by Staff reporter

Life and money: a dynamic duo

Placing clients in the centre

Life and money.jpg

Consider powerful combinations that have benefitted our world today: Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard; Bill Gates and Paul Allen; Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; Spielberg and Universal Pictures; brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald; and, dare I say, gin and tonic!

In recognition of this power of combinations, Chartered Wealth Solutions adopted its current philosophy of financial life planning seven years ago.

This philosophy places clients squarely in the centre of the financial plan, and clients are more than their money. Of course money is important, and I often joke with clients that money, as Zig Ziglar says, “can’t make you happy, but everyone wants to find out for themselves!” So, before we give any financial advice to a client, we first establish what that money is for.

Money is an enabler for something

The challenge is that our relationship with money never comes without some emotional triggers. Its importance grows into something so much more than an enabler.

Helping clients discover their money connection

Our financial planning process begins with making clients aware of the fact that they have a relationship with money. It is a bond that exists from cradle to grave, and the values that emerge from it influence every financial (and often life) decision that we make.

Our beliefs surrounding money are most often sub-conscious. As planners, we create comprehensive financial plans for our clients, and then are puzzled when they don’t stick to those plans. What we may fail to recognise is that their sub-conscious money messages speak louder than our appropriate advice. These messages may not be reality, but they trigger client behaviour and attitudes … often inconsistent with our finely-tailored financial plan. So, how do we help clients discover their relationship with money? A useful starting point is for them to explore their first money memory, likely to be found in their childhood. It has shaped their money relationship since then. This knowledge gives planners (and clients) insight into client behaviour, and ways in which we can help make the plan sustainable.

Create the dream

A second worthwhile enquiry for clients to follow is this: what would it look like if your life turned out well? We allow the client time for reflection, as not many can answer immediately. We create a safe space for the client to create their vision by using the Disney Dreaming method. This process encourages clients to silence that persistent internal critic to free them to explore their unfulfilled dreams. These aspirations are often buried quite deep in their subconscious and need gentle prompting to come to the surface.

Our internal critics are also difficult to ignore: they have told us what we can’t become, what we can’t do, what we can’t have, thereby limiting our lives.

Talking in tandem

We seldom conduct a financial life planning meeting with a client without their spouse or partner. These meetings often reveal that many couples avoid talking about money. Instead of evading conflict, issues often brew and breed stress and resentment. So, the best value a client can get out of a meeting may be in the courageous conversations they have with their partner, in a neutral forum with their planner. Here they can discuss their hopes and dreams, planning a life they both want and how their money will enable this life.

Client case study

Phil and Sue, clients in their early forties, were both medically diagnosed with burnout. Their early money memories revealed two very financially responsible individuals: they were raising a young family and supporting Sue's parents, who were without retirement funds. In addition, they were saving a huge part of their income for retirement, fearing losing their savings as had Sue’s parents.

Their focus in our meeting was how much more they needed to save monthly so they could retire as soon as possible. They wanted to find themselves again and heal from their burnout. They had even sold their house and were living in a granny flat to save money.

Through the Disney approach, they shared their dream: move to Cape Town with their two sons: weekends hiking in the mountains, riding bicycles. Phil would sell his business and consult to the same industry so he could relinquish all the responsibilities of managing people. Sue wanted to go back to university to become an accountant and work part-time. What they needed from the financial life planning meeting was the amount of money they would need to do this. A conventional approach might encourage them to work harder and keep saving into their fifties, when their children would be leaving high school. Certainly, they saw retirement as this utopian time when all their money problems would be solved. I challenged them to look at the situation with different eyes; to stop putting the life they wanted on hold, to stop focusing on a fictitious finish line, and instead to make changes today, to make each day count.

We discussed changing the goal as retiring early but living now. What about buying a house in Cape Town and starting their dream now? They would both continue to earn an income, saving 20% towards retirement (not 50% of their income), and changing their retirement age from 55 to 70 to take the pressure off. They could start in a career that they enjoyed instead of work that was adding to burnout. Many of the weekend activities with their children did not cost money but would heal their burnt-out state.

The How

Life planning is often seen as a separate discipline to financial planning. But, as this client story illustrates, life-planning conversations enhance our financial planning. Financial life planning is simply financial planning done properly. If you want to make the shift, what do you need to do? For me, it is putting our clients first, asking the right questions, listening deeply and remaining objective. Our insights of our clients’ financial position and our objective stance allows us to help our clients get a return on life and a return on investment.

Kim Potgieter is a Director at Chartered Wealth Solutions and author of Retiremeant: get more meaning from your money.


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Issue 72