What is the first step when working with a Planner?

Where do I start? At the beginning, said Pooh!

Well, I don’t know if Pooh really did say that, but the great Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Start with the end in mind.” And I know that’s true.

When you start any meaningful project, it makes sense to consider what it will look like when it’s finished. Walt Disney knew this well. Walt died in 1966, several years before Disney World opened in 1971, and at the park’s opening a reporter allegedly said to his brother Roy that it was a shame Walt couldn’t see the opening. Roy replied: “Walt saw it, and that’s why you’re seeing it.”

The effect of thinking about and visualising our intentions is more powerful than we give credit. Taking time to actually think – not remember or daydream, but think – about how you want to live the rest of your life is seldom used. We have a limited amount of precious time on this planet, but many of us go about our days living in a trance as if life is a continuum.

A good financial planner can help you design your life, so that you live your life intentionally or on purpose. You can do this by yourself, or with your spouse/significant other, but often using the skills of an experienced and qualified financial planner can help you get out of your head and make meaningful progress much faster.

When I first meet a new client, they often have a task or action they’d like to accomplish. It may be to review a pension, ask a tax question or prepare for a life event such as a birth, wedding or death.

These events are stepping stones in our journey of life; what’s more important is life itself, to find your bigger picture, or what I refer to in The Money Plan as your Compelling Vision.

I start by asking my clients a series of questions, not about their income, expenses or pensions (although these details are obtained), but deeper, more probing questions to help them get outside of themselves so they live their life by design and not by default.

How do you want to live your life?

The Financial Planning Standards Board have a six-step process for Certified Financial Planners to follow. Step 1 is not tax, pensions or investments; it’s ‘establish and define the relationship with the client’. To establish any relationship, you need to know about the other person, and how better to get to know someone than to ask great questions and then listen.

If I asked you ‘How do you want to live the rest of your life?’ what would you say? It’s a great question for you to consider the things in life that are important to you, over the course of time. You might forget about your limiting beliefs for a moment and show me the real you.

It’s questions like this that help you design your future roadmap, because when you are consciously aware of the actions you need to take, you’re more likely to be open to the opportunities and suggestions when they appear.

For some this may necessitate a career change to allow more time, or money to achieve outcomes. For others it may be a physical move to fulfil a desire to be nearer an area or family member.

‘How do you want to live the rest of your life?’ is a great global big-picture question that directs the conversation.

What are your values?

I then want to know your values around money. What’s important about it to you? I don’t want to assume that what’s important to me will be important to you. We grow up with many different influences on us, which shape us into who become as adults and form our foundations as our core values.

For example, if your family struggled financially when you were as a child and you saw your friends having money and the things you want, it may make you want to achieve more, grow your wealth and be “successful!” Perhaps a parent was made bankrupt or defrauded, which could make you more cautious and not want to take on too much risk and repeat their experience.

This knowledge is essential in helping your planner develop your financial roadmap.

Understanding what’s important to you in your relationship with your financial planner is also vital. I need to know what your expectations are and whether I feel they are reasonable enough for me to meet them. I’d much rather know this now than be disappointed down the road when your expectations are not met.

And, as a relationship is a two-way thing, so we planners have expectations of our clients too, and it’s important these are shared so that we start off on the right foot.

What are your short-term goals?

Learning what’s important to you is a vital first step, but I then need to know what you want to achieve, what are your desired outcomes in life?

I ask: “If we were having this conversation three years from today, what would need to happen both personally and professionally for you to be happy with your progress?”

What a great question! It was developed by legendary coach Dan Sullivan and it’s so useful to help understand what it is that you want to achieve in the short-term. You see, a year goes in a heartbeat, and before you know it, you’re well into the next. I want to articulate, challenge and document your desired outcomes, so we can work together to achieve them.

Why you might engage a planner

I am fortunate to work with many successful families: a financial planner’s commodity is money, and money is often a by-product of success. What I have found is that although they are brilliant at what they do, this brilliance does not necessarily transfer over to managing their finances and money. And why should it? We wouldn’t expect a surgeon to be brilliant at art or an architect to understand nutrition, yet often we’re embarrassed when we are not experts in finance.

A Certified Financial Planner is a safe, trusted adviser who can allow you to open up and share your dreams without risking your reputation. Some of my clients feel they are unable to air their financial concerns with their spouse/significant other, like the desire for early retirement because of an unfulfilled dream, or the stresses of work taking a toll on their wellbeing.

Or perhaps they just want to know there is a safe, trusted pair of hands helping with their finances into their old age, or after a death.

Steven Covey was right 32 years ago when he wrote his famous book: start with the end in mind.