Typically, financial planners highlight their service offering as being; advice on asset allocation, retirement planning, cash flow analysis, insurance, wealth protection, estate planning and so on.
But does that really encapsulate the benefit they bring to consumers? It may help to think about this in another way. For example, when you go to a car mechanic, what are you paying for? An annual service? New tyres? Collision repair?
Actually, what most people want from a car mechanic is that their car will get them safely, reliably and efficiently from Point A to Point B. They want the car serviced in good time, they want a fair estimate of what it will cost, an itemised bill and a guarantee on parts and repairs.
Likewise, the value of a good financial planner — at least in the eyes of most people — will often differ from the advertised services. To be sure, asset allocation and portfolio advice are important components. But these are really just means to desired ends.
What people are paying for is guidance to a goal, peace of mind, a sense of security, a feeling that someone has their back and an assurance that they will be OK whatever the world throws at them. Furthermore, people value a sense of structure about their financial lives, and an understanding of the choices at their disposal.
The technical tools that a financial planner employs — an understanding of what drives returns, the role of diversification, a knowledge of the tax system, the techniques in rebalancing portfolios — are without doubt critical components in delivering those desired outcomes. But they are not what people are paying for.
In fact, a sound financial planner will play a number of pivotal roles for their clients, none of which are in the typical job description. Here are seven of them:
Guide — Most people know what they want or, at least, know what they don’t want out of life. What’s often missing is a sense of how they can get there. A planner provides an independent plan, showing possible pathways and the trade-offs involved in each.
Teacher — Many people’s sense of what drives returns comes from the day-to-day noise in financial media. It is all about products and short-term returns. A good planner shows the client what drives long-term returns and connects this to their lives.
Coach — It is easy to make financial resolutions – to save more, to spend less, to grow wealth, to leave a legacy. It is not so easy sticking to them. A financial planner at his best will keep the client on their desired path and talk them off the ledge in anxious times.
Organiser — Our lives are busy. Jobs and family commitments leave little time for dealing with the minutiae of insurance, portfolio analysis and rebalancing, cash flow analysis and on and on. A good adviser takes care of this complexity and frees you to focus on what really matters to you.
Filter — The problem with the world right now is not in getting enough information. We are overloaded with the stuff. The challenge is finding the right information for us in a form we can digest. The right adviser becomes a trusted source and an information filter.
Counsellor — Few big choices in life are simple. There are always competing imperatives. Planners who can help you cut through the material stuff to your underlying values are worth their weight in gold. Yes, this is your life. But you still need someone outside your circle who can keep focused on the goal and true to yourself.
Lighthouse keeper — The best financial planners are not only looking at your circumstances as they are today, but what might be coming over the horizon to change all that. And they are mindful of your legacy – the welfare of future generations and how your wealth can keep working beyond your lifetime.
These seven roles are not exhaustive by any means. There are many other valuable services a planner provides. But hopefully it gives you a sense of the benefits a good planner brings.
Again, to use our car mechanic metaphor, a financial planner is not simply trying to fix your car, but is looking to ensure you and your family reach your desired destination safely and reliably while enjoying the journey along the way.
That is where the value lies.