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How Co-Planning Deepens the Advisor-Client Relationship



Written by: John Anderson | SEI Practically Speaking 

This originally appeared on SEI’s Practically Speaking.

Maybe it is the start of a new daily schedule in the household, or the thought of our sons hitting the books again – for me, fall is always a time to get serious about things. This is also the time of year that I see advisors stepping up their meetings and reviews with clients. And with the recent volatility, it is a great time for you to meet with clients and collaboratively plan – or co-plan – with them.

We’ve been doing it wrong
Traditionally, financial plans have always been created “on behalf of” or “for” the client, not with the client. Whether it is on a spreadsheet (or the back of an envelope) or using sophisticated software, the advisor typically works long hours, starting with the client’s current situation and projecting out if the client can reach his/her/their goals. The plan is presented and almost immediately forgotten by the client, as they go back to their busy lives.

Advisors, of course, enable clients to forget, since most of their ongoing communications are about investment accounts and performance, rather than a plan. Joint ownership of the plan can make for a better, more successful relationship. Joint ownership of the plan can keep the client focused on the right things. So how do you get them to co-own the plan with you?

1.  Remember that (paper)less is more.
The first thing about co-planning is starting with the paperwork. Think about the hours that you and your client put into the planning process, especially all the paperwork they have to provide (account statements, wills, etc.). You have the data; share it back.

Many advisors are now using client portals, so there is two-way communications and sharing between the client and advisor. Allow clients access to the plan and any updated information in real time, rather than waiting for meetings or snail mail. Think about it – for many clients, this will be the first time that both spouses know exactly where all their financial information lives. Sharing and communicating this important information is a critical first step in co-planning.

2. “Test drive” decisions in an easy-to-understand way using planning software.
The second area of co-planning is really about the software. After the release of our whitepaper, “The Next Wave of Financial Planning,” we were inundated with questions about which software advisors should use and what we would recommend. I think many of the people who asked were disappointed (or at least surprised) in our answer; we typically suggested that they look at their existing software first.

Many of the newer planning software vendors, as well as updated versions from the more established firms, offer scenario planning. Think about the power of being able to visually show the consequences of a retirement nest egg if a client retires at 65 vs. 70. What does cash flow look like if little Johnnie chooses a state school vs. an Ivy League one?

Remember, don’t look for new planning software – look within first. Are you utilizing all the tools that you have available to you? Do you need to retrain yourself and your staff on what it can do? Maximize your current technology first, before turning to something different. You may also want to start with some of your more tech-savvy clients – you’ll see how they feel the ownership of the co-plan.

3. Show and tell in a big way.
As I visit advisors’ offices around the country, I have noticed a few trends as it relates to planning and services meetings. Flat screen TVs and large monitors have been pushed into the conference rooms, instead of the waiting rooms. I’ve also seen advisors travel with laptop projectors for use in a client’s  home or business. (I know there are a number of you who use video conferencing for the update and planning meetings, too.) When the advisor and the client are looking at the screen and working together, it’s clear that everyone is more invested in the plan’s success.

In it together
A few weeks ago, we got a supply list from our kids’ teachers. Crayons and colored pencils have given way to calculators and flash drives. Back to school for advisors could mean a new way of working with your clients.

Think about it: When we work out the plan together, there’s more buy in. It isn’t the plan you created anymore; it is OUR plan with OUR goals and assumptions. The more clients work with the plan, the more confidence they have in all that you do.

 So tell me: Whose plan are you working on – yours or “ours”?

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