Making the Transition to Financial Planning
In order to meet the evolving needs and expectations of their clients, firms are shifting toward delivering more holistic advice. By focusing on mindset, skillset and toolset, firms can prepare their advisors and culture for success in this new model.
In recent years, there has been a clear shift by firms toward delivering more holistic advice to their clients. We have written about this already, but the real question is how can firms make the transition? Firms need to take concrete, deliberate steps toward this transformation.
When we look across the landscape of firms attempting to make this change, it appears three key ingredients are present in successful transitions: we will call them Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset, a framework which has been used by organizational consultants for many years. Let’s unpack each of these elements to see exactly how this framework can be utilized for a firm transitioning their advisors and clients to financial planning.
Mindset answers the “why” question. Mindset begins with firm leadership getting everyone to understand the current situation, and why financial planning is critical to the success of the firm’s advisors. It influences how the firm’s advisors think about planning and the conversations they have with their clients.
When we talk about mindset, we are talking about change both at the organizational level — the culture of the firm — as well as at the individual level, such as the advisor or financial planning support teams.
When we talk about mindset, we are talking about change both at the organizational level — the culture of the firm — as well as at the individual level, such as the advisor or financial planning support teams. Change at the firm level often requires a shift in culture to one of advice and planning (as opposed to other cultures around products for example). This view can be difficult to achieve and at some firms, a shift in mindset may take years to take hold. Firms seeking transformative change will have to change their beliefs. Edgar Schein, a renowned expert on organizational culture says it best: “Transformative change implies that the person or group that is the target of change must unlearn something as well as learn something new.” 1
For leadership, that means first getting the firm to recognize that investments and investment planning alone are no longer a differentiator for an advisor. Unlearning this is difficult according to Schein because “what we have learned has become embedded in various routines and may have become part of our personal or group identity.” For the advisor, this means that they have spent years, maybe decades, representing their investment or other product expertise to their clients, and their clients view them as a recognized and trusted advisor for these services. In short, it has become their identity. Changing that identity will require leadership to:
- provide evidence that the existing advisor model must adapt and
- provide evidence that the new way of doing business — holistic planning — is both possible and achievable.
On a day-to-day basis, leadership needs to remind the firm’s advisors and employees that financial planning is core to the strategy and that the firm is committed to making that transformation. In action, that means changing conversations with the firm’s employees, so they now can change the way they view the firm, its culture and the value it delivers to clients. Only when this happens will leadership achieve buy-in and be able to move the firm in a new direction.
The mindset change requires the advisor to adjust how they think, act, and talk to their clients, and evolve how they view themselves and their value to the client. By framing client conversations holistically, advisors have more expansive conversations about a client’s goals around wealth, financial security, and what their legacy will be when they are no longer around. It also means the advisor must take the great responsibility for their advice (and how it can have both short and long-term consequences) into account. The mindset, thus, must include a strong ethical standard, to always act in the client’s best interest. This means moving beyond the transactional to providing ongoing holistic advice.
Just as leadership and the advisor must unlearn the old mindset, the client must unlearn their old perception of the advisor’s role as one who helps with investments. The new mindset is achieved when the advisor acts and thinks like a financial planner, and the client views and trusts them as a financial planner.
Changing our mindset goes a long way toward making transformative change. But if we are to act, think and behave in new ways, we will also need new skills. Skillset answers part of the “how” question. That is, what skills and behaviors will advisors need to deliver this higher value proposition to their client in a credible and consistent way? If the firm’s value proposition is changing, what learning (and sometimes unlearning) needs to take place for that to happen?
Advisors need to develop skills not only around taking clients through the financial planning process, but also skills handling more complex planning. They will be required to have conversations around topics they did not previously discuss with the client. This will take time and effort and is critical for a successful transformation.
Skillsets fall under three major areas: communication, technical knowledge and client behavioral coaching.
Skillsets fall under three major areas: communication, technical knowledge and client behavioral coaching. Communication training aims to develop and hone the advisor’s communication skills so that they can build trusting relationships with clients. Behavioral coaching complements communications by enabling advisors to coach clients away from limiting behaviors and toward a better understanding of how they should be thinking about their wealth and financial goals. Lastly, technical knowledge is critical to gaining the credibility to deliver quality advice. Many advisors learn these skills through years of experience. But not everyone continuously improves on those skills. Firm leadership needs to recognize that their employees and advisors require training in communication, behavioral coaching and technical knowledge to successfully execute on the strategic plan.
When it comes to designations and certifications, obtaining the CFP® certification is foundational for most advisors. Firms should set high standards and recognize that supporting and promoting rigorous and accredited certifications is the best way to help advisors build the confidence, competence and credibility to deliver holistic advice. More importantly, CFP® certification provides a foundation for not only technical skills, but also psychology of financial planning and communication skills.
Toolset answers the other part of the “how” question, focusing on the ‘tools’ that advisors use to deliver on planning and an improved client experience.
Toolsets are systems or processes that allow advisors to apply their new skills to expand their financial planning practices. Here we are talking about the firm’s “tech stack” — financial planning systems, portfolio/risk analysis systems and even CRM systems that elevate efficiency and client experience. A recent survey by Cerulli found that 69% of advisors believe they are underutilizing their technology tools.2 Advisors need training to become productive and skilled at leveraging new tools, so firms will need to invest the appropriate amount of initial and ongoing resources to training to ensure success.
Toolsets are systems or processes that allow advisors to apply their new skills to expand their financial planning practices.
These toolsets allow firms to scale their financial planning across many clients, creating consistency in how advisors deliver advice and clients receive it. Since planning is not one-size-fits-all, firms will need to create tools that allow for the wide variety of situations clients are seeking advice on. The financial planner will need to identify and apply tools commensurate with the complexity of the client’s situation.
If implemented and integrated correctly, these tools provide a way to streamline the steps of the financial planning process so advisors can focus more time on building and developing a relationship with their clients. Success in the toolset domain is achieved when advisors see their tools as natural extensions of themselves, not just systems or programs to be adapted or manipulated for a particular client situation.
Bringing Them All Together
Firms that have unsuccessfully tried to transition to a financial planning model usually skipped or failed to devote sufficient effort to one or more of these key areas.
It may take a year or two for a firm to understand the ramifications of skipping one of these steps. Leadership may not know or admit that there were missing parts in the execution that doomed the strategy. Going back to fill in one of these gaps means admitting mistakes and possibly losing credibility and revenue.
Firms starting on this journey can follow a roadmap outlined by firms that have successfully transitioned. Executing on mindset, skillset and toolset means investing time, energy and resources into these three key areas. Improvements in these areas can increase a firm’s odds for success in making a lasting transformation for the firm, its advisors and its clients.
1. Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar H. Schein (2010) p. 301.
2. The Cerulli Report, U.S. Advisor Metrics 2021
Interested in discussing how CFP Board can support your firm’s certification efforts? Contact CorporateRelations@cfpboard.org.