Matt: All right. Thank you everyone for joining the podcast and listening to this week’s episode. I’m really excited to have my team from FPA residency, which was out in Denver this past October on the podcast with us today to share a little bit more about our experience of working together and creating a financial plan together for the first time as complete strangers. So, Hey TNB, could you all introduce yourself?
Savannah: Hey, my name’s Savannah Cooper. I’m an associate financial planner at Morris Financial Concepts.
Sophie: Oh, hi. I’m Sophie Leahy. I work as an associate planner at Obsidian Planning Solutions in Rockville, Maryland.
Chad: Hi, I’m Chad Johnson. I’m an owner of an RIA in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Align Financial.
Valeriane: Hey, I’m Valeriane Wilson. I’m from Park City, Utah and I’m actually starting my RIA. I’m in the registration process right now.
Terry: Hi, my name is Terry Bradford Crane and I am the owner of Bradford Crane Company on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington state.
Tom: Hi, I’m Tom Annan. I’m a financial planner at Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney and we’re located in Northern Virginia.
Matt: Well, it’s so great to have everyone here. I know it’s been a couple of months since Residency. We’ve all had some time to refresh and reflect on our experience there. So what I really wanted to share with our audience today is just getting over that initial fear of not really knowing what something’s going to look like when maybe you start your first job or you’re just coming into the profession out of college. So the first question I wanted to ask everyone is, working as a team was pretty challenging and we were all a complete team of strangers. So when we first started working together, what were some of the challenges that we had to overcome and how did we overcome those challenges as working as a team of strangers?
Savannah: I think working with strangers, the first thing is that you don’t really know much about what the other people are thinking or what their experience is. From the very beginning, I think we all went around and kind of shared our experiences and where we came from and kind of what our mindset was going into this. I think that really helped us overcome the sense of these are all complete strangers because we knew more about them and we knew how to know what their experiences were and how we can leverage that to be successful as a team.
Terry: Yeah. I think one of the important things that helped us was we all talked about being okay with what we knew and what we didn’t know because we’re typically in a position of being the answer person for clients. So in this professional setting, it was nice to be in a “safe space” where you could be honest about what you knew and what you didn’t know and then leverage your strengths for the benefit of the group. So I thought that that was actually helpful to encourage growth for each of us in our own individual ways.
Tom: Yeah, I might just add that one of the challenges I think anytime you’re working with strangers is just how everybody approaches problem solving and those kinds of things differently. I think what made our experience so positive with Residency was just what Terry was saying, going in with an open mindset and everybody was really interested in learning more about each other and ultimately was there to get better as a planner. So I think we all have that shared goal in mind, which I think was really helpful throughout Residency.
Chad: I think mutual respect that we all have for each other as we went through the process, helped a lot when disagreements arose, we worked through those disagreements and came up with a good solution.
Sophie: I’d like to add to that to say that we had to learn to balance two things. Doing a good job in our professions and have to be leaders and be very actively involved. When we’re in a group setting with six other people, we have to balance our leadership instincts with the ability to listen to the others and let go some of the times and accept other ideas and run with them.
Matt: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. All of you were really kind of saying the same thing. Where at first we just got who we are professionally out on the table and that really allowed us to create a safe space. I think what I see with a lot of new planners coming into the profession is we come in, we have this education, most likely we’re pursuing or we’ve completed our CFP education, and we feel like we need to demonstrate that knowledge and be incredibly smart. There’s also this sense of feeling out the environment that you’re working in. So as a result of that experience at Residency, what were some pieces of wisdom that you would share with a new planner coming in again to their first role perhaps on just creating that safe space and how to have that conversation within a group that you might be working in?
Terry: Having confidence in what you know and what you’ve learned, but also having confidence and respect for what someone else brings to the table and not just your peers in the firm where you may be working. Also clients, because while clients may not have the knowledge that you have as an advisor or somebody who has their CFP, they have their area of expertise and since it’s supposed to be a partnership, I think acknowledging and respecting that helps the client planner relationship and builds that teamwork that we’re always talking about, we’re trying to create with the clients. I think it translates.
Savannah: I would say as a new planner too, to know that you’re always learning. Even at Residency we heard a lot of the mentors say, we saw you do this and that’s something I actually need to work on too. They’re still learning and they’re still working on things. So even as you step into the business, you have this education. Be confident about what you know, but know that you’re always going to be learning new things and you’re always going to be adapting and changing your approach and your mindset. Just learning from your colleagues, from those around you, even learning from clients.
