Last week I had an interesting conversation with a client. It sticks out because, as most of you in business will know, too often our meetings with colleagues, suppliers and clients follow an almost predetermined path. We make small-talk, get to the point of the conversation and then spend the rest of the meeting negotiating. We leave the meeting satisfied or not depending to what extent we got what we were looking for, and often we simply keep the rest in mind for the next time.
What made the conversation interesting was that the client asked a question that I hear very rarely; Why am I doing this?
It wasn’t meant as an insult, though of course it could have been interpreted as such. Rather it was a genuine question that forced me to address the essence of what it is I do for clients. Because at the end of the day, while this client was more than satisfied with my service offering, my standard of care and level of expertise, I had somehow forgotten to remind them of the bigger picture.
I’m happy to admit that in my line of business – Financial Services – it’s quite easy to get focused on the minutiae. Recent articles by me have focused on the merits of particular methods of investing, the types of funds available and the technological developments in the area. I genuinely believe this is all valid information to bring to your attention, and as it’s an area that I am interested in and knowledgeable about, I am happy to share it to as wide an audience as possible. However, where I believe many business people, owners especially, can cause themselves problems, is in believing that this information is as interesting to the general public as to themselves! I know it’s not just me. I’ve sat in a mechanic’s office for an hour being lectured on the intricacies of my recently serviced engine, blankly nodding so as to not cause offense. I’ve listened politely as my solicitor went through my will line by line, appreciating the importance of every clause, but not really paying attention.
At the end of the day, we all have our own reasons for looking for assistance. It may be forced, as in the case of a mechanic, or discretionary like in my own line of work. In any case, I believe what we all want answered, in as clear a manner as possible, is the question ‘why am I doing this’?
My own industry, Financial Services, is guilty more than most of fudging the answer to this question, or of preventing it from being asked at all. Despite the best intentions of consumer advocacy groups and the likes, much of the language associated with finance is convoluted. It’s also a very fragmented area, with different ‘experts’ responsible for what should be similar services. Also, the method by which people pay for this service is opaque, leading to major concerns about whose intentions are best served. Therefore, even if you think you know what you want, it can be hard to ask the right person the right questions.
It doesn’t have to be this way of course. If we really break it down to its core message, financial advice is about answering a few key questions in as straightforward a manner as possible:
• What do I need to do right now to ensure I can have the life I want at some point in the future?
• Right now, what does this future look like?
• How much do I need to earn, save or invest to ensure I get this future?
• What can I do to make sure I reach that future no matter what happens?
• And of course the biggest question that needs answering is, ‘How Much Is Enough’?
These questions can be answered, but only in a manner that runs contrary to most financial services interactions. It requires that an advisor listen to their client rather than talk to them, and present the destination rather than the journey. It’s not to say that the answers to these questions shouldn’t come with all the fundamentals of financial planning – investment advice, product recommendations etc. – but they should simply be the tools that are employed by the expert in assisting you to get there. To return to the analogy of the mechanic; I don’t really care how they fix my car I just want to know that it’s fixed.
Curran Financial Services offer Fee-Based Financial Planning.
For an initial consultation see www.financial-planning.ie or ring 091-861001.