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Start Financial Planning Sessions with a Dream

Sandy beach with blue water and the word DREAM written in the sand.

The next few articles will be about something I call the Goals-Based Construct. It’s composed of three phases—Dream, Prioritize, and Plan. When meeting with clients, especially new clients, this three-step process can help them get excited about and engaged in their financial planning—so it feels less like flossing teeth and more like an adventure. This first one is about dreaming.

The first phase of the Goals-Based Construct is all about dreaming.

This Dream Session is what is commonly known in our business as a “discovery session or interview.” We need to learn to do this in a different, more conversational way. Less interrogation, more “first date!”

When starting a financial planning session with a client, we put the left side of our brain on a brief sabbatical. 

We sit back and simply ask…

“So tell me…what’s going on?”

We call this a DREAM SESSION because we aren’t trying to be practical; we’re trying to get their imaginations involved. We can be practical later. Let’s just see where this dream session goes.

This is where we find out what’s really important to them—as humans, as people.

This is where we find out about their greatest fears and aspirations.

About their experiences and biases.

About the internal tapes that they have that cause them to feel the way they do about money, saving, spending, and debt.

This is where we get to be like Einstein and never stop asking questions.

This is also where we learn to put “our stuff” on the side.

No judgment.

No asking people to be realistic.    

Just agenda-less listening. Listening to learn, not listening to win!

In the words of Bob Seawright from “The Better Letter”—

“Many alleged experts in retirement planning are far too willing to offer advice without seeming to recognize the competing interests faced by those hoping to plan well. Much of what is called advice is really hectoring about the need to save more and to save more sooner and does not seem to recognize that alternative choices are not necessarily or entirely wrong.

“Our lives are constantly challenged by the tension between now and not yet, present and future. Arbitrarily to highlight a few obvious examples: retirement planning; work/life balance; career advancement; education; sustainable living; getting and staying healthy; and matters of faith. 

“The ability to delay gratification is powerful and necessary for success.

“Sometimes, however, ‘now’ is an acceptable answer.”

Now the challenge for us is to try and elicit more information than we’re used to.

Generally we are just trying to get enough information to fill out the new account form, have a reasonably accurate Risk Tolerance questionnaire, and have them choose a portfolio or range of portfolio allocations so that we can get things moving. 

But in the Goals Based Construct, we want to KNOW these people.

We want to know what makes them tick and what doesn’t.

What makes them wake up in the morning and be motivated.

What they detest and what they want to avoid at all costs.

So we need to be asking questions like the ones I’m going to share with now…

  • If you knew you were going to die in the next 5 years, what would you regret not doing? 
  • I didn’t hear anything about travel or adventures—do you have a bucket list?
  • How do you like to spend your free time? What are your hobbies?
  • Imagine you have enough money to take care of all your needs now and in the future. How would you live your life? 
  • If you won the lottery, what would change?

As they answer, pay close attention to their answers and then guide the conversation based on their responses.  

As advisors, it’s up to us to recognize a theme and prod more when our client hits on something that causes them to get animated, excited, or agitated.  

For example, if a client expresses irritation or avoids talking about work, we could say, “I sense frustration. Do you like your work?” which could lead us to ask, “What do or don’t you like and why?” and “What would you do if you could do anything?” 

Most of us ask one question, get an answer, and then move on to their next canned question. Doing this is missing the entire point of the exercise, which is unearthing and getting to the meat of what’s important to our client.  

Sometimes, our clients may not even know themselves until we have this conversation!  

So ask, listen, watch, and probe when needed so we really get to KNOW our clients.

Once this part is complete, we do need to ask a few practical questions so that we can begin to spend time on the next step—Prioritization—which we’ll get to in the next article.

In the meantime, allow clients to share their story because it’s a gift.

In the Spotlight

Money from the Perspective of Human Behavior

  • If you have to follow one person who understands money from a human behavior perspective, follow Morgan Housel. This article is great and there are many more in his blog or his book The Psychology of Money.

My 2023 Predictions—Not!

  • At the beginning of every year, Wall Street analysts trot out their predictions for the economy and the markets in the coming year, irrespective of the fact that they are almost never even close to correct. John Kenneth Galbraith, the eminent economist and author said that “the function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” But yet they continue to roll it out, wasting the time and energy of otherwise very smart people, because “the crowd” demands it. The truth of the matter is we simply don’t know. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if they all published something like this… 

A Big Thanks to YOU!

“You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.” — Anne Lamotte, Twelve Truths I Learned From Life and Writing

And that’s why I write these words to you. I can’t help it. So thank you for reading them.

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