Hannah: Thanks for joining us today, Brad.
Brad: Yes, very happy to be back.
Hannah: I am so glad you’re here. I always find every time I talk to you I feel like I learn something new because you bring this unique aspect of the financial psychology to financial planning. One thing that I’ve been really, really curious and thinking about a lot especially as we’ve been looking at our internal processes for how we do financial planning, is the language around how we talk about financial and what we mean by it versus what our clients are actually perceiving. I think it’s fair to say that there’s a gap often between our perception and our clients’ perception on that.
Brad: I think that’s entirely accurate.
Hannah: Are there conditions that are necessary for a client to step foot into a financial planner’s office?
Brad: Yeah, there are. There’s quite often a context too. That contest, typically, involves some sort of transition or stressor that they’re facing. Whether it’s approaching retirement, this is a transitional stressor. Whether it’s a divorce, whether it’s we’re going to have a child, we need to start thinking more seriously about our finances. Sometimes it’s they’re not happy with their previous financial advisor. There’s usually some sort of impetus that is leading them to go look for you or to seek you. That’s something to really be aware of to, that there’s quite often a lot of emotion associated with that. Some of it’s positive, some of it’s negative. Some of it could be fear, but that’s quite often where we’re seeing people walk in the door.
Hannah: You say that there’s emotion connected to when people are coming in. How do the best planners address that, and then where do you see that other planners kind of fall short in that?
Brad: Yeah. That’s just such an insightful question in and of itself. All my advisors in my firm, I have encouraged them to put a little sticky note on their computer screen or put it somewhere where they can see it just before a client meeting, and it says 75/25. The mission and the goal is to listen 75% of the time and talk 25% of the time. In our work with advisors, it’s typically flipped the other direction because we’re human beings. When a client comes in, some of us are eager. Some of us might be a little bit stressed especially if we’re new. When we’re in that stand of mind, we have a tendency to want to educate the client or present ourselves in the best light. We’re really focused on ourselves, ultimately. We’re having our own emotional experience, and so we’re really hyper focused on ourselves. That little cue is to remind us to focus on the client because if we can do that, we’re going to be giving the client a much better emotional experience of us, frankly. It has a real benefit of them feeling more connected to us, them feeling more understood and just creating that space for them to bring, to talk about what they’re dealing with and what they’re coming in with.
Brad: It’s a bit of a dance and a bit of an art because you’ll have some clients who are expecting that formal presentation, and so they’ll put that pressure on you, which is fine. You want to meet them right there, but I always like to start meetings with, so we’ve got this set of things we want to talk about, things I want to share with you. Before we do that, it’d be great if you could just share with me, what’s the top thing on your mind right now? What’s most concerning you? Just creating some space for them to bring whatever it is into the room. I’ve certainly sat with people where I have this whole agenda. I’m going to go over whatever it is, our models, portfolio models or whatever. I said that to somebody, and they have reported to something that was totally shocking to me. They had just lost their sibling the night before or some really profound life event. They’re bringing in all this emotion related to this, and if I just jumped into business I wouldn’t have created some space to hear what’s actually going on and what’s most important in that moment.
Hannah: Are clients getting what they need when they go to our websites, know to even call us?
Brad: I think we do a really poor job on the websites too, in general. What percentage of your clients, their goal in life is to be on a sailboat? Could we just take all the sailboats off our websites? Maybe we could start there. It’s just sort of a disconnect. A lot of, I think, what we do that, so we’re getting into a little bit of the marketing component, and the psychology of marketing and all of that. We’re entirely too self-focused on our websites. It’s all about what I’m doing, and what I have to offer you, and who we are and who I am. I think the websites and the communications that are a little bit more effective are ones that more client-centered. It’s more asking, tell us about you. What’s stressing you out? Really coming at it from that direction around what we would anticipate our prototypical clients’ needs are in that time. Are you worried about retirement? These are the types of questions you can have on your front page, worried about retirement, not knowing what to do with those stock options. You’re sort of hitting them at their pain point, which happens to be a fabulous marketing technique, but it’s also one that really helps people relate to that person a level that they’re really concerned about. It’s top-of-mind for them, and it’s focused on the client versus yourself.
