August 23, 2019

An Introduction to How I Work With Clients

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In this article I go through a high-level introduction to how I work with clients.

Holistic and Fee-Only

I chose to be a holistic financial planner who charges on a fee-only basis. The holistic part means I work with my clients on all aspects of their financial situation including retirement planning, portfolio analysis and investment planning including specific strategies and recommendations, insurance planning, estate planning, budgeting and cash flow, tax planning, college planning, and goal setting among others. I help to integrate all of these different areas together into a comprehensive plan.

As a fee-only planner

  • I do not sell insurance or investment products,
  • I do not accept commissions on any product recommendations I make,
  • I do not pay referral or finder’s fees, and
  • I do not accept referral or finder’s fees from others.

The only fees I receive are the fees my clients pay me for the services I provide to them, and these fees are clearly spelled out in the client engagement agreement each client signs when they hire me. This means each client knows up front what they are paying for my services, and they know there are no additional hidden fees. I believe working this way is in the best interest of my clients as it allows me to find the right solutions for them without the financial influence of others.

Acting as a Fiduciary

My firm, Clark Financial Planning Services LLC, is a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) in the state of Florida. As an RIA, my firm is required by law to act as a fiduciary to my clients. This means I must always put my client’s best interest first above my own and disclose any possible conflicts of interest to my clients. This is not only the law, but also something that I believe in deeply. I also believe that being a fee-only financial planner is the best way to uphold the fiduciary standard with clients.

Retainer Model

The primary service I provide is what I call the Open Retainer. With the Open Retainer, the client signs on for a yearly financial planning engagement. The Open Retainer fee is paid on a quarterly or monthly schedule, whichever is most convenient for the client. Besides the regularly scheduled meetings that will take place with the client, the Open Retainer includes additional face-to-face, email, and/or telephone conversations at no additional charge. The Open Retainer fee is computed based on the scope of services, the client’s total income, assets, and overall complexity of his or her financial situation.

Flexible Services and No Minimums

I work with people of all income and asset levels with no minimums required. This means I can help people across the financial spectrum including young professionals just starting out and others needing help getting on the right track. If working with me on an ongoing basis is not the right solution for you, I provide other shorter-term services that can be tailored to meet your needs.

Long-Term Relationships Are Important to Me

I am excited because I get to work with my clients on all aspects of their finances helping to educate and guide them. What really excites me even more is that I strive to establish long-term relationships with my clients, which means I get the opportunity to help them through life’s transitions, and see them succeed at reaching their goals.

When I meet a prospective client for the first time, it is very important for us to determine early on if we are going to be a good fit for each other. That is why I meet with prospective clients two times at no obligation to the prospective client, before we make any decisions about signing an agreement and working together. If we do decide to work together then great, but if not, then no harm has been done and at the very least, perhaps we each met a new friend.

Financial Planning is a Process Not an Event

My approach to working with clients is something that most of you have probably never experienced before and in fact, my approach is not for everyone. When a new client comes on board, I will typically meet with that client six to eight times over the course of the first year. This allows me to break down and tackle each financial planning topic with the client one at a time, making it easier for the client to digest the information, and allowing the client and me to get to know each other slowly and build trust and confidence between us. This approach is called modular financial planning.

Practicing modular financial planning also helps my clients to be more effective in implementing my recommendations because they can work on a few items at a time, and are not overwhelmed with a huge list of things to do all at once across multiple financial planning topics. Taking a modular approach to things also reinforces the idea that financial planning is a process and not an event. It takes time to go through things and figure out what needs to be done and how it needs to be done.

Investments are Important But I am not in a Hurry to Change Yours

Concerns about investments are a primary reason why people seek the help of a financial planner. Often times a new client is in a hurry to get my advice on their portfolio and then make changes. When this occurs with a new client, I explain to them that unless I see something that could harm them financially if not changed right away, I am in no hurry to make changes.

Before I can advise on how a portfolio should be structured and make specific investment recommendations, I need to understand the client’s financial situation in detail. I want to know about their income and cash flow needs (now and in retirement), their assets and liabilities, goals, family situation, and risk tolerance (how much volatility can they stand) and risk capacity (ability to financially take risk based on their current situation) among other things. All of these things need to be taken into account when advising on the structure of the portfolio and the investments it should contain.

I also want to analyze the current portfolio to determine how the investments are divided among stocks, bonds, and cash, and what the costs are on the investments in the portfolio. I then educate my clients on their current portfolio and use that discussion as the starting point for why changes may be needed.

In general, if changes are needed in a portfolio, unless there is something that needs urgent attention, we will likely not start making those changes until the third or fourth meeting of that first year we work together. If that approach does not appeal to you or you find it boring and too slow, then I am probably not the right financial planner for you.

Tax Focused

Another area I am excited about is taxes. Can you imagine being excited about taxes? If you are like most people, you are never sure if you are using all of the tax deductions and tax credits you are entitled to take, and you have no idea what your tax bill is going to be this year.

I do tax planning with my clients throughout the year so that there are not any big surprises when tax season arrives, and so I can help them be as tax efficient as possible. Since taxes touch on just about every financial decision you make, I believe that continuous tax planning is key to having a successful financial plan. This is why I have chosen to include tax planning and tax preparation as two of the key services I provide to my financial planning clients.

Yes, you read that correctly, I also prepare and file taxes for my retainer clients. By preparing taxes for my clients, I stay close and in touch with new tax laws and changes to existing laws. I believe this helps me be more effective in providing good tax planning advice to my clients throughout the year.

Each Situation is Unique and this Requires Flexibility

Of course, not every client situation is the same and therefore, my approach with each client will be adjusted and tailored to that client’s unique situation. If the client needs twelve meetings in the first year instead of six or eight, then we will have twelve meetings. If the client has one or more issues that need immediate attention, then we will tackle those issues first, even if this causes a change in the normal flow of how I like to do things.

The bottom line is I am flexible and will adjust things based on the needs of the client.

Learn More

To learn more about the services I provide, the process I followed to become a financial planner, and the training and certifications I obtained, please read About Us and Our Services and Clients.

While visiting the website be sure to sign up for your free copy of the 7 Keys to Financial Independence workbook by filling in the form shown on the right side of the page.

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