In my previous article in this series, I wrote about the deeper questions a financial planner may ask you to really get to know you and your outcomes in life.
Once we really understand who you are as a person, what you really want to achieve and perhaps understand how you may adapt to certain life events we need to gather some personal data from you.
Financial planning is very much an art and a science, we have the art of your personal psychology or behaviour the ‘soft data’ and we also have the science and logic of the numbers and calculations, the ‘hard data’.
The questions we ask cover the personal ‘soft data’, so how do we gather the ‘hard data’ and what do we need to know?
It can be a lot of information that we need to obtain, and each planner will gather this information in various ways.
At Lexington Wealth we appreciate the difficulty and sometimes frustration it can cause providing this information, often because our clients are successful and therefore busy individuals with family, business and community/charity commitments, we need to make this process smooth and easy for them.
We gather information relating to the clients personal and family affairs, such as family names and dates of birth, we need this because planning is often generational, and we can only provide a comprehensive service if we have the whole picture.
We also ask about medical and hereditary medical conditions; if you have longevity in your genes, it’s good for us to know so we can ensure we plan for this, we wouldn’t want you running out of money, at any age! Or conversely medical conditions can affect protection contract underwriting.
We also need to get to know your ALIE (Assets, Liabilities, Income and Expenditure) which I refer to as every financial planner’s best friend; we need to know your assets; items that you own which have a value such as your home, your investment portfolio, pensions and money in the bank. We need to know your liabilities; such as your mortgages, loans and any other debts, if you have these. Your income, often this can be a complex area where income is derived from various sources, so it is easier for your planner to work directly with the family accountant or tax adviser. Having an experienced financial planner really is worth their weight in gold because reviewing your income, is often where considerable tax savings can be obtained. Then finally perhaps the most important of all parts, and certainly the most difficult to get accurate is the expenditure. Expenditure is a tricky item because no one-year is the same as the next and no one-month is the same as the last. Itemising your regular direct debits can be easy, but I will often meet with a new client at their planning meeting and say “congratulations you have £x remaining each year that you could …..” and they look at me with a blank stare and say “no we don’t!”
Getting your expenditure or spending profile right is essential for any financial plan to be robust. I don’t need to agonise over the last £1000pa but ensuring you’re happy with our assumptions is necessary. Having an experienced planner here can also add value, because we know what to look for, for example, if your expenditure analysis shows you with a large surplus of income over expenditure, but you’ve been unable to save a penny in the last 12 months, where’s the money gone? All spending should be accounted for, even if we allocate this to a miscellaneous spend. An experienced planner will also know what expenditure may be incurred in the future for children’s school or university fees, later life when you may decide to stop motoring or require help around the home, or on death.
We need to gather information on policies and contracts that you have already arranged, ensuring that they both have been arranged correctly and remain relative and competitive in today’s market.
The complexities around pensions are too numerous to detail, but needless to say higher earners and those with larger pension schemes, relative to their age, benefit significantly from having their pensions reviewed on an ongoing basis.
Good estate planning is an essential part of the financial planning process and ensuring your will has been written is our first step. It no longer surprises me to hear that a new client has not written a will, but we want all our clients with a will that is written correctly to ensure it benefits you and your overall financial situation.
We like to use trusts to control the direction of flow of money either during your lifetime, or on death and also to provide a layer of protection against what we refer to as ‘hostile creditors’. Trusts were once only for the ultra-wealthy and can be associated with tax avoidance, but neither are true today, certainly not at Lexington. Trusts can help the everyday man or woman and all trusts are now registered with HMRC to ensure they are used with the purpose they were originally intended for.
Knowing the whole financial picture and having access to the wills and trusts makes a financial planner probably the only profession able to offer truly comprehensive advice on the client’s estate planning and inheritance tax liability. We’re happy to work closely with the family’s other professional advisers to ask them to write wills and trusts, or alternatively we have good relationships with experienced firms ourselves.
Finally, we like all our clients to have Lasting Powers of Attorney’s that are registered with the Office of Public Guardian, this way we know if life delivers an unexpected accident, the family’s financial plans are not completely thrown out the window.
As you can see, engaging with a financial planner as a new client means opening up and sharing a lot of your personal information, but the long-term benefits mean you have a professional on your side, who works with probably a hundred or so clients with situations like yours so you can accelerate your financial and life goals and gain from their experience, rather than learning yourself.
Also please don’t ever compare an internet search with the decades of learning and experience a Certified Financial Planner can offer, I wouldn’t trust Google to diagnose the treatment to a medical condition, nor would I trust Google to secure my family’s financial future.