At Money Quotient, we frequently point out that a successful financial planning practice is built on getting to know and understand your clients. We also emphasize that this objective can only be met through exploring each client’s unique “frame of reference.”
There are many other terms for this concept—such as perspective, world view, and mode of operation—but the synonym we like best is “maps” as defined in Communication with Clients: A Guide for Financial Professionals:
As people grow and develop, they store their life experiences and their reactions to those experiences. A person’s experiences are gradually woven into a personal representation of the world…Each person’s package of life experiences is analogous to a fine tapestry…In this book we will refer to these finely woven personal representations as maps.
Charles J. Pulvino, James L Lee, and Cynthia Forman
The authors go on to explain that a client’s maps are built over time through an accumulation of life experiences. They also emphasize that maps have a powerful influence on an individual’s financial life.
Clients’ maps affect how they make decisions; how they use money; how willing or capable they are to take risks, and how they view their personal, business, and financial goals. By understanding clients’ maps, you have a better basis for communicating with them.
What we like most about this explanation is that it emphasizes how our clients’ maps evolve based on their “life experiences and their reactions to those experiences.” This concept certainly challenges the commonly held notion that “discovery” only needs to take place when onboarding a new client. Instead, discovery must be an ongoing process where we continually explore how our clients’ concerns, needs, goals, and aspirations change over time....discovery must be an ongoing process where we continually explore how our clients’ concerns, needs, goals, and aspirations change over time. Click To Tweet
For example, recent studies have shown that the pandemic has prompted many to reconsider their values and life choices. In particular, the 2021 “Modern Wealth Survey” revealed that lifestyle priorities have changed for a majority (68%) of Americans due to COVID-19. Among those who reported that their priorities have shifted, top choices included mental health (69%), relationships (57%), financial health (54%), and physical health (39%).
The same study also revealed that the pandemic stimulated a healthy reevaluation of financial habits: 80% of the survey respondents indicated that they plan to increase their savings in the year ahead, and 34% intend to reduce their debt once the pandemic has subsided.
Similarly, the 2021 “Why of Wealth Survey” examined how perceptions of wealth shifted during the pandemic. It also shed light on the highly emotional relationships we have with money and how our life experiences shape those feelings: 60% of all respondents indicated that COVID-19 caused them to reevaluate the meaning and purpose of their wealth.
In addition, more than half of all respondents replied that the pandemic had influenced them to increase their donations and philanthropic commitment (52%), increase their savings (52%), and improve their relationships with their financial advisors (51%). Commenting on the results of the study, Gerald Baker of the Center for Wealth Planning Excellence wrote:
Our survey participants don’t necessarily define wealth as accumulating a lot of financial capital. It’s about being successful in what they do. COVID has really made them redefine what it means to enjoy what they do and to redefine success.
So, how will you learn if your clients’ values and priorities have shifted because of the pandemic? How will you know if their perspectives have changed or not? The answer is simple, be curious.
There’s a universality to this call to curiosity. Certainly, we may see its benefits when we are in the discovery phase of interaction with a client—getting to know someone and their situation anew. But curiosity is just as useful in the 10th meeting with a client as it is in the first, because as the best advisors know, even when a client asks a question, there is usually another question (or two) behind it that requires our curiosity to reveal.