Hannah: You mentioned that 75% and 25% rule or sticky note that you put on the computer. How do we give advice in those situations? How is it best for us because we are the experts on the financial aspects of the plan? What’s the best way for us to give advice in a way that’s going to be received and then acted upon?
Brad: Before we talk about that, it’s also really important to know that clients, and we know this, but it’s something to really think about, that when somebody is walking in our door especially if they’re a new client, haven’t worked with an advisor before, just understand that there’s probably a lot of shame that they’re walking in with or concern that they’re going to be judged or potential embarrassment. There’s a lot of stress in actually coming to see you to begin with. Now you might be sort of immune to this because you’re like, “I talk about this every day,” but just reminding yourself that this is for many people one of the most intimate areas of their life they don’t talk to anyone else about. They might be talking to their friends about their sex life, but they never talk about their financial life.
Brad: Just understanding that this is a very, very sensitive topic for people, and they don’t talk about it much. There’s a real fear of being judged. They’re coming to you, this expert. They’re laying out their most vulnerable parts of themselves that they don’t share with anyone else, so just understanding that real responsibility that we have and that position of honor that we have, that clients are coming in and talking about what is potentially the thing that is stressing them out the most, keeping them up at night and leading to most of the stress in their lives, which all the studies have shown. This is the biggest stressor in people’s lives, so just understanding that and just being consistently aware of this very honored place we are and the trust people are putting into us is a great place to start with that.
Brad: Then when it comes to advice, I talked a lot about advice giving. The advice I give is, don’t give advice, if you’ve ever heard me talk. That’s not really true. Our job is to give advice. Our job is to answer questions that clients ask us. Our job is to do our due diligence based on our assessment around recommendations, and recommendations are advice. I’m going to suggest you do these things. People have no problem giving advice, frankly. This is something we do quite naturally. The hard part is recognizing when somebody is not taking that advice or they’re resisting that advice. This becomes a bit of a course of study around, what does resistance look like? If you happen to be in a romantic relationship, you can see indicators of resistance probably every day in your life, so that’s a great place to start. It’s sort of noticing if I’m making a suggestion and somebody starts to resist it, what are the signs? It can be nonverbal signs where they’re sort of crossing their arms, or they’re sort of shifting away from you, or they have an expression on their face of one that looks like surprise or consternation.
Brad: It could be a verbal indicator of some resistance to that advice where they start saying, “Yes, but,” or they argue back with you a little bit. One of the key skills, if you want to be effective in your work with clients, is to not do what you’re naturally going to want to do when they resist that advice. What you’re naturally going to want to do is sort of double down, repeat yourself, throw up some extra graphs, charts and try to educate that person into submission around your advice. What we know by the science is all that backfires. The more you do that, the less likely it is for that person to take that advice. The cue really is to stop what you’re doing, and the best technique is to just sort of simply reflect back what that person is saying. For example, hey, Hannah, you need to get a will. Then you say something like, “Well.” Whatever you say after that, my job is just to listen and then sort of repeat that back to you. You’re kind of concerned about the timing around that, or you’re worried that you can’t really have that conversation with your partner because of the complication, whatever it is.
Brad: Whatever that resistance is, just sort of reflect that back versus me saying, “Hannah, you really need a will” because then what’s going to happen is you’re going to start rehearsing the reasons why you’re not ready to get a will. Then I’m going to say, “You really need to.” What the studies have shown is you’re less likely to get a will if I take that approach than if I had never talked to you about a will to begin with.
Hannah: I was just having a conversation with some planners this week, and they were frustrated because their clients weren’t implementing their advice. Is this what’s happening? Is the narrative that’s likely going on in their mind?
