Building Emotional Intelligence and the Practice of Financial Planning

By Casey Heron, Certified Financial Planner®
Candidate, MS in Advanced Financial Planning, Financial Life Planning Concentration
Golden Gate University

Financial Planning is a great career that you can practice on your own or at a larger firm. It requires a strong base of skills – such as tax and investment management – that the CFP® designation helps address. An early financial planner usually starts out a $60k salary and later stage the median for planner can be $250k. There are basic technical skills you have to master to be a financial planner; however, it was a phenomenal, eye-opening moment for me when I discovered that using curiosity and empathy, which many call emotional intelligence in my practice. These are key skills that you need to excel as a financial planner. In fact, you must know them. I can honestly say that the Intro to Financial Life Planning (FLP) course by Professor Elizabeth Jetton, CFP® has been a transformational experience as a planner and even as a husband and a father – and turns good meetings with clients to phenomenal meetings. Letting the clients “be the experts on their own lives,” as Elizabeth says, sums it up for me.

I am glad to have come back to school after nine years in the financial services industry and learn these FLP skills from of the top industry veterans: Elizabeth, Elissa Buie, CFP®, and Dr. Dave Yeske®, Director of GGU’s Financial Planning programs and Distinguished Adjunct Professor. The FLP coursework has been extremely fascinating in examining different ways to practice FLP. The class has helped me learn and build upon my “empathy muscles.” This entails a collaborative and robust discovery process to become an expert in your client’s life. I’ve embraced the Yeske-Buie philosophy: “You must be the client.” Every interaction is a re-discovery opportunity with a client that allows us to see the world out of his or her lens.

I’m thrilled to wake up every morning because of the positive impact I can make on my client’s life.

What exactly is Financial Life Planning vs. Financial Planning?

FLP is financial planning done right. The clients’ values, goals, and aspirations crystalize as we know the important aspects of their internal and external lives. Together we have co-created the steps needed for them to achieve the things in life that are most important to them. We put the clients in the driver’s seat where we are their co-captain (think partner, advocate, and most important financial life planner). We help facilitate objectively the decisions and tradeoffs they make today (actions/inactions) that are in alignment with their future self. Does their decision align with their goals and values? This “flight simulation” allows us to peek into the future to determine if it’s the outcome they want. If not, we explore what other alternatives there are and what tradeoffs are they willing to accept.

Success in an FLP relationship is where the client has peace of mind and organization in their financial life. They are thankful that they have an advocate that cares more about them than their money. The client is living their life plan where they have a life worth living. During the relationship, the client is staying present and mindful in their current life. Their treasures align with their values and goals. They are excited to wake up in the morning. I’m thrilled to wake up every morning because of the positive impact I can make on my client’s life.

Books & Articles: Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence Quotient in Financial Life Planning

1. George Kinder – Lighting the Torch
2. Michael Kay – The Business of Life
3. Roy T. Diliberto – Financial Planning–The Next Step: A Practical Approach to Merging Your Clients’ Money with Their Lives
4. Mitch Anthony – Your Clients for Life
5. Elissa Buie, CFP®, and Dr. Dave Yeske® – Policy-Based Financial Planning Provides Touchstone in a Turbulent World
6. Elissa Buie, CFP®, and Dr. Dave Yeske® – Policy-Based Financial Planning as Decision Architecture
7. Dr. Dave Yeske® – Evidence-Based Financial Planning: To Learn … Like a CFP®

Financial planners have learned how to create a safe and nonjudgmental environment for the clients to be the genuine version of themselves. The planner then asks good open-ended questions to help draw out who the client is. In order to know the client is well is the art of FLP. The MS in Advanced Financial Planning program helps planners with this art. FLP is having a complete understanding of what in the client’s life is important to them, their values, their relationship with money, what’s working in their life right now, what’s not working, concerns that they are familiar with, concerns we need to help them self-realize, transitions that are on their radar (expected and planned for), transitions that aren’t on their radar (unexpected and unplanned-for), where they have been (past), where they are today (current), and where they want to go (future/goals).

More about GGU’s MS in Advanced Financial Planning >>

Financial planning is a helping profession. Most planners genuinely want to help clients live the best life possible with the treasures (time, money, and income) they have. Unfortunately, most financial planners are not trained the art of helping individuals articulate their goals and aspirations. We were exposed to a lot of different ways a planner can accomplish this in the MS in Advanced Financial Planning program.

Exploring a Client’s Relationship with Money

For planners that want to take their practice to the next level, this program does a phenomenal job. Most planners don’t explore a client’s relationship with money because it’s messy. Jacob Needlman said it best: “We’re all weird about money.” We learned different ways to explore a client’s relationship with money to truly understand their money autobiography.” Many times leads to a lightbulb moment for the client! We learned the questions help us understand what healthy habits and relationships they have with money that we can capitalize on. The questions help us explore the unhealthy habits and relationships that may be holding back the client.

Money is a sensitive and taboo topic for some. A lot of planners don’t fully examine a client’s relationship with money as well as they should, but it matters a lot. The planner doesn’t need to have any special answer.

Some of my favorite questions about a client’s relationship with money are:

1. What is your earliest money memory?

2. In your family, was money an issue, a source of conflict, a reward, or a tool for achieving goals? What are your best and worst memories?

3. Was money discussed at the dinner table, and, if so, what were these discussions like?

4. Did your parents agree on how to deal with money? What would you do differently from your parents regarding money? What would you like to do the same?

5. As a child, what was the most important lesson (positive or negative) you learned about money?

6. In your youth, what was your biggest concern about money? What is your biggest concern about money today?

7. How do any of these experiences impact your beliefs and perceptions about money today?

Financial planners should make relationships with other business partners (counselor, therapist, physiatrist who have experience in this space) who can help explore deeper rooted money issues.

I was moved by the insight of Elisabeth that clients are the experts on their own lives. Most advisors say, in so many words, I am the expert – but paradoxically most clients don’t want to just be told what to do. That is why this approach of empathy works so well.

Decision Architecture & Policies

In 2006, Dave Yeske and Elissa Buie (Dave directs the FP program at GGU and Elissa teaches) expanded on best practices in incorporating policies in the financial planning community: “A financial planning policy statement serves primarily as an agreement between the client and their future self. In other words, it’s meant to establish a formal plan up front, and serve as a guide to the decision-making process in future times of uncertainty… ideally removing the client from making difficult real-time decisions under emotional distress. It can serve as a continuous reminder of the core value statements that the client has already made and committed themselves to (which is more effective than the advisor just telling the client what to do!).”

What is the future of the financial planning profession?

Empathy traits cannot be simulated by any computer; and, will make you stand out as a professional and is exactly what we need to help make the profession a better place!

If you’d like to speak with Casey Heron please see his LinkedIn page.

More about GGU’s MS in Advanced Financial Planning >>

CFP® is a registered trademark of the Financial Planning Association® (FPA)

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