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Focused Advice vs. Comprehensive Advice: Maybe the Answer is Both

By Phil Billingham, CFP

I’m a little confused and a little frustrated. Financial planners always debate whether focused advice or comprehensive advice is better. My question is: “Why do we have to pick one?”

The key question has to be: ‘What do consumers want?’, not ‘What do we think they need?’, or ‘What should we be providing?’. Come on! Which prospective client has ever approached us and said, “Can I have some focused/holistic/comprehensive advice, please?” Or perhaps, it’s the same clients I read about who supposedly wake up and ask their planners to move their money to the ‘Pluto Special Emerging Growth Fund’ or whatever the fad fund of the moment is that day.

In the real world, clients wake up to find themselves in the middle of divorces, being laid off, retiring, inheriting wealth and being widowed. In short, people are subject to the cruel and unpredictable vagaries of life. They just want some help. No, sorry, make that, they just need our help. Who knows what our help is called? Who cares?

What the Client Needs

We, of course know that proper comprehensive financial planning is what they need. Proper, professional financial planning will not only help solve the short term crisis that they find themselves in, but also prevent others from selling them inappropriate solutions that may actually make their situation worse, at least in the long term.

So, this is an issue we can NOT compromise on. And that absolutely means that anyone, anyone at all, who even pretends to offer “financial planning”, has a clear and absolutely stark ethical and moral duty to be competent enough to offer, deliver and implement a holistic, comprehensive and capable financial planning service that meets established and proven standards, such as the FPSB competence standards.

Focused Advice, What’s That?

What do we mean by focused advice? This could mean something as narrow and unsuitable as the blind pushing of a product-driven solution, a simple continuance of the bad old days.

Or, it could mean the disciplined focused intervention by a seasoned professional to take care of the fire in the client’s front room, as it were, and create room and time to ensure we are not going to spend the rest of our lives putting out fires.

So, examples of focused advice could be:

  • Sorting out protection needs on change of role, or redundancy
  • Immediate financial counselling on bereavement

And yes, I absolutely get that in both these cases, it would be better that time is taken to create a clear comprehensive financial plan, and I will not argue against that.

Semantics are Getting in the Way

Clients just don’t understand our world. We have all experienced the frustration of potentially great clients, who we could just do so much for, simply walking away. And they are walking away because they can’t see the value of our expertise.

So, perhaps in some cases, we should think about the language we use to describe our services and value?

Maybe, some focused fire fighting may help clients see the benefits of having a relationship with a financial planning professional. What client wouldn’t want a relationship with someone who has a fiduciary duty to them as opposed to someone who has the sale of a product as their first priority? In short, one of us.

Perhaps the answer to this debate is focused AND comprehensive. 


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