a simple statement. I call it a statement of financial purpose. To me, I have a dream that there will be a day when every client who works with a financial planner has a statement of financial purpose and they know what that is. To me, it's simple, it's the first 10 minutes of the first meeting, right? These are things, mine says, "Time with my family, mainly outside, service in my community." Jerry and Vera's says, "Never be a burden to the kids and have plenty of free time to spend with the grandkids." Right? Julie said, "I want time so I can have the flexibility so I can have the freedom to think about having a kid, a child." Right? Busy ER doctor. This is just simple...think of it as Simon Sinek's Why.
Michael: I'm thinking of this in terms of the Bill Bachrach, what's important about money to you.
Carl: Perfect. Perfect. Yeah, yeah.
Michael: Same concept. “What's important to about money to you? Money means time with my family, mainly outside and service to the community. Money for me means time to have the flexibility and freedom to have a child.”
Carl: Perfect. I think Bill's done more than maybe anybody else to progress that. Well, then another vein of that is George Kinder, right? You could George Kinder's questions and reduce it to a couple of lines. George has done more than anybody for that line of thinking. Whoever, Dan Sullivan's, the Dan Sullivan question, whatever you capture, it's a vision of “Why are we going there?” To me, it's the thing that most of us don't...well, the industry at large doesn't do. We're willing to debate how all day long, plane, train, automobile, we'll fight about it. But, nobody took the time to talk to us about A, where are we going and B, why are we going there.
So, this is why are we going there. Statement of financial purpose. Takes the top third of a one-page plan. It's two or three sentences typically, right? Below that, and I'll move quickly and then we can dissect whatever you want to, below statement of financial purpose, you have a list of goals. I want to talk about this for a minute because we can't ask people what their goals are because A, they don't know, and if you're human and somebody says to you, "What are your goals?" This knot forms at the base of your neck in between your shoulders because it's like, "Ah." If we have...
Michael: Which is funny when we live in a world of goals-based planning and goals-based investing, but yes.
Carl: Totally. And I think what we need to be better at is teaching people what that means to have a goal, right? So, Julie can say, "I want the time, flexibility, freedom so I can think about having a family," and we can say, "That's amazing. That's a statement of financial purpose." And then, we can say, "You mentioned time to have a family. Could we put some framework around that and when we're done, is it okay if we call that a goal?" That's much different than, "Julie, what are your goals" in the lobby on my intake form.
So, once we've had that conversation, which we've covered in other episodes, once we have that conversation around how to help people clarify goals, we teach them what it means, that flows out of the conversation around Why, we get a little bit of What, those are goals. We list those on the one-page plan and we list them in order of, and this is a great venue for this conversation because most of the time, I have to talk about it in a different way. But, I like thinking about it in order of riskiness and the measure for riskiness is the consequence of failure. Now, another way to say that would be just rank them in order of importance to the client. But, I do think there's interesting, it puts you in an interesting mental framework as the planner to be thinking about consequence of failure, meaning...
Michael: That, to me, ties it very much back to George Kinder's, the essence of Kinder's question as a third question. Basically, which of these will you regret the most if it doesn't happen this way?
Carl: Yeah, beautiful.
Michael: Which we sometimes answer differently. When you reframe it from the, you're on your deathbed, you have one day to live, you reflected back on your life, what do you regret that you didn't get to, you come up with some different priorities sometimes.
Carl: Totally. I think that's beautiful. And regret minimization is a huge driver, right? So, I don't know that I would use those words with a client, but I think I'm thinking that way when I'm...and the client's probably thinking, "Oh yeah, that's the most important one." And we can paint a picture where two clients could have the same list of goals in drastically different order, right?
Carl: So, I'm thinking you list those goals in order of importance or in our minds, riskiness, consequence and failure, that's a set of goals there. And then, the next section is, I think of it as next 90 days. Some people call it next steps. I like next 90 days, especially in a relatively new, three to five year client, because you've got work to do. Next 90 days is just what's the next action step we're focused on. And that's the three most important parts.
Now, early in the client relationship, if it's part of the proposal process, which it was for me in the second meeting, I would show this one-page plan. I'd say, "Based on everything we talked about, here's what you told me why this was important. Here's the goals that we listed. I tried to rank these in order of importance. Did I get that right, Michael?" Yeah, you look at it. And then, I say, "Okay, great. Based on everything you've told me then, here's what we're going to do next." And those next things could be a goal of, “I want to make sure that my kids are taken care of if one of the breadwinners goes away.” Goal. Next step, pretty easy. Let's have a meeting to have a life insurance planning meeting, let's find the appropriate amount of life insurance. So, you can see the goal and the next steps should be correlated, right? The next 90 days are probably focused on tackling the first two or three goals.
