"Goals conversations" should be easy... and this blog I'm hoping I'm about to make it really easy.
Some time ago, a family member of mine went to see an adviser, and it was awful.
I've written about this before at length, but let me give you the short version.
They were presented with advice that had so much wrong with it, it's hard to know where to start. It was the SOA version of the final season of Game of Thrones and, like GoT, was also hideously expensive.
If I had to pick one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb, it lived in the section of the document where it listed the clients' objectives. Here's what it said:
"Your objective is to outsource investment management"
Outsource Investment Management? Waaaa????
Since when did that join the list of Top 10 things clients want from their money?
Never. That's when.
OK. Let me get it out of my system.
Like most people in the industry, I had a good giggle to myself when AMP announced they were launching something called "Goals-based planning".
As someone who remembers lifestyle-based planning in the early 2000s, it was the equivalent of your kids announcing they'd invented sex.
...or suggesting The Spice Girls invented music.
Once the giggles had subsided, it became clear that this was the Thomas Edison version of "invention" and not about who'd created something at all.
It was the marketing version of colonisation - putting a flag in the ground and pretending it was yours all along.
It was AMP hoping to become to advice what Hoover became to vacuum cleaners.
Since then, I've watched a number of clients made to jump through (sometimes pointless) hoops, witnessed all number of compliance projects - from best interest checking to file reviews - all focusing on the importance of goals.
In truth thought, it's always been about goals.
WHY PEOPLE SEEK ADVICE
We seek advice because there's an outcome we're looking to achieve and we realise we can't do it alone.
Sometimes the outcome isn't always clearly defined.
Some people skip the defining part altogether, moving straight to solution because of some other influencing factor (like a friend telling them how awesome an SMSF is for buying property).
But the goal is still there.
We may not know exactly what it is, but we're trying to change something.
THE REAL KNOWLEDGE GAP ISN'T ABOUT MONEY
Many people don't actually know what they want.
If I asked you to write down with absolute clarity answers to questions like:
- What do you want from life?
- Where do you want to live?
- How much would you need to live a comfortable life?
- Where do you want to send the kids to school?
- Where would you like to travel on your holiday?
- How many hours in a week would you like to work?
- What kind of business?
- Would you like to spend money on certain things?
...how would you do?
Assuming you're a financial planner, there's a good chance you might know the answers to these things. Compared to the general populace, you might be a little bit more prepared.
If you're a person who has a regular habit of sitting down to define these things, the same might be true.
..but we're not the general populace.
My experience is most people aren't always clear on what they want.
The degree of lack of clarity can range from having an idea but no specifics, all the way to, "I've never really thought about it..."
In my world, this is called scope and it's possibly the most important thing to get right.
Before I decide whether I want to work with a business, and hugely important first step in the involves a three-step discussion revolving around:
- The Future Result you're looking to create hey want their money to create.
- Your Current State, and how you're going in terms of those goals.
- The Gap between the two realities and what may stop/be stopping you from making the transformation,
This conversation is vital, because it essentially helps us both decide whether there is ROI in us working together before we commit anything to each other.
It's not always a conversation that flows.
Which is where the similarities between what I do and what you do become very clear.
For some clients, like you, I'm asking questions they've never been asked before.
I mean if we did a quick survey, what percentage of prospects do you see who know exactly what they want?
I'd guess it's less than 50% (probably by some way).
Sometimes if I'm talking to partners- business and life - it might be the first time they've talked to each other about certain things.
This is not a simple conversation, and I've never been convinced that repeating certain questions over and over again or believing that one Powerpoint preso can solve everything has ever been flexible enough to move me toward mastering it.
For me, it's about a three-step process and I want to share it with you.
LEVEL 1: Goal
This is the level that most of us are comfortable with.
You may have a few categories you cover.
- Where would you like your wealth to be?
- What level of assets would you like to have in the bank?
- What income would you like to generate without working?
- What would you like to do about your home?
- Would you like to own property?
- Where would you like to travel?
- How do you want your family protected?
- What decisions about your life would you never want made without your input?
- Where would you like to send the kids to school?
...and so on.
When you ask these kinds of questions and let people talk without interruption, they tell you their aspirations.
It isn't enough.
This is nothing more than a cerebral checklist. We have to go deeper.
LEVEL 2: Quant
If you've asked for goals and gone broad and wide (without interrupting), you'll have a piece of paper in front of you listing a bunch of aspirations, and maybe even a couple of wishes.
By the way, don't kill those wishes.
It's not your job to tell people what's possible and what's not....until you crunch the numbers.
Next, we have to anchor these goals. In reality...
