By AYO MSEKA
For NAIFA past resident Paul Dougherty, the best strategy an advisor can use to help improve his client’s financial wellness is to serve as the client’s financial fitness coach.
Like so many deeply personal issues, talking to people about their money elicits a broad array of responses from them, Dougherty said during a recent interview.
What may be a meager sum and cause for concern to one client may represent the proud total life savings of another. What is consistent, however, is the client’s feeling of empowerment when they achieve a full and complete understanding of their financial picture.
Some basic tools an advisor uses while working with clients may address items such as budgeting, debt management, basic investment strategies, planning for college or retirement, and protecting against risk every step of the way.
But other circumstances may require more advanced planning. These include helping an employer create a benefits package for their workers, the purchase or sale of a business, or protecting family members who have special needs or long-term care requirements.
Each of these circumstances requires a unique perspective — the client’s perspective — to recognize what may be required, according to Dougherty. But it takes the advisor with the necessary experience to apply what he knows to the challenges at hand. As advisors, he said, we often say that we can look around corners and see what the client can’t see — challenges, risks and solutions.
Financial-wellness strategies and tools are far more common now than they have ever been and can be accessed through a variety of platforms. Consumers can learn about strategies to save and invest without leaving their homes or offices.
However, data and surveys show us that clients who use a professional advisor save more money, are more disciplined with their investments and have a more successful retirement.
There are reasons why gyms and fitness centers generate over $30 billion per year in the United States, Dougherty pointed out. One reason is that even though you can do a pushup or situp pretty much anywhere, you will be more successful when you commit to a plan, engage a professional trainer and put yourself in the right environment for success.
Advisors should act like financial-wellness trainers to their clients. In this scenario, Dougherty explained, the advisor (the trainer) helps clients identify what they need to address, what steps it will take to get there and how to gain the discipline they need to achieve those goals.
It is also critical that advisors revisit their clients’ plans often to ensure they are functioning the way the clients expect them to function and to address any changing circumstances that may require them to tweak or restructure their strategy.
This is critical because many things can change in a year — life and family changes, home and work changes, investment and market changes. The client you have may look different a year from now, Dougherty said. So, while “checking in” once a year may have been the expectation a generation ago, it no longer is.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon advisors to find out how often their clients expect them to stay in touch and how they want to hear from them as their “financial fitness coach.”
At a time when it has never been easier to communicate, clients are inundated with information, Dougherty added. News headlines, social media feeds, emails and texts are popping up on their computer screens and lighting up their phones to the point at which “phantom vibration syndrome” is now a diagnosed condition.
As advisors, it’s important to communicate with your clients not only at the right time, but with the right content as well. Forwarding a pertinent article that you think your client will find of interest may be just as impactful as leaving a voicemail message or sending a text. And although compliance requirements may constrict the format in which advisors reach out to clients, relationships will survive.
The bottom line in serving the financial services market is to know your clients, Dougherty said. “Know their needs and goals and know how they need you as their financial fitness coach to keep them on track. So, grab your towel and water bottle and don’t be afraid to break a sweat!”