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10 Tips for New Financial Planners

Warren Ingram CFP South AfricaBy Warren Ingram, CFP

Johannesburg, South Africa: Starting your career as a financial planner is an opportunity to create a life for yourself that few other people will be able to match. After nearly two decades as a financial planner – including eight years as a co-owner of a planning business, I am quite sure that financial planning is one of the best careers for those who care as much about quality of life as they do about money.

My elderly industry colleagues regularly remind me that financial planning is the best job in the world. If we do our work correctly, we materially improve peoples’ lives in a way that few other professions can. We are able to establish long-term relationships with people that can be life-changing in nature.

To me, you should focus on a few core principles that should guide you over your entire career.

1. Build Life-long Relationships 

Try to become a trusted advisor to your clients and ensure that this relationship lasts for life. With a long-term focus on relationships, you will not be tempted by short-term objectives that could compromise your advice. I always tell our new advisors to be the client’s personal financial director. Some of my longstanding clients will call me to ask my advice on what motor vehicles to buy. I have no value to add in this decision but they value my opinion and they know that vehicles are a big expense and so must be accounted for by their financial planner. I don’t mind these queries because it is another opportunity to talk to my clients and always leads to improved goodwill.

2. Put Your Clients First

In everything you do, try to put the client first, above your own financial considerations and if necessary before your employer’s priorities. This is especially true if your internal “integrity radar” is alerting you to a potential problem. You might change employers on many occasions over your career but you always take your reputation with you, if you compromise your integrity, you will become the ultimate loser, not your employer. You can only lose your reputation once, it will never recover and you will need to find a new career, probably as a used car salesman.

3. Pursue Success, Not Money

Financial planning is not about the money! This is not the career to get-rich-quickly. If that is your aim, please find another career, preferably outside of financial services. There are great financial planners who have accumulated significant personal wealth but this is a by-product of their success in their careers. If you research the world’s most successful business leaders e.g. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Richard Branson, you will see that they did not start out to get rich. All of them had a bigger goal, their wealth was a consequence of their success in their chosen fields. If your primary aim is to get rich, you will be tempted to take shortcuts at the wrong time. This is usually how problems start.

Good financial planners are not product sellers, products are simply tools for implementing good advice. There is nothing wrong with being a product seller unless you try to disguise product selling as financial planning. You should always focus on providing the right advice for the client, even if it means that you do not earn money from selling a product. Over time, your good advice will lead to personal financial success.

4. Don’t Make Predictions

Financial planning is not about predicting what is going to happen in markets. If you deal with money, clients often expect you to be able to tell them where stock markets are going in the next few months, what interest rates will do and what is going to happen in the currency markets. You will be tempted to appear knowledgeable so you might give them a prediction based on some research you recently read. Statistically, your prediction is likely to be wrong and this is going to damage your credibility with your client. I often appear on financial shows on TV and radio which leads people to think I have a special insight into financial matters. I am normally asked what is going to happen to our currency or stock market in the next few months and people are always surprised when I answer, “I have no idea”. Predictions about markets always make for interesting conversation but they will inevitably be wrong. Being constantly wrong is not a great way to build your professional reputation. Rather be honest and tell people that you have no idea what is going to happen and neither does anyone else.

5. Specialise in a Financial Planning Area 

Specialise in a specific aspect of financial planning. You can choose to be a generalist – even this is a form of speciality as there are very few competent generalists. My preference is to specialise in one area and become deeply knowledgeable about that aspect of financial planning. I chose investments for high net worth individuals as my area of expertise and I always focus on this area. If a client requires estate planning or insurance advice, I am happy to refer them to another specialist.

6. Don’t Sell Time 

Leverage yourself and don’t sell time. Professions such as lawyers and doctors tend to sell their time by the hour. There are a limited number of hours that one can work in a week which means you either have to work every hour of every working day or charge massive hourly fees if you want to earn well. I prefer to work on retainers so that I am not forced to sell hours.

7. Build Yourself a Public Profile

Write, present and educate people about money. Try to build a public profile as a knowledgable person in your chosen field. Write regular articles and get them published where possible. The internet is a great forum for getting published and you can use your social media profile to “broadcast” your articles. Try to get on the radio and TV as often as possible and always make yourself available to the media. Journalists are not good at forward planning so they will usually contact you at VERY short notice for an interview. Don’t complain, rather make it as easy for them to call on you as often as possible. You will quickly become their default contact which will guarantee you exposure.

8. Build Your Interpersonal Skills

Work on your interpersonal skills, especially client coaching skills. Technical knowledge is important but it is only the first step, there are many technically knowledgable people in our industry but very few of them can impart this knowledge to financially unsophisticated people in the proper manner. They usually resort to jargon which either intimidates clients or confuses them.

9. Always Be Available

Always be available to your clients when they look for you, especially if you have to give them bad news. Investment advisors tend to hide from their clients when markets are falling which is a cardinal sin. Always return calls and emails within one working day. This builds trust with clients and reminds them that you are there for them and will look after them, no matter what is happening.

10. Choose Clients that You Can Relate to

Try to choose clients who you can relate to on a personal level. If a potential client makes you uncomfortable at the start, pass that client to someone else. I have always regretted taking on clients who I did not “gel” with at our initial meetings. When stock markets or other circumstances work against you, it is important that you have a good relationship with your clients so you can work through the bad times. If you make an outright error, it is often possible to recover from this by being honest in your communication with your client. Some of my best client relationships were built on my recovery from a mistake. My clients always knew that I was acting with integrity and the mistakes were honest ones. More importantly I alerted them to the error as quickly as possible and I ensured that I rectified my mistake quickly.

In summary, if you protect your integrity at all costs, focus on your clients and their goals and develop a long-term game plan for your career, you can build a wonderful and constructive life for yourself, your family and your clients.

8 comments to 10 Tips for New Financial Planners

  • Avishek Guha

    Sir thanks for this article.I’m a new Certified Financial Planner from India In this Bigger Financial Planner world.This article will Help me a lot.I already done just one’s financial planning and now manage his wealth.but I didn’t get any more client.for this I frustrated too much now a days.But your article make me feel good. Thanks sir.

  • Derek

    Warren,

    Excellent article. As a Personal Financial Planning graduate student currently enrolled at Kansas State University in the United States and as an associate to a fee-only planner in Kansas City, this article resonates well with me.

    From an up-and-coming young planner, thank you for the advice!

    Derek

  • Excellent article! Thank you Warren. I’m going to pass it along now.

  • Excellent inputs. Thank you Warren for sharing your thoughts.

  • Rajesh

    Nice Warren. Excellent advice to new financial planners

  • An excellent write up. It shall definitely help new comers.I am from Bangalore-India. During my career, I have followed these principles as taught by my mentor and found highly successful and satisfying.

  • Johann

    Hi Warren

    Well done on your article. I am certain your industry colleagues will agree with it. I know you practice what you preach! keep up the great work.

  • R Varadarajan

    Very well written article, Warren. You have highlighted the basis which form the very foundation of the career development. Thanks a lot.

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