Those are the three majors parts, and then if it's part of the proposal process, I always like to include a fourth part, which is how much is it going to cost to work together, right? Some estimate, because they haven't decided yet if it's part of, I'm in the second meeting, we're still thinking about whether or not this is mutually a good fit. Here's what I think it'll cost. If you're a flat retainer, you have an easy job. You get to write that number down. If you're AUM, you get to say, "It's between here and here," but it gives the client some idea.
How The One-Page Plan Serves As A Touchstone And A “Living” Document [13:30]
Now, I think that costing can drop off once they become clients, not because we're hiding anything but because we don't need to talk about it every single time we meet. So, you just have those three sections. Why, What, and I guess the last one could be referred to as How, but Why, What, and How are we going to do the next thing. And then, that document becomes a living, breathing reflection of the plan, right? And to me, if we do it right, clients learn, and I get tactile about this, for those of you who are just listening. I feel like I want to grab a piece of paper, because everything we do is intangible, I think if we can get clients used to the idea of some document being thought of as the touchstone. It's like, when I start thinking crazy, I can go back and if the client has a copy in their top drawer, we can slowly teach them that. “Hey, do me a favor. We're talking right now. I grabbed a copy. Do you still have that copy in your top drawer? Grab that.” And that thing, every time you meet, it gets revised and I also love that. In their binder, I love seeing, you could have an inch thick, it was all the past one-page plans were growing upon each other because it's a living, breathing document that's a reflection of the process instead of a reflection of the dead document called...and of course, we're updating the plan, of course. But, this is a top level reflection of it. So, that's what a one-page plan is. Now look, you can use it any way you want, but that's how I used it.
Michael: A couple of questions. First is, as I'm thinking through this, you keep doing every meeting and it changes. Presuming that the statement of purpose ostensibly doesn't change. Goals don't change much, but I guess if you're working together long enough, you achieve some goals or life circumstances change and goals shift a little. Maybe those change every few years and the next 90 days changes every meeting because the 90 days have passed. You did the thing hopefully, now we're going to do whatever the next thing is, and that's basically the part that really changes every meeting. Is that a fair reflection?
Carl: Yeah. I think first of all, if that's true, it's totally fine because that's still this executive summary that sits on top of all the work. But, I would also say, I find the statement of financial purpose, once you nail it, which may take, I don't know, maybe it takes 6 months, 12 months, like, "I'm not sure that's the right word," in the next meeting. Once you nail it, mine hasn't changed for a decade, right?
Goals, I do think we...there are some goals that are pretty static. I don't know that your feelings about how to pay for college change...I don't know. But, there are other goals like, "Hey, I think we want to travel every year, we want to take a trip to XYZ." And they go take the trip and we learn, "That was awesome, but I don't think we need to do it next year." So, I think the goals do become a little static but there's some big rocks that are just there, so yeah, I think that's fine.
Michael: As I think about this format, I get the statement of financial purpose. We've all talked about...goals-based planning, helping clients achieve their goals, we're restating the goals back to them. Are we on the same page, are all bought into this thing of what we're working towards. When I hear the format of what you're talking about, when you get down to the next 90 days, when you get to the steps, to me, these are the quintessential, and my recommendation is for you to do “blank”. That, to me, that's when I'm suddenly getting back to my 2-inch plan, because to me, that's where at some point, I'm going to say, "Okay, I've analyzed your situation. You should do these three things. Save $500 a month in your retirement account, $300 in your 529 plan and you need a million dollars of term insurance for your kids to protect your kids." And at some point, I guess, some clients would probably just take that on faith, but a lot of clients at some point are like, "Totally cool. Appreciate your knowledge, you seem to be a knowledgeable planner. But, where the heck did that number come from? Why is it $500? Why is it not $600 or $400 or $1,000 a month?” And at some point it's like, "Well, I'm so glad you asked because I have 57 pages I've been so excited to show you about exactly how I did that calculation." And that's where the rest of my plan gets to come back in, if I want it or if my clients wants it and wants to see it.
