Written by Ben Rosholt, Wealth Advisor
The day should have felt normal. I was getting ready to spend a few hours talking about financial planning; goals, concerns, cash flow, insurance, investments, traditional vs. Roth, blah, blah blah. But this particular day was different. I wasn’t heading to my office. I was going to the office of my financial planner…. and I was nervous.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the industry of financial services. Primarily, I think about what the future will hold. (stay tuned for a future blog about the history of financial planning) You see, I have been aware of financial services my whole life. My dad changed careers as a banker to a financial planner in 1985 just a month before my 5th birthday. It is amazing to see the changes that have taken place over his 30+ year career. We have gone from insurance agents to investment managers to financial advisors to financial planners. The shift is highlighting a move to being more comprehensive and looking at the whole picture. And very recently, there is a shift from the idea of our services as an industry deploying financial commodities to a group of professionals. To be a profession, there must be a uniform standard of education and ethics. While the education is present in the exams we must pass, the ethics portion is more ambiguous. Take the medical profession as an example. First, the Hippocratic Oath requires that the physician do-no-harm. In much of financial services this is not the case. However, there is new regulation from the Department of Labor that seeks to to morally and legally require a financial planner to put the interests of the client ahead of their own. Secondly, a medical professional should not treat herself. This is where the wheels fall off. First of all, we all know that financial planners are the smartest people in the world. And if you didn’t already know that, just ask us. So we have the inflated ego to overcome. Secondly, as a group we tend to be competitive and don’t want to show a peer how well off, or not, we are.
A few months back I attended a mastermind group of your financial planners in Minneapolis. We were all connected by a common acquaintance and frankly, I was completely flattered that Brittany thought of inviting me. At our first meeting we spent a lot of time getting to know each other’s history. It was amazing that although we all share similar credentials and job titles, our businesses were very different. One of the group members, Laura, came off extremely sincere, nurturing and smart. Her business focuses on young professionals who pay her an hourly fee for financial planning. I decided before leaving that meeting that she might be the solution to my predicament. Laura knew nothing about my personal life and wasn’t connected to me in any way other than the study group. She would be able to give me unbiased advice beyond what anyone at my own firm could possibly achieve. After speaking with my wife, Meghan, I reached out to Laura and asked to become one of her clients. I was going to do it. For the first time in my life, I was going to become the client.
Changing from financial planner to financial planning client is not easy. Laura and I started in financial services around the same time and have both passed the CFP® exam. I found during the first real meeting with the three of us that I was anticipating her questions or answering with industry jargon rather than in the language that a typical client would have. I was ruining the experience for Meghan. With that realization, I let myself relax and, for the first time, actually began listening to the conversation we were having. By doing that, I was able to see that Laura was asking good questions and actively listening. I had to chuckle when it quickly became apparent she is better at that part of the job than I am.
At the end of the first meeting, we were given our list of documents to gather and information to provide. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. It was a long list. I have 4 life insurance policies, 3 retirement accounts, 2 non-qualified accounts, a disability insurance policy, an umbrella liability insurance policy, auto insurance, health insurance, a mortgage, an auto loan, 3 bank accounts and 2 privately held business interests. And that is just for me. Meghan has most of this stuff too. Once you add in the tax return and social security statements, I was responsible for providing over 25 documents. This didn’t sound like fun anymore, especially when I thought about the fact that I was paying Laura by the hour. It took me a month to gather the documents. I basically just waited until a statement was issued for each item and then downloaded it. Not the fastest strategy, but it worked.
Next step; Laura do your thing. Admittedly, I don’t have the easiest of situations so it wasn’t a surprise when she asked for some clarifications. But soon after, she was ready to deliver the news. But would it be good news? This was the first time when it really occurred to me that she might identify something I had been blind to. I know that was literally the point of the whole experience. But still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to tell me I had made an error in the plan I had created for us years ago and that I had unknowingly set Meghan and I on a course to disaster (like I’m pretty sure Meghan’s parent’s assume). I found resolve in the fact that regardless of the outcome, it was better to find out now while there is still time to correct the path.
In the end, my fears were calmed. Laura had identified some areas that should be addressed and assigned us the tasks to make the changes. Her recommendations weren’t surprising, and I know she was correct about them. For example, the investment I have to pay for a heli-ski trip Meghan and I are taking in 2020 was 70% equities. I know an allocation like that is not appropriate for a 3 year time horizon in an aging economic expansion, but the growth has been so good lately! I was being greedy and she called me out on it. That’s what I needed. And now that I have someone holding me accountable, I am confident that my own blindness will not become a recurring issue.
In the end, I am very happy to have taken this step personally and professionally. I feel confident that Meghan and I can achieve the future we have dreamed of. And I am also thankful to have gone through the financial planning experience from the other side of the desk. I have new-found empathy for my clients and the items we task them with. But I also know that it’s worth it!
So, Dave and Marilyn, if you’re reading this please know that your daughter is on a good path. If you don’t believe me, you have my permission to call Laura
Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The views stated in this letter are not necessarily the opinion of any other named entity.
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