Terry: Savannah, I think that’s an excellent point because the other thing that goes along with that is that there’s more than one way to solve a problem sometimes. I mean there are definitely some wrong answers and there are definitely some right answers. The idea is that there are some, right? There are combinations that can work well in a particular situation and being open to those combinations and finding the right fit that works well for both you and the client. More importantly, the client, right, is very important. So your answer as an individual is not the only answer that can be employed to help a client.
Matt: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point Terry. One of the things that I find really interesting and one thing I want to be completely transparent about for those listening is while we worked really well together as a team, there were certainly moments of tension and I think a lot of that stemmed from the time constraints that we had at Residency and having seven really talented people in the room with all of these ideas. So in all of your own words, like how did we manage to come to a common solution? What were some of the strategies that we took as a team to weed out all these multiple possibilities given our time constraints and come to a common solution?
Tom: Well I think our natural inclination as planners is to really get into the weeds and look at specific strategies and things of that nature. I think what we did really well, and we didn’t always do this, but I think we did it most of the time, is we really took a step back and thought about what are the goals, the high level goals of what we’re trying to accomplish here. Then once we had those and kind of established those and came to an agreement, we dug in and said, okay now what’s the best way that we can implement strategies and things like that to meet those goals? I think starting with the goals first and then building off of those was sort of a really helpful way that we worked under the time constraints and like you said, we worked well as a team despite the fact that there were times when there was some tension.
Chad: Yeah. For me, it was deciding what was important from my perspective and letting the things that I thought were not as important to me go and realizing that these are talented people that I’m working with, have great ideas and let’s go with that one or be willing to change my opinion on that was helpful.
Sophie: Also that was a very good exercise when we were in front of our clients because the whole focus of a lot of the teaching from the mentors was to really appreciate the fact that we had to meet the primary goals of the clients at all time. Not only in the initial discovery, but even at the time we were presenting to the clients. So I think having the discipline as a group was a great asset at the time we were interacting with clients.
Savannah: My head also went first to where Tom went with getting out of the weeds. I think we would get into weeds and details. I remember at one point when we had the mentor in with us and she said, okay step back. What are their goals? Is this really what they want to do? I think that was such a learning experience, but it also helped us with the time constraint because we could spend so long digging into the rate of return to use or what the inflation rate should be for all of these different things. We needed to focus on the goals first and foremost. So I think that really helped us in coming together as a team and presenting a plan within those time constraints.
Valeriane: When we first got together, we didn’t know each other that well and so it was difficult to know who everybody’s backgrounds and different levels of expertise. As we got to know each other a little bit more, we were able to understand that somebody had more experience with one particular area than another. It was also interesting because we really were always tempted to go down into the nitty gritty details and not really focus on the higher level purpose and objectives that we were trying to accomplish. So as the week went along we realized focus first on the objectives and then we can focus on the smaller details that will fill the plan.
Matt: I thought it was very interesting as the time went on. I’ll never forget the first time where we were working on the actual case work together. At one point there were three financial calculators in the equation and I’d like to say like towards the end, I don’t even know if we were using one. So individually, like what did you take away from the way other people do things? Like what was your biggest, I guess boost in your professional skillset that you took away from another one of our team members?
Sophie: One lesson I got and developed I guess is how to develop as a leader on a team. I think that applies for all of us. Be conscious of the goal, take input from your teammates, and work with them so that you come up with a common solution that everybody values and everybody feels good about. I think it’s a skill that we all have to continue developing, but it’s going to be very helpful as we progress in the profession.
Chad: For me, I think one of my biggest improvement points or one that I’m focusing on is really working on the open ended questions and the silence, letting there be some silence for them to provide additional information for the clients, provide additional information that you may not get by interrupting or going onto the next question, answering the yes or no questions. That was one of the big takeaways for me from the program.
Matt: Yeah. Chad, I’m really glad that you brought that up because you and I actually had the wonderful privilege of being the very first people to go up in front of the room and ask questions. I’m curious, you mentioned about the open ended questions. Was that something that was just valuable with the clients or was that something that is also valuable when working with your team?
Chad: No, I think it’s valuable working with your team as well for sure. You really don’t get their true feelings or opinions with asking closed end questions. Yes or no answers don’t really give you information. It’s solidifying your point of view or your opinion. The open ended questions is what really gets to the heart of the issue.
