All Things Financial Planning Blog


I Don’t Understand My Financial Plan

Get Your Questions AnsweredRecently reflecting on some of cinema’s greatest intellectual quotations, I was reminded of movie Detective James Carter’s infamous query in 1998’s Rush Hour. Chris Tucker’s character eloquently asked Jackie Chan’s character, Chinese top cop Detective Lee, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”

Ok, maybe not one of the most memorable moments on the silver screen, but a funny movie that stands up well fifteen years later. But, that’s not what we’re here to discuss. The quote actually jumped into my head during a discussion about how we communicate with one another, especially in advice-based relationships.

A seemingly infinite amount of information is available on virtually every issue known to humankind, all searchable within seconds from any place with access to the World Wide Web. How we process this information, understand its meaning and filter the good, the bad and the ugly really depends largely on whether or not the information is communicated in a manner we can comprehend.

This certainly has its applications in the world of personal finance. I’d argue the personal finance industry at-large, more often than not, adds layer upon layer of complexity to relatively simple concepts in order to add an air of sophistication and justify an unnecessary amount of cost. I won’t go further on that today except to say that if something sounds too good to be true, you can’t understand it, what it costs and what risks are involved, run away.
Instead, I want to focus on the authentic struggle many financial planners and advisors have in working to develop the right communication strategy based on their clients’ needs.

Scalability allows a company to grow, taking a successful model and increasingly diluting it for consumption by an increasingly growing audience. The problem with scale in the financial planning business is that those seeking advice are all at different points in their lives, with different goals, different resources to meet those goals and different ways to achieve success in meeting those goals.

We also all comprehend things differently, learn through different stimuli and apply concepts to our daily lives at different speeds. Confused? Me too. What does all this mean?

It means that we have a gap in the relationship between financial planning professional and client that both sides have to work to fill. Financial planners need to ensure they have a process in place to help identify how best to communicate concepts and recommendations in a manner that best suits each client involved.

The client, on the other hand, has the duty to speak up when they don’t understand something in their plan, be it an investment recommendation, the path to reach a savings goal or a concept or term used to illustrate a point or answer a question. “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand this” are not only acceptable responses to questions posed or information presented by a financial advisor, but should be a welcome opportunity for the advisor to take an improved approach in helping the client comprehend, thereby teaching the advisor a little more about communicating with their client and challenging them to find better ways to illustrate concepts in the future.

The bottom line is, we all need to be more vigilant about what we understand about the decisions we make and are made for us in our daily lives. When it comes to an advice-based relationship, the more we question, challenge, and discuss, the deeper, more rewarding the relationship will be. Wowing someone with the ability to use big, complicated words to make a point isn’t a talent. Effectively communicating in a manner that gives your audience the best opportunity to understand is.

Chip Workman, CFP®, MBA
Lead Advisor
The Asset Advisory Group
Cincinnati, OH


Do You Have Hope?

I was talking to someone about the forward thinking concept last week (I wrote about that concept in my May 23 blog, Forward Thinking). Pam works with low income people helping them accumulate assets. Several studies have shown that accumulating assets does more to get people out of poverty than other strategies alone (education, improving income, access to credit, etc.). She mentioned that to get people thinking long term, you have to give them hope.

Think about the people in your life. Do they give you hope or do they hold you back?

I have heard a few financial advisors who believe their job is to tell clients what is realistic. They think they are helping clients stay grounded in reality. Instead, they are holding their clients back.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin did not build their firms by focusing on realistic goals. Young adults do not move out of poverty by having realistic goals. People do not write books, complete ironman triathlons or make it to the Olympics by having realistic goals. Yet a few people do each of these things. They have hope.

In Lighting the Torch, George Kinder and Susan Galvan suggest that your advisors should not help you to understand realistic goals. They believe that what is realistic for you might be holding me back, that my stretch goal might be your minimum standard. Kinder and Galvan recommend that you align yourself with advisors who will help you assess what will be needed to achieve your goal and then encourage you to take those steps that will get you there.

Do you surround yourself with people who help you understand that difficult goals will require effort and encourage you to make the effort? Does your entourage give you hope to achieve your wildest dreams?

John Comer, CFP®
Comer Consulting, LLC
Plymouth, MN