A new skill that every financial planner must learn


Susan Bradley (Sudden Money Institute, USA) and Lovaii Navlakhi (International Money Matters)

Both are CFPs (Certified Financial Planners) and CeFTs (Certified Financial Transitionists)

You make detailed financial plans for your client, you work with him through the journey of executing the plan, you help him stay on course through bouts of nerve wracking market volatility – and then suddenly, you see everything in your client’s life turning upside down. It could be loss of his job, death of a loved one, a major unexpected windfall, a large inheritance, sale of a large property that seriously enhances his cash flow, major health issues, a serious accident, divorce – it could be just about anything that throws his life off track – for better or for worse. Your client is obviously ill prepared to face this new reality. The question is whether you – his advisor – are equipped to provide him guidance through these important transitions in his life.

Financial transitions

Welcome to the world of financial transitions – welcome to a new skill that every financial planner ought to imbibe – the skill of managing financial transitions in your clients’ lives, the skill of helping them navigate disruptions in their lives. Susan Bradley (www.suddenmoney.com), author of Sudden Money, and one of the founders of The Financial Transitionist Institute (https://financialtransitionist.com/) recognised that despite 17 years of practicing as a financial planner, she felt ill equipped to help clients manage life changing transitions. “There are planned transitions – such as retirement, inheritance, sale of a business, and there are unplanned ones – such as divorce, death of a loved one” says Susan, but all of them, she says, disrupt the normal pattern of life for the client, disrupt status quo. “Your client changes due to these life changing events – even those which may have been planned, and especially those which haven’t. Many start taking a much shorter term view on plans, and depending on whether the transition is a happy or not so happy one, they either become more optimistic or more pessimistic about the future than what you have seen of them before. As an advisor, you think your client is wrong, but in fact, what you need to recognize is that he has changed”, says Susan.

Advisors need to learn how to manage disruptions in clients’ lives

Financial planning trains you to manage status quo and incremental change, what you need is a set of additional tools that help you manage disruptions in the lives of your clients. That’s where the Financial Transitionist program can help planners.

Disruptions can be positive ones, but they too need to be managed very carefully says Susan, whose work on “Sudden Money” delves deep into this aspect. People who get a windfall go through a number of changes in their personality, their sense of identity often changes, they see significant changes in relationships caused by their new status and they often do not have a balanced view on how much to spend to assert their new identity and how much to salt away to protect their newfound status. Financial planning does not train you to handle these emotional changes in your client – that’s where the Financial Transitionist program can come in handy.

When Susan and her fellow professionals of the think tank that created the Financial Transitionist Institute got down to work, they began by connecting with psychologists and neural scientists to understand typical behaviour patterns of people who go through life transitions. Understanding behaviour is the first step towards managing it, says Susan. Some of the more common behaviour changes that one observes in clients experiencing life transitions are communication, obfuscation and poorer decision-making ability. One of the most popular tools that one learns as a financial transitionist is how to help such clients prioritize – make only those decisions that are absolutely critical at that point of time, and give them time to make others that can wait.

People who come into sudden money may well acquire an aura of invincibility while those who go through emotionally challenging transitions (like death of a loved one) may feel so overwhelmed that they want to retire and go away or sell off their business – decisions that may seem illogical to people who don’t really understand what’s going on in the person’s mind. Financial planners who understand transitions can understand such clients better and can help and guide them through these transitions more effectively.

What seems counter-intuitive but is true says Susan, is the changes in clients’ behaviour when dealing with well planned transitions. “You may have been working with a client for 15 years, preparing him for retirement, but when he is about to retire and immediately thereafter, you will notice a change in his decision making. There are many issues he is dealing with in adjusting to such a big transition in his daily routine, in how he sees himself. One who is trained as a financial transitionist can help such a client through what we call the 4 stages of transition, starting with the first stage – anticipating transition and preparing for it.”

12 month experiential learning focused virtual program

The financial transitionist program is a 12 month program consisting of 6 modules of 2 months each. It is virtual, it is experiential learning oriented and involves a lot of group efforts where participants can see and interact with each other through web based tools, and discuss solutions for cases that are presented.

All of this sounds interesting no doubt, but for Indian advisors, the key question is how relevant are the course ware and the cases in the Indian context.

Is the program relevant for the Indian context?

Lovaii Navlakhi of International Money Matters, Bangalore qualified as a Certified Financial Transitionist 2 years ago. When we asked him about this concern about the Indian context, here’s what he said: “I was handling a situation involving planning for a young widow, and I found the initial meetings quite challenging, given the circumstances and her frame of mind. Around that time, I happened to attend an FPA conference in the US where I saw Susan speaking about financial transitions. I got interested and when I spoke with Susan and her team and started telling them about this situation, I was really surprised when they spelled out to me exactly how they thought the meetings would be going and the challenges that I was facing. The fact that they had been studying such situations for over 15 years and had built up a rich repository of experiences was driven home clearly to me from that interaction. I signed up immediately because I could see a tangible benefit straight away. Once I enrolled and went through the various modules in the experiential format, I found myself interacting and sharing experiences with advisors from other parts of the world, and I realised that human nature is common by and large across geographies. There may be small cultural differences, but emotions and behaviour are universal. As part of the experiential learning process, we are required to actually implement some of the tools discussed in our real life practices with clients who may need them. And each time I implemented one of these tools, I saw that it fit like a glove.”

The Financial Transitionist Institute has now commenced its efforts to reach out to Indian financial planners and has recently formed its first group of 8 planners who have signed up for the program. Susan Bradley was in India recently, conducting workshops for these 8 planners as well as an introductory session for other planners who wanted to know more about the program. “During these interactions, I picked up a few nuances about Indian cultural aspects and at the same time noted the huge similarities in client reactions across geographies. We have incorporated a few tweaks in the India Group modules are now fully confident that our program is well geared to serve Indian advisors”, said Susan.

Interested? Sign up before Feb 26th

The first group from India begins its 1 year program on February 26, 2019. Those interested can find out more and sign up here: https://financialtransitionist.com/product/core-2019-india-group/?no_frame=1.

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