Outside-IN

Why the financial planning industry needs a Jerry Maguire-like paradigm shift

Let's build a tribe of like-minded advisers and clients who understand the importance of life beyond the numbers

Dec 27, 2016 @ 1:11 pm

By Michael Conway and Zachary Conway

Jerry Maguire stood in a maze of cubicles and performed his swan song to the blank stares of his coworkers. In the sports agency racket, he had become lost in a system where both agents and clients had learned to follow the money and nothing else. And so, with a bold manifesto, Jerry broke from the status quo. Sure, Jerry's just the main character of a fictional movie, but something of his declaration rang true, transcending fiction. Jerry's dilemma should resonate with any professional who faces the same kind of disillusionment when the system breaks and priorities misalign.

As financial advisers, we relate to Jerry's plight. Like negotiating sports contracts, money management has become even more of a thankless sticking point in building client relationships. When Jerry's lone client, Rod Tidwell, demands he, “Show me the money,” Jerry's forced to focus on fulfilling that singular desire. Meanwhile, advisers similarly struggle to capture yield amid unprecedented market dynamics as investor clients constantly question returns. Those clients often want the unachievable: Upside from “sexier” investment strategies without accepting the risks. So often, investors who are incredulous when “missing out” on returns are the first to panic when things turn south. As a result, advisers suffer the paradox and assign blame to the clients.

(More: How long can you go without bringing your values into a client conversation?)

Ironically, advisers are the real architects of this dilemma. We have forever promoted the wrong aspects of our work, spending far too much time marketing our unique, inexpensive and “ingenious” portfolio designs. And the marketplace has learned to assign the value of advisory to an adviser's ability to gather returns. Not only have we missed an opportunity to communicate true worth, we've trained consumers to hyper-focus on the things that cause emotional distress. With infinite access to live financial information, we've allowed fear and greed to run rampant as clients keep eyes on every market move. The financial planning industry is in drastic need of a Jerry Maguire-like paradigm shift, and it's about time advisers start propagating what's really important.

We've led clients to assume returns define financial security, family livelihood and true happiness. While good advisers can build proper portfolios for clients, great advisers know portfolios are just the first step in aligning life and wealth. Establishing long-term planning strategies to protect family assets can reshape perceptions of what it means to achieve real financial security. Compassionate support through every emotional decision and element of planning breeds the kind of peace of mind so many advisers fail to deliver. And beyond each step of a financial plan, advisers need to actually advise — to commit to coaching clients through a life plan.

We've realized helping clients live balanced lives by design far exceeds the importance of what's happening on CNBC. And while we continue to implement exceptional, tax-efficient and low-fee portfolios, we want to steer clients away from the minute-to-minute gyrations of markets and toward real joy in life. Forty years from now, will clients really care whether or not each position in a portfolio beat benchmarks in a given year? Or will they care their adviser lessened their stress, helped them spend more time with family and guided them toward doing the things they loved? As an investor, wouldn't you rather explore a new hobby, reach a lifetime goal, travel, begin the charity you've always talked about or spend time with your children?

(More: Advisers may not feel it yet, but downward fee pressure is coming)

Jerry Maguire realized Rod Tidwell needed more than a great contract extension. Rod needed guidance to live life by design and to stop fear from controlling his future. We are setting out to do the same for clients by proving portfolio returns will never define happiness. Instead, we must quantify not just investment gains, but gains in the enjoyment of work, health, quality of relationships, freedom, and purpose. As Jerry explained, “This moment will be the moment of something real, and fun and inspiring in this God forsaken business, and we will do it together.” It's time we build a tribe of like-minded advisers and clients who understand the importance of life beyond the numbers. Who's coming with us?

Michael Conway is CEO and Zachary Conway is an associate at Conway Wealth Group.

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