This fall I am in the US during football season for the first time in five years. It’s quite a culture shock to come back to the jerseys, boisterous displays of fandom, fantasy football commercials, and football metaphors for everything in life. Here is one that particularly caught my attention when I attended a financial planning conference last week:
“I (the financial planner) like taking the quarterback approach and coordinating different aspects of my client’s financial life.”
This is not the first time I heard about this metaphor. In fact, this is one of several that I encountered as a student of financial planning, a common picture that the instructor painted to illustrate what a financial planner does. Acting as a quarterback, a financial planner executes the game plan for the client while working with specialists in taxes, estate planning, insurance, and investments to make sure all aspects of the planning work well together. In other words, a financial planner is supposed to be a generalist who sees the big picture, understands the clients, and has connections to get things done.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? However, the longer I practice financial planning for young professionals, the more I discover that a quarterback is not what they need in their financial lives. While my clients’ financial lives have different degrees of complexity, one thing is clear – they are looking for someone to tell them what to do, so they know how to do it. That is to say, they want to go out and make the play. They desire the sense of control and know why they make certain decisions. They don’t care about staying on the sideline. They are ready to lead – to take the position of quarterback – for the first time in their lives.
So where does that leave us, the financial planners, who used to know it all and do it all?
I believe that as a financial planner, my job is to not be the quarterback in the first place. Planners are in the business of being coaches, the people that a quarterback trusts and listens to, the people who know the game and keep you on track, the people who train and lift up the spirit of the team.
The idea of “coaching” tends to carry a negative connotation. We tend to think that coaching is for people who don’t have their lives together. We mock the concept of life coaching. We hold on to the belief that all we need is information. All we need is to find the answers to our questions, then as independent adults we can implement our solutions and move on.
In practice, however, even with the virtually unlimited amount of readily available information on personal finance, so many people are still in financial limbo. We look and look for information, and most of the time we find it. Nevertheless, we either don’t know whether a particular solution works for us, or we can’t follow through on actually implementing what we’ve learned. It’s like a quarterback who has all the plays on his wrist but can’t read the defense. We need a voice assuring us “this is the right thing to do” at this moment, however experienced we are dealing with our finances.
What you need is more than financial advice. You need a coach. Here are four reasons why:
#1:You need more than information
With the development of technology, we are living in an age in which information is going to be more accessible at a lower cost. (In fact, you probably land on my blog because you are looking for some information, which I happily share for free.) We will no longer need to delegate certain financial decisions because we don’t have access to knowledge, like tax and investment strategies. We have companies and individuals who are transforming once difficult to understand concepts into simple action steps every day. Simple googling can lead you to them, and following any of them may potentially make your finances better off.
What comes with close-to-free knowledge is technology that automates the implementation of knowledge. Now you can use tax software, like Turbo Tax, to calculate which strategy makes more sense, or adopt automatic investment management solutions, like Betterment and Wealthfront, to implement a retirement portfolio with passive indexed investments. You have access to competitive insurance quotes online, like through PolicyGenius. You no longer need to hire an expert to do the work.
A coach can still be the source of information for you, but it won’t be the only one. You should discuss what you’ve learned elsewhere and come to an understanding with your coach. In fact, your coach will expect you to know the basics so he/her can explore deeper concepts.
#2: You want opinions
When information and technology become commodities, what becomes more important is the “why” behind your financial decisions. There will be many different ways to run your budget, file your taxes, or invest your savings, but you need to know which one fits your particular situation, value, and preference. You will want a second opinion, a confirmation, from someone who knows you and whom you trust.
A coach will design your game plan to meet your goals. Most of the time a coach may call a play, but the quarterback may also have a different read on the situation. Both approaches might work, but it’s the collaboration of the two that turns options into executable strategy. The art of the game is to bring the information and tools to life, and your coach is the artist that you will come to appreciate.
#3: You need accountability
Having a game plan is great, but you need action. Action is the one thing that is lacking in today’s world that is filled with information and opinions. In Tess Vigeland’s new book “Leap”, she shares an interesting anecdote. After six years as the host on NPR’s Market Place Money, personal finance becomes a boring topic to her because people are coming back with the same questions over and over again. How come they don’t learn and do the right thing already?
The coach is the one who make sure you do the right thing already, who brings accountability into the equation. You have the information, tools, and a second opinion. Now it’s the time to put the plan into action. You need to actually practice the play over and over again, and your coach will push you do that, until it’s become part of the reflex.
We often think that a well-designed financial plan will bring us financial independence, but in reality, it takes us to the point of co-dependence. We are supposed to practice good financial behavior in a community, with a coach that keeps us on track and make sure we follow through with our promises. We need to stop thinking we can do everything independently 100% of the time. We can’t, and there is nothing wrong with that. Just like a winning sports team needs its coach more than its superstar, we need someone to bring out the best of ourselves.
#4: You grow
We go through different stages of our financial lives that require different focus. A good coach knows when you should graduate from the JV team and be trained at the next level.
It is such an important part of financial planning but we rarely talk about it. There is great financial advice focusing on how to budget or pay off debt. But if that’s all you practice for 30 years, and never move up to saving and investing for your long-term goals, you will only be good at the basics. Everyone naturally goes through this process, but we don’t always have someone who pushes us to move on to the next level. You need that person who knows you and can keep you growing.
Whether you currently work with a financial advisor or not, I hope this post inspires you to find one who is not only an expert in his/her game, but one that trains you, calms you down when you panic, keeps you accountable, and pushes you to grow in your personal finance skills.
Are you ready to be coached?