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You never know what will happen when you propose bold change. The only guarantee is that you’ll get people’s attention...and a LOT of people weighing in with opinions.
At this year’s Alliance of Comprehensive Planners (ACP) annual conference, Blue Blaze had a spot at the Board table as well as time on the agenda. We proposed big change. We got lots of feedback.
It was all good.
When the bold change you’re proposing is good for your clients, it’s good for your industry. And those of us who are in the business of putting our clients’ interests, first, know a good thing when we hear it.
ENOUGH With Charging More to Do Less.
It was more than a little ironic that our conference was held in the shadow of a large Merrill Lynch sign. After all, we ACP advisors feel and act very differently about our work, and we are constantly dumbfounded by that highly corporatized, product-based business model and how it has been so successful. Why do the folks who charge more to do less keep adding clients...especially since the advice and services they do deliver are not always in line with what is in the best interest of the client? (Skeptics on this point only need to look at the big banks’ resistance to any fiduciary rule.)
Heading into the 2017 annual conference, there was much on my mind. My firm, Blue Blaze, is growing out of it’s “boutique” shell with our eyes on ambitious impact and industry re-defining value to clients. As a newly elected member to the six-person board of directors at ACP, I am intent on bringing my energy, ideas, and work ethic to face the challenges of the organization.
And to top it off, this was my second year as the conference chair. Our conference is well regarded by the outstanding member-financial planners that make up the non-profit, whose core mission is to deliver the highest quality financial planning services while eliminating the conflicts of interest that permeate the industry.
We are constantly dumbfounded by the highly corporatized, product-based business model and how it has been so successful.
The ACP annual conference is a place for our tribe of fiduciary warriors to gather, share, and learn with and from each other. This year’s conference, held in San Antonio, was another, highly successful meeting that exemplified why we take time away from work and our families each year to meet.
This year, we spent a lot of time talking about something new -- a way of providing service that marks a bold change from the traditional model of providing financial planning services and one that recognizes our commitment to using our financial acumen to fuel dreams and lead people towards their goals. We talked about financial life guidance.
Let’s Guide Real People Through Real Life.
What is financial life guidance and how is it different from financial planning? Bryan’s story is a great (and a real) example of the difference in action. Frank J. (my father, cofounder of Blue Blaze and a former member of the ACP Board) helped set the tone of the entire conference when he spent about two hours with the ACP Board, outlining a new vision for our business model that is closely aligned with the ground-breaking work of The Kinder Institute of Financial Life Planning and the principles of its EVOKE strategy. He also hosted an intimate “Under the Trees” session where he was able to share with others our own firm’s journey towards life planning with the Kinder Institute as being “what we do”.
The reaction and feedback from the members of the board and conference attendees was more enthusiastic and approving than we could have ever predicted. From the conclusion of the Board meeting throughout the entire conference, we were bombarded with questions from colleagues and eager requests for more information about the new model.
This idea of a truly, client-focused business model that emphasises life planning and leverages our special training and talent for financial guidance was a hit!
Because Nobody At the Big Firms Is Thinking About This.
Why is this important? I think it’s important (and it’s one of the reasons why I happily and gratefully accepted the challenge of joining the ACP Board) because when we’ve done what we set out to do, there will be an entire network of ethical, values-based financial life guides and firms available and able to help people with goals that focus on their optimal life...not just their bottom line. It’s important because we at Blue Blaze are certain that the principles of financial life planning should be the guiding force behind a radical transformation of the way we provide financial services to clients.
And it’s important because I truly believe that there is no group of people better suited to make this happen than those of us who are ACP.
For instance, in addition to what you might consider ‘normal’ topics for sessions, there was an entire slate of forward thinking sessions that were equally profound.
Yes, we did discuss best strategies for student loan repayment strategies (there are many), best practices on designing retirement portfolios (bond ladders are a great start), providing advice around real estate through the use of a new ACP tool (most people think their rental properties are great...most people don’t consider all the factors that go into the phrase “return on investment”), and creating real alpha for the client through smart, planning focused tax strategies (there are many).
But we also spent a lot of time talking about subjects like...what happens if your advisor becomes ill or dies suddenly? Members within ACP rolled out a new way to make sure that an advisor’s clients are still taken care of in such an unfortunate event.
This very personal, very thoughtful and life-centered focus is what distinguishes we who offer our clients life planning services versus those offering “just” financial advice. This new model empowers us to serve people by asking questions, unflinchingly, (as Frank J. explains in his piece on Appreciative inquiry). It’s a way that empowers those we work with to discover the true nature of their values and principles, and then use this self-awareness to make meaningful choices, namely, setting goals that build the bridge between life now and life as it should be -- an optimal life.
If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Well.
There’s a lot of work for us to do (Blue Blaze, The Kinder Institute of Financial Life Guidance and ACP) to move the idea of financial life guidance into the business model for financial planners, but it’s work well worth doing. Done well, it will provide an entirely new level of service -- and outcomes -- for those we work with as clients and partners. In a nutshell, it delivers real people to a level of freedom in their life that has not really been explored before.
We’ll be writing a lot about this during the rest of this year and into next year. If you’re curious about financial life planning, please sign up for the blog. And don’t just follow along. Please comment and ask questions. We’re excited and we’d love to share that excitement with you!