The legacy that Steve Jobs left behind last week as he passed away has been truly astounding; an outpouring of emotion and tribute from the world that is rarely seen outside of the death of beloved religious or political figures, as so many were touched by the technology that he created. And at the same time, criticisms have emerged as well - painting Jobs as a relentless micromanager with an obsession for ensuring that everything was exactly as he envisioned it. Yet the outcome of his process seems clear - a melding of incredible vision, and the execution of that vision which created tools we didn't even know we wanted or needed and made them an irreplaceable part of our lives. Perhaps the most amazing part, though, was the sheer simplicity and intuitive nature of the technology; although the design of Apple devices pushed the limits of what we can build and create and were based on incredible complexity, the customer experience was unparalleled in its simplicity. Which leads me to wonder... what would financial planning look like if we were as obsessed about the client experience as Steve Jobs was?
The inspiration for today's blog post is a combination of the recent articles and tributes I've been reading since the passing of Steve Jobs, and an ongoing discussion I've been having with several financial planners about how I fear that we are making financial planning an often unpleasant client experience.
For instance, look at the data gathering process for clients. We often claim that a virtue of the financial planning process is that your financial life will be more organized and in better order. Yet the reality is that we only achieve this result by giving clients extensive "homework" to get/gather all of their financial information in the first place; a challenge that is so intimidating that some clients probably back out of the process entirely, rather than admit that they - as a normal human being - might not have done a good job keeping track of everything, knowing where all their statements are, and being able to put forth their paperwork on request. Rather than making the data gathering process a positive, collaborative experience, it turns out instead to be a negative challenge that leads to client procrastination. Forcing clients to gather all their data up front may make it easier for us, but it's certainly not simple and intuitive for clients.
Or looks at the process for completing financial planning projections for clients. After going through an arduous data gathering process, we tell clients that we require several weeks to analyze their information, and schedule an appointment to present the results. If during the results meeting, the client wishes to look at a different version of the projection, we take the plan back, analyze for another several days/weeks, and schedule yet another meeting to re-present. The message to the client: these revisions and changes to the plan are complex and difficult (and you're inconveniencing me asking for them)... just accept what I'm giving you and let's move forward. So instead of giving clients the positive interactive experience of taking their plan for a test drive and making the process simple and intuitive for them, we give them a negative experience with a slow, back-and-forth iterative process.
Perhaps the issue is best embodied in the YouTube clip below - one of many "Mac vs PC" commercials that ran over the past decade.
As the punchline of the commercial notes, sometimes it's not even about competing on good old-fashioned features and benefits. Sometimes people just want a product "that's simple and intuitive, that works the way they do" that gives them a good experience. Keep the amazing complexity under the hood; people want to trust and know it's there, but they don't need to see the sausage being made. They just want a simple and intuitive experience and a process that works the way they do.
What could we change about financial planning, to make it more simple and intuitive - for the client! - and work the way they do, rather than fitting clients into working the way WE do? What do you think?