Carl: For sure. My first reaction to that is, my experience has been that that almost never happened if the diagnosis was really thorough. And the reason this...by the way, I know the idea of reducing things down to one page is not a new idea. An executive summary has been around a long time, so it's not like I created a new idea. I'm just really pushing for us to simplify things and one of the ways this came up is I actually remember meeting with a client, her name's Christine, she's a technology sales rep, super on it. And I remember saying to her, and then I started saying it to everybody. I was like, "Look," I had out the calculator, we won't get into which one, and I had out the legal pad...
Michael: That means it was the wrong calculator.
Carl: I said, "Christine, let me walk you through what I think we should do here, given everything I know about you and everything you told me," and then I repeated it to make sure...we did all that work. And I said, "Look, we should do this, this and this." I said, "Look, would you like me to show you, because I can print out 2 inches right now to show you the analysis we've done on this, or would you just like me to tell you what I think we should do?" And Christine was like, "Is this a real question? Of course, just tell me." And so, I feel like, now again, I know I'm often wrong and I know I'm never in doubt, but I feel like when the need...and this isn't...I don't know where the boundary conditions are for this, I don't know if it's like, "Oh, but my engineer clients." And I had some engineer clients and they still worked this way with me. When I felt the need to prove something, to show analysis, I always...and again, I feel like you, like, "Oh yeah. Please, I've been dying to show you." So, it's fine. It's totally fine.
Michael: “I'm so glad you asked.”
Carl: But, I always felt like I would take the approach and if I feel like I need to prove, maybe I missed something in the earlier conversation, right? A little bit like the objections conversation we had at one point which was like, if there's an objection, I take that as a flashing signal that I missed something. So, either way though, I'm comfortable with the idea that you could even have the one-page plan footnoted, right? Save $300 a month in IRA, number 57. It's on Page 57 is the analysis if we want to dig into it. You can think of it as the table of contents for the full plan, if you want. I like thinking of it as an executive summary and it could be referenced to the full plan. I've seen advisors do that. So, it's not like you're throwing that work out. You're still doing that work because it's our jobs, you have to.
And by the way, if it says, "Buy life insurance," I'm not suggesting in the proposal meeting that you need to tell somebody, "Buy $2.5 million of term insurance that lasts 20..." You don't know that yet. You could simply say, "Look, the first job we have is to have a life insurance planning meeting, and I'm going to prepare...believe me. We could fill the room with our analysis of that." Right? Yeah I don't have a problem with that. I just thought it was interesting because I always felt like clients would want proof and want evidence, and I was always disappointed they didn't.
The Purpose Of The 50-Page Plan [22:13]
Michael: The way I think about The Plan, the capital T, capital P, 50-page 2-inch thing, I see it as ultimately having...the purpose of the plan is to prove you did your homework. When I tell you, "You need to do this, that and the other thing," and someone says, "Where did that number come from?" Here's my proof that I actually did the homework, I did the analysis, I really did it. I didn't just pluck these recommendations out of thin air. This is how I validate the recommendation that I'm making.
Carl: Hold on. Let me just, because I want to clarify, this is really important. Do you think that exact exchange you just had, is your experience that that happened a lot?
Michael: That's the thing. Yes, early on, no, later on.
Carl: Interesting. Why do you think that difference happened?
Michael: Trust is different.
Carl: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. We have to clarify something.
Michael: I shouldn't say trust. My credibility to command trust with the clients that I'm still getting to know.
Carl: You're not saying early on, yes, and later...you're not saying early on in a client relationship, you're saying earlier in your career.
Michael: Early in my career. Right. When I was a 20-something...
Carl: You felt like you had to prove everything.
Michael: ...and looked like a late teenager, I think just flat out, I got more questions. Where did that number come from? Validate...they wouldn't literally say validate, but where did that number come? I had to walk them through a whole analysis to prove I did my homework and I knew what I was talking about. because I looked too young to actually know what I was talking about. So, I had to prove it and when I look at the conversation...
Carl: Wait, wait, wait. This is so important. Is that last part true, that you had to do...is this, the way you were thinking about it and the confidence you presented, or is this a factual matter that everybody that looks young has to prove?