I may want to send my kids to private school but...
...have I actually thought about how much it will cost?
I may want to pay off my homeland sooner but
...how much sooner? How much extra do I need to pay off?
I may want to travel every other year to some foreign destination but...
...how much am I planning to spend to make it happen?
I may want to be comfortably rich but...
...what's the actual dollar number associated with that?
I may want to not have to worry about money or manage my income but...
...what actually needs to happen for me to feel that way?
Try asking yourself these questions and note the difference in cognitive load.
This part of the discussion engages the brain not just on what you want..
...but also on what it'll take to make it happen.
The value in this is huge, particularly if you know the answer to some of these questions.
- If you work with clients to send their kids to private school, you may know what it'll cost.
- If you've helped clients achieve comfortably wealthy, you may know what the number is.
- If you're sitting down with pre-retirees who don't know what it'll cost to enjoy post-work life, you may be able to give them something to aim at.
You're inviting them to begin to think about the problem at the kind of level you do.
You beginning to ask what's needed to solve a real problem, instead of just having a wish.
You're turning a vision into the start of a plan..
...but we're not finished.
If we finish here, we're missing the most important part of all, the part where the science kicks in.
If you already know this, consider it a refresher. If you don't, thank Simon Sinek. If you're a brain purist who is about to suggest the model is overly simplistic, you may be right but it's accurate enough to be useful.
So far all the questions we've used have mostly engaged the part of the brain called the neocortex.
The neocortex is the newest part of our brain, responsible for language, higher reasoning, mathematics, and all of that stuff that makes us more human than our furry friends.
However, deep down at the programming level we are still basically animals motivated by emotion, desire, fear, happiness, love, belonging and all the other emotions we feel.
It's why sometimes we want things that don't make sense or aren't good for us.
Why we get a gut feeling something isn't right, even though the data checks out.
Why we sometimes do or buy things on impulse, which we later convince ourselves was actually a really good idea.
The science of this says the emotion part of this is controlled in a different part of the brain, called the limbic system.
This is an old part of the brain. It has no language skills, so it can't talk to you except through one strong media.
Raw emotion, without words, images or even logic. It makes you feel.
..and IT'S the part of the brain that makes decisions.
The key point is this...
When you're talking to the neocortex, you're not talking to the decision-maker. To do that, you have to dive into the emotion.
LEVEL 3: Feeling
So I want to send my kids to private school (goal) and it's gonna cost me $20,000 a year (quant).
- What's important about that to me?
- What difference do I see that making to my kids' lives?
- What does it mean to me to give them that start in life?
So I want to pay off the home loan sooner and it means I need to pump in an extra $20,000 a year?
- What will that day look like when I wake up and realise I don't have to pay a mortgage anymore?
- How would it feel to be able to buy an investment property sooner?
So I want to be independently wealthy and that means I want $500,000 a year passive income?
- What kind of life is going to allow me to live?
- How will it change my day to day life to make it happen?
- What would I do with my time that's different from what I'm doing now?
Do you see where this has gone?
This final level is about more than just defining what and how. it's about making me go to a place in my mind where it's already been achieved, it paints a picture of what life will be like when I get there.
It makes me articulate to you the payoff (from an emotional perspective) of investing time, effort and money to have someone (you) help me get there.
This is where REAL goals live.
If you can then back this up by having
- a strong process around the rest of your first appointment
- a way of capturing the specific wording that clients use with those goals (my suggestion is using audio file noting recorded straight after the meeting)
...then not only will you capture the all-important objectives in...
- words that clients understand and connect with,
- terms that relate back to what they actually want
...you will increase the impact you have on clients by a factor of magnitude.
YEH, BUT WHY?
The reason for doing this is about more than fulfilling a compliance need.
It's also about engagement and motivation, because those who are motivated are more likely to take action, and it's the action that drives the outcome.
HOW IT ENDED
In truth, my family member didn't want to outsource Investment Management. They were never words that came out of their mouth.
They wanted not to have to worry about running out of money.
They wanted to know whether they could spend money in a certain way and not have to strain their lifestyle.
They wanted to know if there was a better plan than the one they had.
The story has a happy ending.
My family member sought a second opinion from an adviser who knew how to ask and listen, understand what they really wanted, and then told them what they needed was exactly what they had with their original advisor - not the one who wanted to charge them $14k to "outsource investment management".
Goals are a big thing now and there are benefits to mastering the conversation beyond just ticking boxes, whether you're engaging new clients or moving existing clients to a different type of conversation that doesn't ignore the fact that you've been working together for a while now.
Enjoy the conversation.