Savannah: Yeah. I think even in working with your colleagues, learning about other people, I would notice in even social situations talking to one of the mentors. She would ask a couple of questions and I found myself talking about so many things about myself and my story and all of these things that I didn’t realize wanted to come out at that moment. It kind of made me after learning about those skills, it was kind of fascinating to see how asking the right questions and genuinely caring about the answer, how it really makes the person on the other end feel. I think that’s something that’s so important with working with clients, but also working with colleagues and working within a team to really value their input and learn how to ask those right questions.
Chad: Now that I think about it, I’ve also noticed in social situations that I’ve changed the questions that I’ve asked other people and have gotten to know more about them and better information about them as well. Good point. I hadn’t thought of that.
Matt: Yeah. I think it’s something where again, like the time constraints and just the format of Residency. When we first came in, we didn’t really have a good feeling for that process and what the agenda was going to look like. As time went on, I noticed that a lot of us just started to take that backseat when we needed to let people talk so that we could actually understand what they were trying to communicate to the group and that ultimately helped us. Tom, I thought it was really interesting just watching you as we went through this experience where again, you’re very smart technically. I think we’re all very smart technically, but you were so good at that the longer the program went on. Where there were times that you would just take a back seat and let other people talk and you could see yourself just processing it. So is that something that you learned at Residency or is that something that you use a lot in your firm as well?
Tom: I think I did that a little bit going into Residency. I think Residency definitely helped solidify that skill. For me it just comes down to picking your battles. So in the grand scheme of things, you might have a disagreement with somebody, but if it’s not something that’s really going to make or break a certain situation or it’s not going to adversely impact the client’s situation or something along those lines, then it might not be something that you need to necessarily have a disagreement about. You can just say we agree to disagree and we can move on and keep doing the good work that we’re already doing. So I think it was a little bit of both.
Terry: Yeah, I think that that’s a great point Tom because there’s this idea of when you’re planning for a client, you come up with a solution that you want to recommend and you validate the client responses to it and you go ahead and you implement that plan. At Residency because of the time constraints, it goes to back to what I said before, there might be several answers that are sufficient, but not only are you keeping in mind the solution to the individual problem, you also at Residency want to work on a given skillset, right? The skillset is not how well you use the calculator, right? So come up with a solution that works that everybody can live with, but keep in mind what the goal of Residency is and reach for that goal, right? Try to accomplish the task at hand in accordance with Residency. Of course, you can’t come up with numbers that are just kind of all whack and don’t make any sense. Did you meet the goals of Residency? So you have to make sure you keep in mind what the target is. Does that make sense?
Matt: Yeah, definitely.
Tom: I mean, I’ll add a little bit more to what I was previously saying. I mean, so I see myself as being a perfectionist. So I always want things to be 100% correct. At the end of the day, that’s not always necessary. So I think it’s just having that thought process of, all right, let’s take a step back. Let’s think about what’s really important, what we’re really trying to accomplish here like Terry had mentioned, and then decide is this a hill I want to die on or is this something that I can live with? We can keep moving and keep making progress. At the end of the day, like Terry was saying, I mean Residency’s all about presenting and connecting with clients and really digging deep into their situation and getting to know them as people. So I think that makes it easier to not have the argument over technical things and to really keep focusing on the major goal of the program in general.
Matt: Yeah, that’s a really great point, Tom. I think it’s interesting, Tom and Terry, you both mentioned basically not going into this with an agenda. Like you just said, Tom, like not being a perfectionist. How would you describe how we grew as individuals, especially in the front of the room when we were presenting to the clients on having a conversation versus coming in with an agenda?
Savannah: As the week went on from the very beginning, I think we were all, okay, we’re doing a plan and we need all of this information from them. How are we going to get this? That was kind of how it started and we began to learn, okay, maybe it’s not about the numbers. Maybe this is more about we need their story, we need to know their why and what their goals are. I think at the very end when we had our presentation and it was really focused on their goals. We started with their goals and everything kind of came back to how this relates to their goals, how this is going to benefit them, and what is so important to them. So I think we kind of grew in that sense in that it was more open and we let them run the agenda rather than us.
Chad: Yeah. I think each of us as we went through these iterations, you could see a confidence growing in each of us as we had more experience, we were taking the feedback that we saw from the instructors, getting it to mentors, getting it to other Residency participants as well as to ourselves. Taking that and applying it in our situations, I felt our confidence grew and you can see that in the presentations as well as focusing more on the client and what Savannah was saying, their goals and objectives.
