Holistic planning requires knowledge of human nature

Nov 11, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Davis Janowski

Laura Seymour spent a total of eight years with a couple of financial services firms, working at different jobs, prior to returning to school for her certified financial planner designation.

“I worked outside of financial planning before going back, and several people I worked with suggested I would be good at planning,” she said, adding that these people noted her easygoing personality and strong interpersonal skills would be positive attributes in that kind of work.

In those earlier positions, Ms. Seymour, 34, served as a mortgage loan processor and underwriter as well as a financial consulting assistant.

She earned her certificate through a program at the Mankato campus of Minnesota State University.

“The CFP program provides a framework for working with clients and it is strong at teaching you how to calculate things, [such as] the present value of X dollars, versus future value,” Ms. Seymour said, noting, however, that there are many things in real life that you can't learn about the profession in the classroom. “They do not teach you how to deal with people crying in your office,” she said.

GAINING "SOFT' SKILLS

Confronting people's established behavior patterns — especially those that can prove most destructive — can be very challenging to learn on one's own, Ms. Seymour said.

“A lot of the work is helping with behavior modification,” she said of her practice, adding that this was a weakness of her certification program and, from what she has gathered through discussions with colleagues, of other programs, as well.

It is these “soft” skills that aren't taught in the programs and would have benefited her most in her day-to-day work with clients, Ms. Seymour said.

“How do you talk to people without ticking them off? How do you negotiate? How do you share your values? How do you work with clients to identify the obstacles they don't see that you do?” Ms. Seymour said.

“"Hey, your spending is out of control!'” she said in an ironic illustration of the sometimes frustrating conversations and hard questions that she has to deliver in as nonconfrontational a way as possible.

Ms. Seymour's own practice, TorchLight Advisors LLC in Bloomington, Minn., focuses on financial life planning, not just the numbers, she said.

Although she does a lot of data gathering and information collection over the phone or via e-mail, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to work with clients.

Ms. Seymour wonders, though, whether her program could have better prepared her for how to screen clients to help her better identify those with whom she would work well, versus those with whom she wouldn't.

“Some people are probably just working with clients and looking at the numbers, but I'm asking them if they are doing this career because it pays well or does it feed their soul?” she said.

When doing her due diligence and reconnaissance, that meshing of personalities does not always come through easily, Ms. Seymour said.

An ideal program would have some focus on these aspects and would better prepare students to take on the holistic work that includes both planning and dealing with the more human elements of a planner's work, she said.

djanowski@investmentnews.com, Twitter: @ddjanowski

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