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Financial Planning in Today’s “New Normal”: Adapting to the Changing World to Best Serve Clients

Financial planners continue to evolve their practices during the COVID-19 pandemic and other changing conditions to best serve their clients and meet the financial needs of Americans.

February 18, 2021

Since the inception of the financial planning profession more than 50 years ago, the purpose at its core — to help meet the financial needs of Americans — still rings true. However, the practices of today’s financial planners look very different from those of decades past. In today’s “new normal,” marked by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a continually evolving financial services industry, financial planners must remain nimble and informed to navigate these changing times and steer their clients toward reaching their financial goals.

Recent conversations with CFP Board Brand Ambassadors illuminate three trends that define financial planning in today’s “new normal”: an accelerating client demand for holistic planning; a growing client appetite for financial news and information; and an increasing acceptance of virtual meetings.

Holistic Approach to Financial Planning

A hallmark of the financial planning profession is that it takes a holistic approach to a client’s finances, rather than only focusing on a single area such as investments. The emergence of the pandemic and the ensuing economic uncertainty has further emphasized this crucial role of financial planners in addressing a person’s entire financial situation.

The emergence of the pandemic and the ensuing economic uncertainty has further emphasized this crucial role of financial planners in addressing a person’s entire financial situation.

Throughout his decades-long career in the financial planning profession, Luis Rosa, CFP®, founder of Build a Better Financial Future, LLC, has seen client interest broaden from assets under management to financial planning that “guides overall financial lives,” encompassing estate planning, mortgage planning and more. Julie R. Bates, CFP®, Managing Director of Delta Community Retirement & Investment Services, has witnessed a similar transition in the industry during her career. She has seen client interest grow from direct product sales to investment management to “coordinated family wealth planning across multiple generations.”

Today, Bates supports her clients as they “evaluate every aspect of their lives” to make complex decisions given current circumstances. As an example, she cites clients who are reevaluating their retirement timelines as they decide whether or not they ever want to return to the office after the pandemic.

Rosa describes this shift as an “awakening” in the financial planning profession that underscores the value that financial planners offer. He adds that demonstrating the value of professional financial advice beyond money management is especially important when the stock market is down and clients are worrying about their investments in the near term. By emphasizing a holistic approach to financial planning that encompasses much more than investments, financial planners help their clients weather market downturns while maintaining a focus on their long-term financial goals.

Strong Client Appetite for Financial News and Information

As the pandemic began, Steven Podnos, CFP®, CEO of Wealth Care LLC, took additional steps to keep his clients informed on key virus and market information. Beginning in March, Podnos increased how often he reached out to clients, distributing a memo every three to five days with essential information.

Rosa also touts the importance of planners being “proactive, as opposed to waiting for clients to call” when it comes to sharing information of interest. Through his podcast, On My Way to Wealth, Rosa shares personal finance tips and strategies, such as understanding how to fill out the latest version of Form W-4. He also distributes a newsletter.

Last year, Rosa especially saw an appetite among clients for information on “breaking down the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and [other aspects of the federal] stimulus.

Building on this trend, earlier this year, Bates, Podnos and Rosa’s fellow CFP Board Brand Ambassadors agreed that “financial planners must be one step ahead” and stay up-to-date on industry news and changes for the benefit of their clients.

Increasing Acceptance of Virtual Meetings

Even before the onset of the pandemic, Podnos noticed that virtually-delivered planning was becoming much more common and acceptable.

He estimates that he has never met approximately one-third of his clients in-person, as people are more “open to being referred to someone that is not in their immediate area.” Among his peers in the profession, Podnos sees many planners closing their brick-and-mortar offices completely or opening smaller ones given the reduction in demand for in-person client meetings.

Rosa agrees that “advisors need to become more flexible with how they run their practice,” as client preferences shift toward virtual meetings.

Rosa agrees that “advisors need to become more flexible with how they run their practice,” as client preferences shift toward virtual meetings. He notes that technology like green screens and virtual backgrounds can help advisors maintain a professional appearance during a video meeting, a skill that many individuals across the professional world have learned during the pandemic.

In a remote work environment, Bates names “accessibility and security” as the two most important characteristics of any technology that planners leverage. During the pandemic, she has seen clients across generations embrace technology, which “has created necessary momentum to provide flexibility and choice” in the profession. That has opened the door for virtual meetings — or a hybrid version of some remote, some in-person meetings — to become the norm for financial planners moving forward.

Providing Optimal Service in Today’s “New Normal”

Financial planners past and present have supported their clients to become “better stewards of their resources through the financial planning process,” says Bates. To do so successfully in today’s “new normal,” communication is key. Clients are interested in connecting remotely with their financial planners to discuss more aspects of their financial lives than strictly asset management. In addition, clients are increasingly looking to their planners as sources of important information. To offer the best planning services possible to their clients, financial planners must embrace external changes, from global events and market cycles to client preferences, and proactively share their knowledge and expertise with their clients.