I'm a CFP® But Don't Call Me a Planner

Written By: Ken Van Leeuwen

I’m proud to have earned the designation of Certified Financial Planner (CFP ® ), but I dislike being called a “planner.”

To me that description connotes someone who meets a client, asks them to fill out a personal information questionnaire and risk tolerance assessment, then a couple of weeks later hands that client a thick binder containing their “plan.” From there on it is up to the client to put that plan into action either with that advisor or someone else, thereby increasing the possibility of further inaction.

Don’t get me wrong, creating comprehensive financial plans for clients is something my firm does and something we do very well. However, creating a plan is only the beginning is one component of the services that we provide.

After learning my craft while working with some of the biggest names on Wall Street, I started a financial planning and wealth management firm more than 20 years ago with one simple purpose—to get to know each of my clients deeply enough to understand what is important to them and then to do everything I can to make their goals a reality.

Unfortunately, many in our profession take the opposite approach and have a one-size fits all solution to their clients’ financial scenarios. But it should be obvious to any professional that every client’s situation is unique to them and a solution for one will not necessarily work for another.

Client relationships should be built on a deep and honest bond between advisor and client, through which a truly personalized master financial plan can be developed. Trust is an important part of developing such a relationship and operating from a fiduciary mindset, one in which the client’s needs always comes first, is key to establishing that trust. An advisor’s role should be to always put the client’s goals, objectives, and concerns at the forefront as the two work together to create a comprehensive financial strategy .

It is also important to realize that an advisor/client relationship is not a “set it and forget it” proposition and that a financial plan is not something to be put on the bookshelf and only looked at again around tax time each year. The plan an advisor draws up for a young couple in their 30s should be vastly different from the plan for a client in their 50s. A plan is not something carved in stone, but a living, breathing document that will evolve over as the client moves through the various stages of life. As their circumstances change—children, education expenses, promotions or job loss, caring for elderly parents —their plan must change as well.

An Advisor is More Than Just a Planner

These are just some of the reasons I think that being a financial advisor involves so much more than just picking stocks and managing assets. It involves being an organic wealth manager; one who plans from the roots and offers advice while working with clients to help them realize their life visions. A financial plan is an important part of that, but so is growing and managing a portfolio of assets, estate planning, tax management, and good old-fashioned unbiased advice.

I believe being an effective advisor involves four key elements: financial expertise, well-earned trust, responsiveness and highly personalized attention. Creating a viable financial plan is only one part of that equation. An advisor is someone who can help “make it happen” for their clients, whatever that “it” may be.

Consequently, I think as an industry we need to re-define what a planner is, in which trust and transparency are front and center and in which advisors stop trying to produce one-size fits all solutions to individual client issues .