Brad: Absolutely, and our job is to give advice. Our job is to give good advice frequently, but it’s paying attention to that resistance. We’re all going to get it. The best advisors are going to get it. Actually, the best clients are going to give us some resistance along the way at some point. Some people are ready to come in and do one thing, and we’re asking them to do six other things. Maybe they’re not ready to do some of that, and that was part of your question, like how do we know when people are ready to do it? We’re all at different stages of change in our lives around everything. We might be really ready to exercise more, but we’re not ready to really make those dietary changes. It’s pretty normal to be in that. It’s begin sensitive to those particular pieces of advice and paying close attention to whether a client is resisting that or executing on it, and then shifting your tactics because again, it’s totally natural to try to double down on your advice. We’re all wired to do that, and it’s interrupting your natural response to sort of step back and just sort of sit with that client around their resistance. The studies have shown that’s where you’re going to get more effective movement to.
Hannah: I’m sure there’s a study out there, but I remember hearing that only 10% of people are ever ready to change at any certain point. Is there anything that we can do as advisors to help our clients to want to change or to help them to get to that place where they’re ready to make that change, like you said, if they’re ready to make those dietary changes on top of the exercising?
Brad: The great news is it’s not half as bad. It’s twice as good as you think it is. It’s 20% of people are sort of …
Brad: Exactly, so whew, what a relief. That’s one out of five that are just totally ready and prepared, and they’re going to take your advice. Some planners screen out the rest of people. Some planners are really sort of in your face around, this is what we do. This is how we do it. Clients who work with us, this is how they want it. That might not be a good fit for you, so make your decision, and that’s fine. You’re going to screen out. You’ll lose a lot of business, but you’ll definitely get the clients who are ready to drink the Kool-aid you’re stirring and making up. There are those clients that are right there. This is to that stages of change, so that’s the action phase. That’s about 20% of the people are just ready to just execute on whatever advice you’re giving them or one particular piece of advice.
Brad: The rest of the people are, either they’re contemplating it or thinking about it. They’re getting ready to do it. They’re just not ready to pull the trigger, or they’re sort of in total denial that this is something they even to address. This is what makes financial planning so exciting and so fun, because we’re not salespeople. It’s not I’m just going to try to make this sale, and then off you go. My goal as a financial planner is to be with you for years or decades, and to be focused on your financial health. The way I see it is it’s not my job to, so I’ve given you 10 recommendations. I was going to say 25, but a lot of people have wised up and given less. Even better, I’m giving you three or four, but I might have 15 more. We’re just not ready to do it, and I know we’re not ready to do it. I know I’m going to be meeting with you again in a month or three months. I’ll mention that we have more to address in this area, but let’s do this first, or where do you want to start first?
Brad: For example, one thing that you’ll see a lot of resistance on with clients, and I’m sure you’ve seen this too, but it’s the data collection. It’s like hey, part of what we do is we do an analysis of your insurance needs and that kind of thing, so how about if you upload all 16 policies into our portal, all 16 30-page policies, and then have that done by next week. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a client who actually did it within a week. Maybe you have some engineer clients, but a lot of people will avoid that. It’s just something that they’re not necessarily that they’re resistant to that resistance or that insurance concept. It’s just that they’re busy. The more you confront somebody around that, the worse it’s going to go. Just being gentle and understanding that it’s a process, I think, really helps. That’s the way I look at my work with clients, is I’m hoping to be working with them for decades to come. This is something that can be rolled out over time.
Brad: No big surprise to you, but in my firm one of the things we talk about is financial psychology. We do asset management. We do financial planning. We do financial psychology. Those are sort of our three offerings. I don’t think clients, for example, who are coming in who want just asset management, this is also really another important point in working with people. You have to sort of meet them where they’re at. I believe firmly that they need a financial plan. This is just sort of a value I have. I think everybody needs one or would benefit from one. If somebody comes in the door and all they want is asset management, I’m not going to tell them, “You got to do a financial plan right now.” I don’t really want to do that. You have to.
Brad: For me, personally, and I learned this as years and years of work as a clinical psychologist. When somebody is coming in with an issue or a problem, they’re not ready to do everything you want them to do in session one. If you come at them like they need to, it’s not only not effective, it’s also a bit of shaming for them. It’s not connecting with them. I’m a real big proponent of meeting a client where they’re at. Of course, I have this agenda, and I have these ideas on what they need to do, but I’m looking at this as a process. I’m looking at moving them a step or two further towards that action phase, not going from they’ve never heard of this to taking action in one meeting. I think that’s a great way to feel like a failure as a financial planner, but looking at it as more of a process.
