George Kinder

George Kinder

Founder, Kinder Institute of Life Planning

Prior to George Kinder, the financial planning profession was largely blind to the interplay of emotion and financial decision-making.

Exchanges were much more impersonal, a two- rather than three-dimensional exercise concerned with the numbers behind financial advice rather than a client’s psyche.

However, Mr. Kinder, widely considered the father of the life-planning movement, changed that, profoundly transforming the process of delivering financial advice since he began exploring the topic in the 1990s.

“He was really groundbreaking in the platform he produced and the body of knowledge he produced,” said Rick Kahler, president of an eponymous advisory firm and an early student of Mr. Kinder’s methods. “Life-planning was the forerunner of honoring what we know today, which is that most financial decisions are made emotionally, and bringing that recognition to a profession that didn’t want to hear that message.”

To hear Mr. Kinder, 68, tell it, his foray into the financial planning profession three decades ago was tinged with a utilitarian quality.

“It was a way to make money with the skills that I had,” said Mr. Kinder, founder of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning, of his early career.

While finding math “rather boring and uncreative,” and harboring more of an interest in pursuits such as writing and photography, he excelled at the subject and ultimately earned a graduate degree in accounting from Northeastern University.

After working for 13 years as a tax accountant, Mr. Kinder’s practice evolved into one offering comprehensive financial planning because, as he writes in his seminal book “The Seven Stages of Money Maturity,” he became angered by the “ineptitude and greed” of advisers peddling poor investments to clients.

What began to primarily interest Mr. Kinder wasn’t so much clients’ money, but rather their questions about life-altering events such as divorce and career change, which planners generally “felt untrained and in some ways unprepared for.”

His ideas about life-planning are rooted in being empathetic and emotionally intelligent, finding clients’ sources of inspiration and delivering freedom, whether financial, spiritual, creative or otherwise.

What Mr. Kinder is perhaps most famous for are his Three Questions. They are paraphrased as follows:

• If you had all the money you needed for the rest of your life, what would you do with the money? Would you change anything?

• If you had five to 10 years left to live, what would you do with that remaining time?

• If you had only 24 hours left, what dreams would be left unfulfilled? What did you not get to do, and who did you not get to be?

Clients consider things that are “profoundly meaningful” for them when reflecting deeply about their lives, and cut to the essence of their “freedom,” Mr. Kinder said. That essence is the cornerstone of sound financial advice, because without understanding it “you have no idea where you’re going with what you’re delivering.”

“Now, in the industry, if you mention George’s three questions, everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about,” said Cicily Maton, founder and partner of Aequus Wealth Management, who’s known Mr. Kinder for more than two decades and still uses the exercise with some clients.

Mr. Kinder’s thoughts about money and the human psyche weren’t accidental – they developed in part from early work with tax clients, many of whom were psychologists and therapists in the Boston area. He began examining the material they studied and “learned a lot about emotions and listening.”

People began taking notice of Mr. Kinder’s ideas during a speech delivered in the mid-90s at a gathering of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners, a precursor to the Financial Planning Association.

In it, he discussed the idea that emotions are involved in financial decisions, an “almost heretical idea” at that time, said Mr. Kahler, who has built his practice with many of the life-planning concepts espoused by Mr. Kinder.

Along with ICFP president Dick Wagner, Mr. Kinder subsequently co-founded the Nazrudin Project, a group that meets annually to discuss dysfunction around money and which, according to Ms. Maton and Mr. Kahler, who are members, has been hugely influential to the planning profession.

As a testament to Mr. Kinder’s success and the scope of his influence, there are now life-planning practitioners in 30 countries and six continents.

Mr. Kinder is also credited with being one of the first to couple the concept of meditation with financial planning, which, according to Mr. Kahler, helps advisers get more in touch with their emotions and develop their emotional intelligence.

Mr. Kinder has written a book on meditation — which he calls his favorite among his several on money, poetry and photography — and devotes several hours each day to the practice and to creative endeavors. He’s currently writing a book on civilization and freedom.

– Greg Iacurci


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