Michael: I don't think it's a factual matter that everybody who looks young has to prove, but I think there is a reality that in general, just if you are younger and earlier in your career, you have less credibility, if only because one of the markers of credibility is basically years of experience or proxies for it, like gray hair and some other stuff. Not fair, just reality of how some people determine credibility in professionals that they're working with. So, when I look at conversations I have today, where now I'm working with a client because they've read 47 of the articles that we published on our sites that are thousands of words...I don't get a lot of questions today of, "Michael, I'm not really sure if you're a guy who knows what he's talking about and does his homework." I've sent you the equivalent of two books worth of stuff while you were a prospect on my reading list before we ever did this or had a conversation together, so I've spent so much time essentially closing that credibility gap in the marketing process and being at a sizable firm, and all the other things that people use as credibility markers, that yeah, I don't get those questions very often at all now.
But, I view that as a difference of where I am in my career, the amount of credibility I get to bring to the table of the client with the first meeting, and I think there is a difference between the credibility I get now for the years of experience, a wee bit of gray hair I'm accumulating, some of the other stuff about where I am in my career and where our business is, relative to what it looked like when I was a 23-year-old getting out there and had to walk through a lot of really long financial plans to get people eventually to say, "Okay, this guy knows what he's talking about." Then, the trust built, so a few years of that client relationship then looks like early in the client relationship now. I get to trust faster so I can get away with a shorter plan now in a way that, not that I would have had the executive summary before, but I got challenged more to prove my point, prove my data, prove my recommendations.
Carl: Look, that's totally fair and I still want to be clear here because this is an interesting topic. We should just spend a little time on it, because you can't fake, right? I think of it is as the one question I have...
Michael: You can't fake what? A lot of people in our industry fake a lot of things.
Carl: Oh, I know, but real financial planners can't fake...because we know, we could prove the counterfactual. We know people who look young, who walk in and command confidence and don't get asked to prove things. We know those people. Some of those people are faking it and we've all seen those people and that's bad, right, just to be clear. And then, there's another group though, that what I think of as, if I were drawing this right now, for those of you just listening, I would draw a line and then it would hit a big ball of yarn. It's one of my sketches, a big ball of yarn, and that big ball of yarn is complexity. And on the other side of that complexity lives this place called elegant simplicity. And I think there's a real pattern for how to match the problems you're solving so that you can walk in that room confident and the way you match it is if you run into a problem where you're going to fake it, then you're going to be simplistic. You should be selling shoes instead. And that, I think, is just trouble. But, if you can match, and I always thought of it as try to answer questions that are 10% below my confidence level, and then slowly move my confidence level up so that when I walk in the room, which is what I think you're describing happened to you over the years is, as I walked in the room, there was no question.
But, the only thing I want to challenge is I don't think that's because you've sent two books or you published 47 things. I could know nothing about you. I believe I could know nothing about you, period, and somebody could say, "Hey, my financial planner's awesome. His name is Michael. Go see him." I could walk into your office now and I think the way, because your confidence level is here and my problem is here, you would be living on the other side. You'd be living in elegant simplicity, not simplistic, and you wouldn't have to prove anything to me even if I didn't know anything about you. Just because I think I would...
Michael: Perhaps, but it still gets the same point which is like, okay, you start your career, magic happens and you're so credible that anything you say is taken by anyone. I agree on the other side of the magic, you can get away with, not just get away with a one-page, get away with the one-page plan to the point that no one literally asks the question about the rest of the stuff. But, it takes a lot of things to happen for most people to get to the other side of that ball of yarn, to get to the other side of that magic. As an advisor, I think I'm there for my career. I've experienced that transition. You're there in your career. A lot of advisors are. But, I do think there is an aspect of where you are in that transition that when you're not there yet, there's more demand for that plan. And not to say that it's bad to start with that one-page plan and what you're setting up, but when you get to the how section, the questions of, usually I don't say it this way, but justify that, validate that, where did that number come from, why are you saying that's the recommendation? How do I know that's really right? It is different now than it was then and the way you bridge that gap when you don't have the credibility yet is, "Let me show you. I did my homework. Here it is, all 57 pages of glory.”
Carl: I totally agree with all that and I think it's kind of...I wanted to cover it because I wanted to make sure we didn't leave any open loops of doubt in people's heads. It is kind of a tangent because in the end, we're saying, I completely agree, which is, I still think...and I love what you...that was really well said, that if you're not there yet. So, in other words, if I wasn't there yet, and by there, I mean on the other side of complexity, I've already considered this, I've been through this 57,000 times, right? I've punched these numbers in. I know what I'm doing. I don't have to say any of those words but the feeling comes across. If you're not there yet, in other words, your confidence level isn't 10% above the problem you're trying to solve, then when you say to Christine, "Would you like to say 2-inch thick plan?" She says yes more often than she says no, right?