Savannah: I will say too listening to other people up there asking questions, it kind of made you go, “Oh man. There was an opportunity there that they could have dug deeper or they could have expanded more on that,” and you realize that when you’re in that seat, you miss it. So it was helpful to see it from the outside to say, “Oh, there’s an opportunity to go deeper, to expand, to figure out more about their story.”
Sophie: What I thought was amazing was that it was a very intense program. We had a lot of work to do, but I personally felt so engaged throughout. There was always something interesting happening and some opportunity for learning. Learning from the situations from the cases, learning from what people are saying within our group or in the larger group situation and observing people. So I thought that was a really fabulous experience to have.
Matt: Yeah. I think it’s really interesting, Savannah and Sophie, you iterated it too. Just having to see it from the outside. One of my favorite parts about the whole experience was when we were all working as individual teams, but we had to create a uniform plan and for lack of a better word, we were relying on other groups to ask really good questions. So what were some of the things you observed or looking back when you were presenting that you noticed other groups doing that helped you become better as the week went on?
Valeriane: You know a lot of the other groups. It was interesting how at first people would feel like they felt were so dependent on the results of other groups to be able to get the results and we realized and we observed that as we stayed high level and focused on the main points and then waited for details from others or even just if we made assumptions that would fill in parts of the plan that we didn’t have all the information for. As we progressed, we were able to fill in parts of the plan with the actuals as we progressed further into the planning process.
Tom: Yeah. For me, I think one of the most interesting things was just looking at how other people presented and everybody’s got a different style. I think it’s just so helpful to see what people’s styles were going in and then seeing how they grew over time. In the firm I’m at now, I work with three or four of the partners of the firm who are we’re in meetings with clients and I can see how they interact and I have a good sense for that. When you see 30 plus strangers doing the same sort of interactions with clients, you really see the whole spectrum of how people interact and how they connect and what works for one person might not work for another. I thought that was really helpful and assuring too because from my own point of view I have my own style and I don’t have to try to fit into a box. You can just be who you’re going to be and sort of focus on the best parts of your own style in interacting with clients.
Sophie: I felt the mentors did a very good job giving quality feedback that was personalized and reflective of individual styles, but also making general comments to encourage all of us to be ourselves as Tom said, and just develop from the strong basis that we already have.
Terry: I really like what a few of my team members have said about us as individuals and being authentic about who we are and how we want to interact and all of the positive feedback we received from the mentors and all of the positive aspects of our working together. I tell you if I go back to your original question, you talked a little bit about working with other teams and so it was nice to take away some of the positives from how other teams worked, but also since all of us are learning, you can also look at another group and objectively without judging saying, you know what? I don’t think we want to work, do something, or solve a problem that particular way because I see how that might not validate someone’s opinion or how that doesn’t foster authenticity or causes a problem with the group working as a team.
Terry: So we’re going to endeavor to not work that way or maybe cut that out or maybe not answer or ask a question a particular way to build teamwork, right? It’s a learning process from the goods, the bads, and the others and it’s in a safe place. I enjoyed that also.
Matt: That’s a really good point Terry, and I’m glad you brought that up. I thought it was fascinating and I really do think that was the pivotal point for our team when we had retirement planning for the first section of the plan and all of our data was so dependent on other teams and we saw that friction in the other groups of how they were trying to come to these data points that they could get to us. I think when we saw that, it really helped us realize that, okay we need to take a step back and we need to take a high level approach and we have good thoughts in this group. Did anyone else have a similar feeling of that being the pivotal moment?
Terry: I don’t know if that was necessarily a pivotal moment, but what I was reminded of throughout the time period is that it is so important, even though we’re working under a time constraint and we’re trying to solve problems, we’re trying to make sure we meet the client goals. You have to listen to your teammates. You have to listen to your colleagues, let them finish the sentence. Right? Let your clients finish their thought and their sentence. Don’t be afraid of the silence and those skills translate and in the end, save you time.
Matt: All right so Tom, I really saw a lot of development in you throughout the week again, presenting to the clients where you came in from a very technical approach. In that last presentation, you were very comfortable just being at a high level. Could you tell me a little bit more about what you were taking away from other people’s styles and how you applied that to yourself?
Tom: I think what I was saying earlier about how everybody does have their own style and I’m really focusing on what your strengths are and building from those. I felt like going in, I don’t know that I necessarily had a good grasp of what my style was. So I think probably the biggest benefit of just Residency in general was really honing in on that style. Bringing a little bit of humor to the conversation, obviously at the appropriate time. I think what really helped me do that was to see other people doing it and it really validates my feeling that it’s okay to joke around a little bit, to have some fun. You don’t have to be buttoned down and always digging super deep into the numbers and things like that. So I think it was really just taking a step back and realizing, it’s okay to do that. It’s okay to laugh with a client. So I think that was the biggest benefit for me.
