I had a really great moment the other day with a client. We got together to talk about some updates to their plan and in so doing, I had a chance to think about how far this family had come. You see, they’ve been my client now for nearly 20 years. And in that space of time, we’ve seen tremendous changes in their lives and their financial situation.
As I was driving away from our meeting, I couldn’t help but reflect on the differences between their financial situation today and where they were back then. This reminded me of the importance of having a plan and sticking to it over time. But that’s not the only thing I pondered.
I wondered how their situation would have turned out if I had not been there with them all along the way? This couple never made an important financial or life decision without consulting me. I always felt a sense of partnership with them, like we were all pulling in the same direction. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how important our long-term association has been for all of us. I’d like to share with you the five biggest benefits that my clients realize from our close relationship.
Let’s call them Bill and Janet
To ensure client privacy, I’m going to change some details and the names of the family. But rest assured that the situation I’m about to describe is one I see all the time. Let’s call this couple Bill and Janet.
When they first came to me, Bill and Janet were in their mid-40s. Bill was a successful executive at a growing company and Janet ran a small but highly profitable consulting firm. Their annual household income was high, but so were their expenses.
Bill and Janet had investments in a few different places. Bill had a 401k and profit-sharing program at work. Janet had both a 401k and an IRA. They had a good relationship with a broker through their local bank and thought their investments were on par for their age and goals. All of the charts and graphs they had seen seemed to suggest this.
Bill and Janet had three children, one in middle school and two in high school with the oldest going into her senior year. Bill and Janet’s priority was their family and they really wanted to spend what little free time they had with their children.
They began to realize their broker relationship was investment advice only and was not taking into consideration other facets of their financial situation such as retirement, estate, taxes, insurance and education planning. Too many important details were being overlooked. So they began to search for someone to help them build and manage a comprehensive financial plan that was customized to their needs.
After our initial meeting with Bob and Janet it was clear to me the complexity of their situation was overwhelming them. When the work day was over, they didn’t want to sit in front of a computer and carry out the tasks of financial planning. They wanted to attend soccer games and music recitals and enjoy family movie night.
When Bill and Janet first married, they were financially disciplined. They didn’t have a lot so they learned to live on a budget. But as their income went up so did their discretionary expenses. Unfortunately, their annual savings did not increase at the same pace. After several years of not paying close attention to the details, Bill admitted that he didn’t know where the last 15 years had gone.
Since no one was looking at all of the details of their financial situation, I took the time to ask a lot of questions. I heard three overriding goals that were the most important to them:
- They wanted to retire in 15 years, in their early 60s and they wanted to maintain their current lifestyle throughout their golden years.
- They wanted to fund their children’s college, primarily because Bill and Janet never got this support when they were young.
- They wanted to enjoy their life along the way. They were all for saving for the future, but they didn’t want to sacrifice the joys of family life, vacations and a comfortable home.
When we had finished this process, I gave Bill and Janet my assessment of their situation. This was not easy to say. While they thought they were doing okay and just needed someone to help organize things a bit better, my message to them was quite different.
Based on their current income and investment plan, reasonable projections on rates of return and the cost of their desired lifestyle in retirement, they would not be able to retire at their desired age. To retire in their early 60s and keep their current lifestyle, they would need to make significant changes.
But more than this, they didn’t realize how at-risk they were across several key areas. Their estate plan had not been updated after their second and third children were born. They meant to do it, but it just never got done. They were under-insured in both life and property and casualty insurance
My role was, and continues to be, their financial quarterback. I help Bill and Janet outline their priorities and action steps and provide ongoing monitoring of their financial plan to ensure they achieve their long range goals.
The first few years were hard. We talked more about the B-word, dare I say it – Budget – than they would have liked. I think they got sick of me saying budget, budget, budget. But here’s the thing about Bill and Janet. They’re not quitters. When they set their sights on a goal and make a quality decision to achieve it, they are committed.
Their commitment paid off. The kids all want to good colleges and graduated. In fact, the children were inspired by the financial discipline they saw in their parents. Shortly after graduation, each child set a meeting with me to talk about their financial futures.
Today, Bill and Janet have a comfortable home. They worked hard for years, lived within their budget and were disciplined about their annual savings. Just last year, Bill retired. Janet plans to work part time for another couple of years and then retire. Based on their current spending habits, their wealth should outlive them.
The five benefits
When I think about the relationships I’ve built with clients like Janet and Bill, I keep coming back to these five major benefits. When you build a long-term strategy with a financial advisor who looks at your entire situation, not just investments, you get:
- Someone who can make order out of chaos.
- Someone who knows your entire situation managing your financial plan.
- Someone who can manage your financial team.
