Consumers who hire financial advisors today want a 360-degree, ongoing view of their financial health, agreed well-known advice industry panelists.
“More than ever, financial wellness is at the forefront of financial advice delivery, and consumers that hire professional help are looking at more than just their investments or insurance in a vacuum — they are seeking a holistic view of their financial health and becoming more financially fit because of it,’’ said Keena B. Pettijohn, CEO and founder of the consulting company Lifelogixs.
She moderated a panel discussion recently on “Financial Wellness – The Year of Client Care,’’ at the AdviceTech.Live virtual conference. Other participants included Mitch Anthony, president of Advisor Insights Inc. and author of more than 20 books; Toussaint Bailey, CEO of Enso Wealth; and Mac Gardner, CFP and founder FinLit Tech.
Financial literacy is an urgent issue that needs attention, Pettijohn said, because it affects everything from household finances to lifestyle choices. She said that recent surveys show that about “138 million Americans lack financial health.’’
Eight out of 10 are living paycheck to paycheck, and 37 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to cover one $500 emergency, she said.
Return On Life
Anthony said that being sensitive to clients’ needs makes financial sense. “I’ve been in this profession 27 years, and I know it sounds touchy feely-gooey, but the one term that I use to describe financial wellness is Return on Life: the goal is to get the best life possible with the money that you have. Think about the relationship you have with money and how you are managing it.
“If I have too much debt, if I’m spending more than I make, and I’m not protecting myself from risks that hurt me, then I’m not financially well.
“Asking yourself these questions goes to your comfort level, goes to anxiety and fear and addresses all the internal and external forces. You can get the best life possible with the money you have and it doesn’t take a lot of money to do that,’’ Anthony said.
Bailey said he smiles when he hears someone say “return on life.”
“Financial well being is simply to an extent about our general wellness, and our general wellness is either being served or being impeded by our finances,” Bailey added. “I think of all the things in life that are necessary to accomplish for wellness, the primary are feeding ourselves and making sure our family is taken care of.’’
Gardner, also a CFP licensee, has spent more than 20 years guiding clients toward financial wellness. “Financial wellness is so big, it affects many different aspects of our lives — psychologically, emotionally, physically, mentally. To achieve financial wellness, you need financial literacy, education. You need to combine that with financial tools to be able to do things. Technology can help us do that.’’
Financial tools can be meaningful meetings with clients, Anthony commented. “You can ask how they use money; what are their perspectives on debt, or whether they don’t mind using other peoples’ money as a form of leverage. What is their comfort level with debt?’’
Emotions play a big when people talk about money, the panelists agreed.
“We get emotional when we discuss money,” Anthony said, “but you have to discuss things like transitions: marriage, a child at home, the empty nester, buying a second home. Are you financially prepared for these life events? You can be proactive about preparing for your future.’’
Pettijohn said understanding spending, saving and debt behavior are tools that advisors can use to guide their clients toward financial wellness. “What are the other tools that, as professional advisors, we can offer to make better outcomes and alleviate financial stress? Sixty percent of Americans are feeling stress over finances.’’
One tool is to teach children about finances, the earlier the better, Gardner said. “If you have children, teach them good habits which become good behavior. Understand what needs to be done on a regular basis because it’s a lot easier as you transition to various later stages to have that understanding early.’’
Bailey agreed. “I’ll double click that! I am seeing scenes of my daughters, and they are doing their lists early, so I am grateful for your work, Mac in understanding this: that it makes financial literacy so much easier later in life if you give it that push — that Mac has made at early education — at an early age.’’
Bailey said among some of his HNW clients, their return on life is achieved through pro bono work. “There’s a return on life, an uplift, that comes from giving. It has a fulfilling impact on the self to help others. We help clients in doing for others, covering the spectrum from philanthropy and investing,’’ Bailey said.
Quantifying Financial Wellness
Pettijohn wanted to know if the panelists could “boil down financial wellness to a number.’’
Anthony said he doesn’t think so much about numbers but rather, what does money accomplish. “What is the best thing that your money can do — freedom, the opportunity to help others, to help yourself? At the end of the day, is your relationship with money paying off?’’
Pettijohn asked the panelists if they ask ‘”feeling’’ questions of their clients, such as “are you confident about saving for a comfortable retirement?’’
“We are talking about empathy and the courage needed to be advisors. Really, in getting to understand your client, we need the willingness to overstep our bounds, go beyond the balance sheet. That leads to meaningful conversation,’’ Bailey said.
And what “soft skills’’ do financial advisors need?
“Be curious about other people. Be genuinely curious about what money represents to them. Give them the opportunity to articulate what money means,’’ Anthony said.
“Be willing to jostle with the client because that leads to an engaged conversation. Get them to self-actualize, be a master of awareness,’’ Bailey said.
“Financial wellness has nothing do with the numbers on your balance sheet and your net worth. We know that from people who have a bunch of money and are still not financially well. There are so many layers to a person, so stay curious and be empathetic. Don’t have preconceived ideas, you want to help this person,’’ Gardner said.
Pettijohn said that she insists on getting to know her clients’ children’s and pets name before they talked about money.
Gardner said when you get to know a client, three things are uppermost in the conversation: what they think about family, finances and the future.
“We play a very powerful role in our clients’ lives, and we are in an amazing innovative age, where technology allows us to do things on an amazing scale. If you are leading with your heart and caring, this is the time to be in our business, because you can really help,’’ Gardner said.
AdviceTech.live is a virtual platform of advisor technology. This year’s benefactor partner of the webinar was the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) (www.ffpprobono.org), a non-profit that provides pro bono financial guidance to families in need. Fifty-percent of ticket sales benefited FFP and its charitable programs.