How to change the world

27 July 2018

Jayson Forrest

Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.

Are you ready to change the world? Carl Richards CFP® is, and with the spotlight firmly on the financial planning profession, he says it’s time planners reset the narrative, one client conversation at a time.

Do you remember Carl Richards? The name might sound familiar. He is the CFP® practitioner who breaks down seemingly complex ideas into simple sketches, which he uses to entertain and inform millions of Americans each week in his Sketch Guy column in the New York Times.

If you were at the 2013 FPA Professionals Congress in Sydney, you may have attended his keynote presentation, or his masterclass session on client communication at the 2014 Congress in Adelaide.

Well, he’s back for the 2018 Congress in Sydney, where he will be challenging planners to remove themselves from all the distractions and background noise in the market, like the Hayne Royal Commission, and to reset the financial planning narrative with their clients and the wider community.

In fact, for the expat American who calls New Zealand home these days, he wants to show Aussie planners ‘How to Change the World’, by breaking down how they can have more meaningful conversations with their clients and showing them how to take the necessary steps to effect this change. And key to this is for planners to take on a greater leadership role with their clients and within their communities.

Carl is no stranger to the highs and lows of financial planning. As an accomplished CFP® professional, author and international speaker, he knows only too well that planners are ideally positioned to change the lives of their clients for the better. But he admits the profession has been damaged by ‘fake’ planners, who have tarnished the reputation of ‘real’ planners – who adhere to the highest professional, education and ethical standards.

“So, it’s time ‘real’ planners take back the agenda, but they often overlook the fact that they’re already perfectly positioned to change the world,” Carl says. “What’s bigger than helping people make smart money decisions and reach their goals? But in order to change the world, it requires thinking about things a little differently.”

But isn’t the concept of changing the world somewhat ambitious for, say, a sole practitioner based in the suburbs?

Carl laughs and admits that ‘changing the world’ is a bold statement to make but is nonetheless achievable if planners seek to do it by “one conversation and client experience at a time”.

“When I say ‘change the world’, I mean to effect change gradually through delivering great experiences,” he says. “That means, first change perceptions within your community, then in your town or city, and then your country. Collectively, as a profession, if we all started off taking small steps like this, then we really can change the world.”

The water we swim in

Carl understands that money-related issues are among the leading causes of stress, depression, divorce and suicide among Australians, with this country’s current drought exacerbating these conditions in many rural communities. He says, as a profession, safeguarding our clients from these issues has become the “water we swim in”.

That being the case, Carl believes ‘real’ planners are ideally positioned, through one client conversation at a time, to sort through their clients’ goals, dreams, fears and worries.

“We can all change the world by beginning small,” he says. “We can start by thinking, ‘I can change my little community’. And if all of us were to change our ‘little communities’, we would indeed change the world.”

But change also requires leadership. For Carl, this means self-belief and being decisive.

“The people who I consider to be leaders are those who aren’t scared to have an opinion and take action, even in the face of irreducible uncertainty,” Carl says. “The financial planners I know who are leaders are the ones who have opinionated advice are the ones who say: ‘Hey, maybe this is more about behaviour than it is about numbers or performance.’

“They are the ones who are asking deeper questions and are comfortable doing so. A leader is somebody who is able to identify that something isn’t working and is prepared to try something new, even though it may not work. That’s leadership.”

A journey of a thousand miles

The old Chinese saying, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, is one that resonates with Carl, who believes that the opportunity for planners to change the world should begin small within their communities.

“National organisations, like the FPA, are doing an invaluable service of fighting the good fight on the regulatory front and dealing with the ‘big issues’ that no individual planner can do on their own. They also help government bodies and the regulators understand the difference between ‘real’ financial planners and ‘fake’ planners.

“However, because financial planning is part of the wider financial services industry, sadly, the Hayne Royal Commission has shown that as an industry, we can’t currently say to consumers: ‘You can trust us.’ But we can regain this trust by showing people the experience of what it means to work with a ‘real’ planner.”

He believes the FPA is ideally positioned to relay these ‘good news’ client stories to consumers, and congratulates its Money & Life and CFP® consumer campaign initiatives, which are highlighting the great work planners are doing with their clients.

“Amplifying these feel good stories is terrific,” he says. “But we need to do more at a grassroots level. So, it all comes down to sharing those amazing day-to-day experiences, one conversation at a time, that planners are having with their clients.

“If not, then how will we ever know about the planner in Brisbane who is doing amazing things with her clients, or does the planner in Brisbane know of the amazing work being done by a planner in Perth? We need to have a clearing house for all these great stories; not only for consumers to access, but to remind us all of the great work we do, which is something we often forget.

“It’s all about figuring out ways to share with more Australians, the beneficial experience clients get working with a ‘real’ planner.”

Taking back the initiative

In fact, with the Hayne Royal Commission firmly putting the spotlight back onto financial planners and the wider financial services industry, Carl is bullish about client advocacy and sharing client experiences as the keys to steering the narrative back to what planners do best – helping their clients live their dreams.

However, he says it’s a confronting fact that as far as consumers are concerned, they don’t know the difference between a ‘real’ planner – who adheres to the highest professional, education and ethical standards – and a ‘fake’ planner.

“You can’t simply call yourself a professional, because consumers don’t understand that,” Carl says.

“We need to realise that in consumers’ minds, we’re all part of the traditional financial services industry, which unfortunately means taking the good with the bad. So, moving forward, we need to distance ourselves from unethical behaviour by doing a better job of clarifying the differences between ‘real’ planning and ‘fake’ planning, and that’s something the FPA is working hard on. But it’s also something planners can work on individually at a local level.”

His advice to planners to help them work through this turbulent time is to focus on the ‘big picture’ and not get distracted by all the media noise.

“When you lose your focus, you lose your motivation to make a difference. So, stay focused, keep things simple and communicate positive experiences. Ultimately, rebuilding the profession’s reputation will start at the coalface, one client conversation at a time.”

Leadership, trust and influence

Carl concedes that ‘How to Change the World’ is a big topic to cover in his November presentation at Congress, that’s why he is keen to ensure his presentation is not just all rhetoric. He will provide delegates with practical, actionable ideas that can be taken back to the office and easily implemented within a business.

“Changing the world is about: building leadership, building trust and building influence at scale. By putting these three elements together, planners can make the work they are doing – one conversation at a time – really count.

“Only then can you share these client experiences with your community, town, county and then the world. That’s how we can ensure that everybody can see the difference that professional advice can make to their lives. And that’s something planning practitioners excel at.”

 

Carl Richards CFP® is a speaker at the 2018 FPA Professionals Congress in Sydney (21-23 November).

For more information on the Congress program or to register your attendance, go to: fpacongress.com.au

 

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The sketch guy

Carl Richards is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® and the creator of the Sketch Guy column, which has been appearing weekly in the New York Times since 2010.

Carl has also been featured on Marketplace Money, oprah.com and forbes.com. In addition, Carl has become a frequent keynote speaker at financial planning conferences – including the 2013 FPA Professionals Congress in Sydney and the 2014 FPA Professionals Congress in Adelaide – and visual learning events around the world.

Through his simple sketches, Carl makes complex financial concepts easy to understand. His sketches also serve as the foundation for his two books, The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money and The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money.

His sketches have appeared in a solo show at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, as well as other showings at The Parson’s Gallery in New York, The Shultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, and an exhibit in the United Kingdom at the Mansion House in London.

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