Hannah: It’s interesting. I think of the seven steps of financial planning. What you’re talking about is a process of financial planning, but it doesn’t fit necessarily in these nice, neat boxes.
Brad: Yes. A lot of things in life don’t seem to quite fit in the box. Fabulous model, I love the stages. Any practicing financial planner knows too that you might be missing some data points that come to light later or even a client who is giving your misinformation or information they hadn’t really thought through. That’s a process that is a live one, it’s a dynamic one. Financial planners who’ve been doing this for a long time know that financial planning is a lifelong process. It’s not a document you lay in front of somebody two weeks later.
Hannah: On that data collection example that you gave, you said to be gentle and be patient with them on that. Are there other approaches to help in that specific …? I’m selfishly asking this for my practice, actually, right now. Are their other techniques or things that we can do to help with that, or is it just the fundamental issue of we’re asking too much of our clients?
Brad: Yeah. I think we need to be good at sort of assessing their capacity for delivering what we’re wanting in the timeframe in which we’re wanting it. Just understand this too. If you’re getting resistance from your client, you’re the one creating it. You’re creating it. You’re creating the situation where they’re not wanting to deliver what you’re wanting them to deliver. Just owning that can be really helpful because you can then sort of shift your approach. This is some of the stuff we’ve talked about previously too where finding other ways of presenting information to clients can be extremely beneficial. This is where the work and experiential type models really comes into play. You can think about having people, for example, if somebody, you want to talk about their retirement. The typical way of doing that would be in your little questionnaire, hey, what year do you want to retire? How much money do you want to have when you retire? That’s sort of the old school way of doing it. Hopefully, I’m not offending anyone by saying that’s the old school way. Go ahead and ask those questions, don’t get me wrong.
Brad: I think a much more powerful approach to actually move people towards motivation is to have them get a little bit more specific and engage the parts of their brain that are really the ones that are driving behaviors, which is that emotional, visual, what we would call the animal brain, the mammalian brain, the emotional brain, to try to activate that part of the individual around sort of any of these behavioral change issues because that’s the part of the brain that really gets people to take action. How do you do that? One way you might do that is adding to your question set around retirement. Tell me, paint a picture of your ideal retirement for me. Now that’s a very different question. Wow. Even as I say that question, I start to picture my ideal retirement. I might say, “Flesh it out for me. Who’s there? What do you see yourself doing? Where are you?” That technique right there, if you wanted to increase somebody’s motivation to save for retirement, if incredibly powerful.
Brad: We recently did a clinical trial on using that type of an experience. For this one, we had people create vision boards of their savings goals. Just after doing that for an hour we saw a 73% increase in savings rates as a percentage of gross income. We compared that to putting people in a room who where we were doing more of that educational component that most financial planners do around educating people around the importance of retirement, or saving for retirement and all that kind of things. Bringing in those emotional parts, we saw a 73% increase in savings after just an hour of doing that. A fabulous way to get people to move forward around some of these goals is to find ways to make it more visual, more emotional, more kinesthetic, really going after those parts of the brain that motivate behavioral change.
Hannah: Number one, what’s our role as a financial planner in terms of motivation? Is it our job to help motivate our clients? Then number two, how does motivation work? What is the psychology behind that that we need to understand as planners?
Brad: Yeah. First of all, I would say, yes. Motivation is basically like this impetus to take action. We want to increase the motivation for our clients to do what’s in their best financial health. Yes, it’s absolutely part of our job. Just a quick example. If you see a client who is engaging in a self-destructive financial behavior. For example, something we quite commonly see is people who are perhaps financially enabling somebody else. They’re giving money in a way that’s hurting either themselves or hurting somebody else. This is a real common example that advisors run into. Part of what we want to do is to motivate them to stop doing that or do it in a different way. Absolutely, that’s part of our job. We’re going to be running into this stuff all the time, is that primary source of financial health for a client throughout their lifespan. These sorts of circumstances pop up all the time.