Carl: Totally get it. But, I do think that's a question, I think there's actually a way to think about that, which is you can walk into a meeting and feel really confident if these are problems that are 10% below your confidence level. I don't know if 10%'s the right number, right? And over time, you're going to be moving that up and your pattern recognition skills are going to become...now, you or I or half the planet who is listening to this walk in and in 30 seconds, you're like, "Yup, yup, yup."
Michael: “Yeah, I know how this goes.”
Carl: You know exactly where we're going. But, all of that aside, in both scenarios, I still think having a document that sits on top of that plan, that is called a one-page plan or an executive summary, even if you want to reference it, literally footnote it so that you know where all of the pieces are, in fact, that's actually a brilliant idea to say, "Here's the whole thing. Here, I made it easy on you. This is what matters. It's referenced to the pages if you want to check the analysis." It's still a super powerful.
Michael: You won me with audit trail. You won me with an audit trail. Foot notes and an audit trail.
Carl: Is that what that's...I should have used audit trail. Yes. With an audit trail. Perfect.
Michael: Glorious. Glorious.
Carl: Yeah, so that's how I would use it.
Michael: So, one-page plan with an audit trail.
Carl: One-page plan with an audit trail. And the way I think that becomes powerful is it becomes the tangible document that works us through the process of planning. Because I don't know if anybody's figured this out yet, but the plan is never done. Right?
Michael: I think the challenge I put forth, just for people who are listening as we wrap up, that I do think is a good experiment because you do make a good point, Carl, that we are not always actually the best judges of ourselves of where we are on that credibility spectrum sometimes. Well, some people give themselves more confidence, credibility than they deserve but they manage to fake it 'til they make it. Some of us don't give ourselves enough credit for it. So, try this with your next half a dozen clients and see how many of them actually ask for the proof.
Michael: How many go down the audit trail. And just see, just see.
Carl: Yeah, take it one step further. Ask them, "Would you like to see it?" I was shocked at how often people said no. “I know, I got it. I can see it sitting there on the desk. I don't need to open that thing,” right? Because I think you're right, this audience, I'm almost positive the bulk of this audience is giving themselves too little credit. Right? And you don't realize how good you are and how much experience you have, even if you have very little experience, just make sure you're matching confidence to the problem you're solving. But, even in those cases, you know more than you think. People trust you more than you think, especially if you diagnosed right. We don't have to have all the asterisks around, unless you're a crook. None of the people listening to this. You just try it. I think that's an awesome challenges.
Michael: Awesome. Well, thank you, Carl.
Carl: Pleasure. Thanks, Michael.
Matthew Jarvis, CFP(r) says
Preach On Brothers! 🙂
I’ve been using one-page financial plans in my practice for more than a decade, ever since I first learned about them from Ken Unger and Tom Gau, the latter of which had been using them in his practice for years. I don’t have an exact count, but some quick math puts me at 100+ one-page plans delivered during that time, the vast majority of which resulting in the prospect becoming a client. In Kitces.com/7 I talk about a prospect I won away from top firms, specifically because of a one-page plan.
I purchased Carl’s book on the topic as soon as it came out as he was the only other person I’d heard talk about the idea. I must confess however that I was sad that neither his book nor this podcast contained any sample one-page plans (ideally ones used successful with a client). That said, I’ve never seen anyone share their financial plans publicly, so this compliant isn’t specific to Carl.
To help further the discussion on one-page plans, and maybe to help our industry finally start sharing our work, here is a copy of my most recent one-page plan, redacted for privacy (yes the prospect became a client). I do have a couple of pages of illustrations that go with the plan (e.g. Guardrails, net worth statement), so maybe it’s not technically one page, but it’s the spirit that counts right? 🙂
Terry Rocks says
Thanks for sharing Mike
Steve Smith says
Do you really do all the work (for free?) to prepare a one-page plan for a “prospect” before they become a “client”?
Terry Rocks says
I don’t mean to sound weird, however, this article, the wisdom shared, even Matthew’s comment is like answered prayer to a major internal battel I have been having that is even keeping me up at night. Thank you for sharing…you never know who might need to hear what you share or where you have been. God is good! Mike Kitces helps empower the industry to stay focused on the main thing so we can help more people that need us. Thank you!