Something big and important is lacking in the process of getting financial advice today. That’s the basic challenge put forward by practitioners of a new approach to personal finance called Financial Life Planning.
Life Planning begins with a notion that will seem either blindingly obvious or trivial at first, namely that financial advisors should first discover their clients’ most essential goals and aspirations before developing financial recommendations. That’s straightforward enough. What’s so different about that?
The issue is that traditionally financial advisors have focused on the numbers—budgeting, investments, taxes, estate planning, or insurance–without exploring the broader context of a client’s life.
And most people approach advisors with similarly preconceived ideas. They put their questions in financial terms: I want to “grow my portfolio”, “save for retirement”, “get my spending under control”, or simply “get organized”. The assumption is that advisors are essentially financial wise men or engineers. Given the right inputs, they can figure out the best way to invest, pay down debt, reduce taxes, or just manage things better.
Life Planning approaches things from a more holistic standpoint. The Life Planning philosophy is founded on the idea that every human being strives to live a life of meaning and purpose. A financial advisor’s task must therefore begin with a discovery of each client’s unique aspirations—a process that is often complicated or confused by the client’s own fear or reluctance to share such sensitive yet meaningful content.
For most of us, our deeper passions are closely-guarded because at some point in life they have been forgotten or stymied. Almost everyone necessarily chooses security and predictability at some point in the process of entering adulthood, and those choices can eventually feel like a straightjacket. Life becomes boring and empty of vitality. When we remember our earlier hopes and dreams, we feel a residue of resignation, even shame. Life Planners help break through these self-imposed limitations by asking some big questions to help us consider what truly matters.
Big questions like:
“If you had all the time or money you needed, what would you do?”
“What do you want to do or be so in the end you will feel that you’ve lived fully?”
“How do you want to be remembered by your friends and children?”
The results are often startlingly powerful.
A Wall Street trader leaves his job for the life of an innkeeper and artist. The workaholic accountant finally takes a decent vacation and reconnects with his teenage kids. The bored middle manager ignites her passion to open the restaurant she’s always dreamed of. A burned-out school teacher takes a leave of absence, rediscovers his love of teaching, and finds a new position closer to his innate interests.
Time and again, Life Planners find that clients harbor submerged or unattended dreams that, once articulated, unleash tremendous enthusiasm and vigor. Long delayed aspirations get hauled onto the front burner. Energy-sapping obligations are cast aside.
At the Kinder Institute, we think Financial Life Planning is so essential that we consider it the future of the entire financial advisory profession. If a clear-eyed advisor can help us dispel some of our money anxieties and truly connect to our deeper dreams and aspirations, it can free us from the knee-jerk pursuit of more money and possessions that will otherwise waste the most precious years of our lives.