- Someone to help you make the big decisions in life.
- Someone who makes sure the work gets done.
Someone who can make order out of chaos
This may be the biggest benefit of all. When I first started working with Janet and Bill, their documents were all over the place. There were lots of paper stacks and none of them were coordinated or worked together. They had checking accounts, investment accounts, mortgage documents, insurance papers, estate documents and even tax forms.
One afternoon we gathered all of these together and I began to review them. I got my team involved and we dug into the details on all of these different documents. We discovered a number of ugly warts that really needed to be addressed.
Bill and Janet placed these documents on their kitchen table with a sigh of relief. They had intended for so long to do the hard work of scrutinizing the documents and making sure the details were all completed. But they hadn’t done it.
Within a few months, I was able to organize their documents and organize their financial situation into a dashboard that they could understand. I made order of out of chaos for them. But more than that, I gave them a plan that was customized to their goals and unique situation.
Looking back, all these years later, Bill and Janet still talk about that kitchen table moment. Within a few short months, they went from feeling as if their financial lives were an unruly mess to feeling as if they had a plan. That gave them confidence and peace of mind.
So this raises an important question. Who is helping you build a comprehensive financial plan that makes order out of chaos?
Someone who knows your entire situation managing your financial plan
My clients often tell me that I know them better than nearly anyone else. I know more about my clients, in some cases, than their own children or family members. The questions I ask help me get right to the core of what matters to them.
This is what it takes to build a plan that is customized to your unique situation. Any computer today can spit out a financial plan once you enter a few parameters. Some of those plans aren’t half bad, if you are young and your financial situation isn’t complex.
But a computer will never understand your tone of voice as you discuss and search for priorities. A computer won’t see the strain in your face as you worry about the decisions your children are making. A computer won’t feel the sting of losing a beloved parent.
All of these moments in life have financial consequences. I guess my question for you is this. Who knows you well enough to help you make the important financial decisions in life so that what you want to see happen actually does happen?
Someone who can manage your financial team
Financial success is a team sport. It is exceptionally rare that my clients will go through an entire year without needing input from another professional advisor besides me. I have a great team. But we are not experts in everything.
Usually my clients have a CPA, an insurance advisor or two, an estate lawyer and sometimes a close relationship with a bank. But I am the quarterback who brings all of these players together in the huddle. I work with them to get the best game plan. I also follow-up with them to ensure the details that matter actually get done.
This not only saves my clients a lot of time and energy. It also frees them up to focus on their family and careers. So my question to you is this – who is your financial quarterback?
Someone to help you make the big decisions in life
All of my clients face cross-roads in life, the moments when big decisions need to be made. Often these decisions have irreversible consequences. Get the decisions right and you move ahead. Get the decisions wrong and you suffer.
But a close working relationship with me allows my clients to see things from a different perspective. Over the many years that I worked with Bill and Janet, we made hundreds of decisions together, most of which had some bearing on their financial outcomes.
But a few key decisions took a lot of thinking and soul-searching. Janet’s aging mother required 24-hour care for that last two years of her life. Social Security only paid a tenth of this. Their middle child, clearly bright and gifted, was accepted into an ivy-league school where the annual tuition would have made a huge dent in their retirement plans. An investment property became available in their neighborhood for a very good price, but the mortgage was not in our financial projections.
What to do? What to do? What to do?
Fortunately, they didn’t have to make these decisions alone. I listened to them and talked about options. I even had my team conduct research on several of these opportunities to create a better set of options than what Bill and Janet had been considering. More than that, I helped take out some of the emotion from these decisions by showing them in clear, black and white numbers, exactly how the decision they wanted to make would impact their wealth.
So again, I have to ask. Who is helping you think through the big decisions in your life?
Someone who makes sure the work gets done
Let’s face it. Life gets in the way. Our best laid plans are often abandoned due to a heavy work schedule and vibrant family and social life. I am a firm believer that we are not in life to have more work but in work to have more life.
But someone has to make sure the details are managed. Some details are so time sensitive that you only get one chance to complete them. For instance, if you are under-insured and you have a major accident, especially in today’s economic healthcare environment, you could be looking at major loss to your wealth.
But like Bill and Janet, most affluent families don’t want to spend their free time thinking about the details. They get enough of that at work. So who can take responsibility to ensure that the right things get done at the right time? That’s my job.
Most hard working affluent families find it within their reach to earn money. They’re good at that. But keeping money… That is a whole other thing altogether. If you find that your situation feels like Bill and Janet, before they started working with me, let’s have a conversation. Who knows? A great long-term relationship just might blossom.
The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only. No illustration or content in it should be construed as a substitute for informed professional tax, legal, and/or financial advice.