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Establish an Annual Planning Calendar

Setting up a calendar can keep you and your clients up to date.

Helen Modly, 01/29/2009

This year, more than ever, we need to demonstrate the value we bring to our clients' financial lives. Create a planning calendar that focuses on three core areas for review during the year to provide a comprehensive and effective advisory relationship.

Turbulent times create a lot of changes in people's lives. Your clients are no exception. Some will change jobs, some will lose jobs, some will enter retirement and others will go back to work. There will be the usual round of births, deaths, moves, divorces, and marriages on top of all the financial changes. Somehow our firms have to stay on top of all these changes to keep our advice relevant.

Recording Data versus Exploring the Implications
It's not just the changes themselves that we need to track; we need to evaluate the implications of these changes. Many advisors have their staff capture these changes with some form of a client relationship management program. The problem arises when these issues are handled routinely and never hit your radar screen. While you would immediately pick up the phone to inquire about a client changing his IRA beneficiary from his spouse to his sister, your staff might just process the change request form as a routine service issue.

My staff can handle the change of banks for regular withdrawal distributions, but I want to be aware if a joint account suddenly becomes an individual account with half the value or a primary address changes to a different state. These are not merely service issues--they are indications of potentially significant transitions that I want to explore personally with my clients.

I need to be alert to pending (or postponed) retirement, family deaths, or job changes to be aware of the new planning and investment opportunities that often arise with these types of transitions. It is even more important to be aware of potentially negative changes such as divorce, loss or a job, or serious health issues, because these might create the need to revise investment objectives. Unfortunately, many significant changes in our clients' lives don't generate any service requests to alert us. We need to develop a proactive approach to stay current.

Planning Calendar
One answer is to create an annual planning calendar for your advisory clients that includes three different types of planning reviews every year. We selected estate planning, tax planning, and investment policy review for our ongoing subject reviews. New clients are told that we will periodically ask them to help us keep our information current so we may be better advisors. We have never had any objections to our efforts to better understand their overall financial picture.

Many advisors hold quarterly or semiannual meetings to discuss the performance of the investment accounts they manage. While we are certainly available to any client who wants to meet just to discuss their accounts, it is not the primary focus of our client meetings. Instead we attempt to conduct an estate planning update, a tax planning meeting, and one investment policy review meeting each year. One or more of these meetings may actually be held over the phone.

Estate Planning
Estate planning is the first review each year, and we begin this in early February, when clients are receiving their tax information. Now for those of you who are thinking, "My clients hate to talk about estate planning. I have been trying for years to get them to focus on this and they would rather have a root canal with no Novocain," I couldn't agree more. Try a back-door approach.

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