Brad: In that sense, we wrote an article in the Journal of Financial Planning a few years back really sort of talking about financial planner as healer, which is an interesting concept, at least I think it’s interesting. As a healer, and what do I mean by that? Financial stress is the biggest source of stress in people’s lives in America. The studies have shown anywhere from 70% to 80% of Americans say it’s the biggest source of stress in their lives above work, children, health, everything. What we know is stress kills people. That’s the other thing we know. We know that most people are stressed about money and stress kills people. Then that brings me to the question of who do these stressed out people around money, who do they talk to? Who do they go to for help? They don’t go to the mental health profession. We’ve done research on this too. Mental health profession has a tendency to be money avoidant. As part of their intake process, it might surprise you. They don’t ask any questions about money. They don’t ask, “Do you have debt? Are you stressed about money?” It’s not even part of the training.
Brad: Who do they go to talk about this issue? I’m going to suggest it’s financial planners. It’s not a big leap to say money is the biggest source of stress. Money kills people. The only person professional that a person can talk to around money is probably a financial planner. You are actually a life saver. You are actually in a position to literally save lives around … Hopefully, I’m not coming across as too adamant about, but I truly believe this on a very deep level. We are in a position to help people heal what is the most stressful and painful thing in their lives. It’s a huge opportunity for us. It’s a call to action. It’s sort of a mission, I believe, that we’re potentially on earth her to do. It’s incredibly valuable, so really coming at it from that point of view, it’s quite inspiring for me. I hope it is for you.
Hannah: I’ve been seeing a lot of financial coaching versus financial planning. What do you see as the kind of differences between a financial coach and a financial planner?
Brad: What I see with a financial planner, I would say, if we’re going to categorize them like this is probably more traditionally trained. As part of your curriculum and training, you’re learning about insurance planning, and estate planning, and educational planning. You come out with a bunch of information, extremely valuable information that people need to know about, some tools on how to do financial plans, that kind of thing. It sort of stops there. It’s like, this is what we need. This is how we deliver this information to people. This is how we might construct a portfolio, that kind of thing, nuts and bolts. It doesn’t really give you many tools on what to do when people just don’t want to do it, or they’re showing some resistance, or you’re in a room with a couple, and they don’t agree about their financial goals. What am I supposed to do with that, or as they example we used before, people are taking advantage of them around money, and what are you supposed to do about that?
Brad: The coaching aspect is really bringing what we’ve learned from psychology, and using that and adopting some of those tools and techniques in the role of financial planner, so that you can become more effective in your work. That’s ultimately what you’re trying to do. In that aspect too, you’re not doing psychotherapy on clients. You’re not jumping off into trying to treat a mental disorder, more the therapy type experience with people. That’s not your mandate, that’s not your job. What you are doing is bringing in that knowledge around perhaps beliefs around money or money scripts like a lot of the research we’ve done. What was it like for them growing up around money, and how is that impacting their behaviors right now? How are they relating as a couple? Again, you’re not a couple’s therapist, but the thing that couples are most likely to fight about and get divorced about in early years of marriage is money.
Brad: You’re going to run across these conflicts, and what do I do? What do I do when I see that? If you’re not trained with some coaching skills, you probably might ignore it. If you are, you might feel a little bit more comfortable to sit there and say, “Could we just take turns, so we can just hear. I’d love to hear what your goals are, and I’d like to hear what your goals are.” You might feel like you could actually facilitate them negotiating a solution. You’re going to feel more like you have a skillset to do that. Again, that’s not couple’s therapy. You’re just helping people negotiate and using some of your listening skills. A lot of that comes down to listening and change type technology skills. That’s what I see financial coaching.
Brad: My dream would be all financial planners are doing some type of financial coaching. Perhaps they’re doing it exactly the way they’re doing business right now, but they’re bringing in some of those questions, and some of those tools, and some of those strategies and theories in their work. Ultimately, it’s just going to make them more effective. Being more effective is actually, potentially never been more important than it is right now. In the time in which our profession is being threatened by all sorts of things where, for example, asset management is being somewhat commoditized and there’s all kinds of downward pressure on fees, and isn’t trading free in America right now, trading fees?
