Despite cutting my weekend short, I was so excited for my trip to XY Planning Network’s #XYPN16 Conference. One of my all-time favorite things is to get out of the office and on the road to meet other professionals and advisors – it’s where I learn the most about what’s going on in our industry. At last year’s conference, I received a t-shirt with the perfect tagline for describing what this conference is like – “Not your father’s financial planning conference.” I’ll bypass the “chill zone,” caricature drawings, food trucks, vendor swag and Michael Kitce’s famous blue shirt and get right to business with the key insights I took away from this conference.
3 key takeaways
1. This next generation of advisors is more business-oriented, which has both pros and cons.
There’s still no standard career track to become a financial advisor. But for many of the more tenured advisors in the industry, more often than not, you started your career in product sales in a large corporation. You learned the traditional model for prospecting and servicing clients. When financial planning became a real thing and you broke out on your own as a financial advisor, you already had the people skills to successfully build your own book of clients. But because of your sales background, the mentality was to jump in, grow as quickly as possible, and just work out business issues as they arose.
Rather than taking on a business owner role, these advisors evolved from their sales role within a large organization to a sales role within their own firm. This is not to knock advisors with a background in sales – there are a ton of intangible skills developed through this career path. It just means that practice management sometimes came secondary to building the book of business.
In observing some of the up-and-coming advisors at this conference, I realized that a product sales background (though still prevalent) is becoming less and less of the normal path for new advisors. Instead, you’re seeing a rise in the number of students or professionals who are attracted to the profession and plan towards it over the long term by getting the education, credentials, and experience to become a financial advisor right out of the gate. By coming at it from this perspective, they view it as a true business venture – so they lead with the business side and then sales come after. These advisors work out the business-related issues upfront, such as:
- What niche am I going to target and what’s my value proposition to them?
- What technology platforms and processes do I need to run my business?
- How do I package my services and what do I charge for them?
It’s music to our practice management ears! The upside is that we’re seeing advisors build more sustainable businesses; the downside is that you can go through a ton of “analysis paralysis” and trial-and-error in trying to figure out the right business model. Not to mention, some of these advisors might be missing that key skillset that’s developed within sales organizations. Having a well-established business model is important for scale and growth, but not if you can’t network and sell your services to create a profitable business. Advisors need to find a happy medium, where the business skills meet the soft people skills – those who do will be the advisors who succeed.
2. Modular planning is not just for millennials – It’s a new way of planning with all investors.
I’ve always advocated for modular planning with millennials – that is, unbundling your planning services into modules they do one-by-one with you. For example, you cover debt management first, then maybe retirement planning, then college planning, and so on. Why? Because you don’t want to scare away millennials with intense, comprehensive planning upfront – millennials just don’t feel that their lives are financially complex enough to warrant it.
If you unbundle your services and engage with them upfront just on one particular financial worry or burden, you develop trust and open the door for eventually going through all the modules (once they’re ready). It’s a much easier commitment for a demographic where paying for financial advice is not the norm; plus, eventually you’ll still have a comprehensive picture of their finances once they’ve completed more modules. That was my opinion on modular planning before the conference…
On my first day there, Michael Kitces and I geeked out on this topic over pizza and his insights truly broadened my view on modular planning. Not only is this a more relevant way to serve millennial investors, but it’s actually a more relevant way to serve all investors. His point was that traditional advisors feel the need to substantiate their planning fees and so they burden both themselves and their clients with an intense, comprehensive planning process upfront. We’re talking about hours of planning and data collection, heavily involving both parties – all to produce what? A large stack of papers that make up the client’s financial plan, which will most likely never get looked at again. I had to laugh – you could tell by the aggressive tone of our discussion, this was a topic we both felt strongly about.
So many advisors acknowledge the concept of modular planning and maybe even understand the benefits of it; so then why aren’t they actually doing it in real life? If you’re an advisor who seriously wants to practice modular planning, you need to:
- Review your current comprehensive financial planning process
- Break your financial plans down into meaningful modular topics
- Determine the best way to package these topics into standalone planning services
- Ensure your financial planning software can facilitate this modular planning process
- Identify the best way to price your planning services under this new unbundled model
- Practice positioning and selling these services
- Try it out with clients and make tweaks to refine it over time
Obviously, I’m oversimplifying. There is a lot more analysis that goes into this type of change. Breaking down your traditional, comprehensive planning process and unbundling your services is a HUGE shift in your service model. So this trend will likely take time to catch on.
3. Education planning is not just about planning for college; it’s about managing debt afterwards, too.
Traditionally, advisors have focused their planning services for HNW pre-retiree and retiree clients on retirement and education planning. All good planners know that these are still pertinent topics when it comes to Gen X / Gen Y clients. Retirement planning might be a little lighter, because you’re not yet getting into the specifics around distributions and cash-flow planning. The emphasis is more around: Am I in the right type of investments? Am I contributing enough? But it’s still the same general discussion. In listening to Heather Jarvis and many of the advisors at this conference, though, education planning took on a completely new meaning to me.
Education planning for pre-retirees and retirees is all about helping them save and pay for education for their children. In working with Gen X / Gen Y clients, there’s added level of complexity with this demographic – they themselves are saddled with tons of student debt they’re still trying to manage. This might not seem so astounding, but this does mark a change in the traditional meaning of college planning. Because the skillset and expertise required to help a couple plan for their kids’ education differs entirely from what’s required to help someone manage their debt coming out of college, Alan Moore continues to emphasize the importance of brushing up on this part of the education planning process.
It’s an area that often gets overlooked in curricula for financial advisors and it’s extremely, extremely complex. The type of training people like Heather are providing to advisors in this area will be key if planners truly want to help younger clients address this planning need.
Reflecting back on it now
There’s something so energizing about leaving a conference where there is an influx of new advisors and tenured advisors trying out new business concepts to serve this younger generation of investors. Organizations like XY Planning Network, NAPFA Genesis and FPA NexGen have become the breeding ground for innovation in this industry. We’re still early on in this Gen Y / Gen X movement, but I’ll continue to look to these communities for indications of what is to come in the financial services industry.