Valeriane: I’m sure a lot of new planners can relate to this, but coming from an associate level advisor position and then working directly with clients, I didn’t have a lot of experience actually working with the clients. So it was really fascinating. I took a lot of notes as I observed others interact with clients and talk to clients and the feedback that they received. I really incorporated that into my style. What helped was that I was able to see it over and over and over again versus one client interaction here and another there. It was more intensive.
Matt: Yeah. One other interesting thing about your whole process that I noticed was when you first started preparing for that topic, you were trying to script it out and ultimately you did not have a script to read off of and I don’t think you scripted it out at all and it was so much more natural. So how was that progression for you? What caused you to start out with the script and how did being less scripted help you as a planner?
Valeriane: Yeah. Initially I think it goes back to my experience actually talking through the financial planning process with clients. I wasn’t incredibly comfortable with it and I wasn’t exactly where I was wanting to go and so I scripted it out and it was a little bit more choppy. I think a lot of new advisors can kind of relate to maybe having a bit of social anxiety or you feel like you’re in a client meeting and this is your first one with them and all eyes are on you and if you mess it up, then the clients are going to be out the door. As you realize that you can relax and have a more natural relationship with the clients, but also have an idea point A, B, C, and D that you wanted to talk about. It was a lot more helpful to not have it scripted out and to be able to have a more natural conversation with the client and it made you a lot more comfortable, made the client a lot more comfortable. So it was fun to kind of go through that process and see myself grow as well.
Matt: Okay. So just to wrap things up, I want each of you just to give the audience your one big takeaway from Residency. So what is the one thing, if you could only choose one, that you would take away from Residency and apply to your future growth as a financial planner?
Savannah: I think mine would have to be the willingness to continue to learn and just the openness of all of you guys, all my teammates, to learn and to adapt to different ways of presenting and different ways of interacting with clients. Then, like I said, the mentors are still learning. So I think it was something kind of eyeopening to say, okay we’ve done this education, but you’re not supposed to know everything right away. You don’t know the answers to everything and it’s okay to say, I’m not sure about that, but let me check on it. Let me consult with someone that’s an expert in it and I’ll get right back to you. That it’s okay to do all of that. So I think that was a big takeaway for me.
Sophie: For me, a big takeaway is have the tools and continue to learn the tools to build a deep relationship with clients through a strong discovery of their personal stories. That’s a skill to continue to develop. I really learned a lot on these aspects.
Tom: I think my biggest takeaway was just taking a step back and really focusing on the client goals and what’s really important. Also, tying in with that you don’t need the most sophisticated software to make a point and to present a plan. You have the ability to build and present a plan without software and still convey the same message as you would if you had the software in place. So I think that was my biggest takeaway.
Terry: I think for me the biggest takeaway throughout the entire process is that we have to give the clients the time and the room to share the information that will ultimately make the plan worthy of their buy in. So you go from a 60 minute meeting to a 90 minute or a two hour meeting to give them that opportunity to share the information on a level that will help you implement your tools in a way that they’re definitely going to want to move forward because you’ve tied your tools into being useful for what it is they want to reach for. That only comes with giving them time to answer fully.
Chad: For me, it’s being client focused and listening to their story, getting deep into the story with open ended questions and really understanding what they’re looking for and focus on them and not the details and the technical knowledge that we have.
Valeriane: Yeah. Biggest takeaway from me was, I concur a lot with what I’m a lot of the others have said is that you don’t need a fancy financial planning software to present a good financial plan to work through a situation for a client. My other biggest takeaway was that I think I kind of had a phobia of trying to fill a one hour conversation with clients when I sat one on one with him and I realize it’s not about trying fill it. It’s about trying to listen and asking really great questions. I definitely gained the tools of what kind of questions are great questions to ask and how can I probe a little bit more without drilling down in an aggressive type of way towards the numbers, but more focusing on the feelings and the goals of the client and connecting with them in that way.
Matt: Well, it was so great to catch up with everyone. I am so thankful that I was able to go to Residency and meet all of you. For all of those who are our fellow class of 2019 Residency graduates, it was so great to interact with everyone and just learn from everyone who was in that room. So thank you all for joining the show today and I’m so excited to watch where everyone goes in the next few years.
Savannah: Thank you.
Sophie: Thank you Matt.
Terry: Thank you.