Brad: There’s all this downward pressure on price, and we’ve got a generation that’s coming up that’s very comfortable just never meeting with a human being around major aspects of their lives. I think it’s a huge opportunity, but also somewhat of a mini crisis around how can we step into being more of that life-centered planner, that trusted advisor? People need this, by the way. A robot is not going to help you solve all your problems in life especially these deeply held emotional ones, at least not yet. I think it helps as a market differentiator. When you listen to a client on a very deep level, if you’re doing that 75/25, just understand. Nobody else in their life is doing that. For some people, if they’ve never gone and seen a psychotherapist, they have never had anyone listen to them for 75% of the time in a meeting.
Brad: This is such a unique experience in people’s lives, that if you just are able to create that space, people are going to become addicted to you, basically, because they’re going to feel heard and understood, which happens to be an incredibly beneficial experience for people on a psychological level, an emotional level. You’re providing a tremendous value by creating that space for people. Also, it’s going to be an incredibly sticky relationship because you’re giving them an experience that is very rare that they don’t get in their personal life, that perhaps they’ve never gotten. Therein lies the opportunity by bringing in some of that coaching skillset to make you much more effective and to have clients who never leave you.
Hannah: As you were talking, the question came to mind especially since you’re talking about helping clients kind of be that mediator, have those conversations. At what point do we cross into the therapy side where it’s just inappropriate for financial planners to be?
Brad: Yes. I’d love to show you my decision tree that I created related to this because it is such a complicated issue. I should say it’s an important issue. It’s a very important issue. Coming from the clinical psychology side, it’s really easy for me to tell, but I’ve been in your position. It’s really tough. When am I crossing that boundary? Which is a really important thing. We know this from our own ethics as a profession. We shouldn’t be doing stuff that we’re not trained to do. Definitely, we don’t want to do that. The line that I’ve drawn and that I teach my students at Creighton is around when you’re moving into the mental health world. What do I mean by that? It’s where you’re seeing that somebody who seems to be a little depressed, everyone knows what depression looks like on a fundamental level, or you’re seeing significant marital conflict. One person believes this, the other person believes that. Whatever you do, don’t take a side. By the way, that would be a terrible marriage therapist too, who took a side on that.
Brad: You want to avoid taking sides in that way. You want to more create a open dialogue. Then you also want to avoid trying to “treat” some type of disorder. For example, you see somebody who has an addiction to shopping or a compulsive spender. Maybe you’ve seen clients like that, or you’ve heard of clients like that, or somebody who has so much anxiety around money that you can kind of tell it’s keeping them up at night, and they’re pretty rattled, or somebody who’s got a gambling problem that seems to be out of their control, or a hoarder. There’s a whole list of things, not to mention the more emotional, like somebody who’s super anxious or depressed, or they’re in the middle of a marital conflict that is heading for divorce. Those are the kind of things you want to stay away from.
Brad: You don’t want to ignore them because they’re really, really important, but you also don’t want to dive in there. It’s crossing your boundary, don’t do it. Don’t ever do it. In my role, I could do it, but in my role as a financial planner don’t do it because it’s also unethical for me to do it. It’s totally unethical for me as a dually trained financial planner and psychologist to do both for one client, so I never do it. You don’t put yourself in the position of a therapist with a client when you’re managing their money. In our profession, in the psychology profession it’s called a dual role. You just, you can’t do it. It’s unethical. Those are boundaries that I keep for myself even though I can do both. I do therapy on this side. I would never manage somebody’s money who I’m doing therapy with and vice versa.
Brad: What you do want to do is you want to sort of be aware of these. I think it really does help to read up on many of these conditions I’ve just mentioned and just understand that they’re there. The other thing that’s really exciting right now with the blend, and the coaching, and the therapy and all the stuff you’ve been reading about what’s happening with the profession, actually, the CFP board is bringing more psychology into a lot of their ways of conceptualizing our work too, which is really, really exciting, is to really find ways to connect with people who have that skillset. If you don’t want to do the nuts and bolts coaching kind of work and get into the weeds around budgeting details, that kind of stuff, maybe make a connection with somebody who that’s what they do for a living. They’re a money coach, for example. They help people around budgeting and they help people with that behavioral change stuff. You can actually work with somebody. Hey, look, these are the goals that I have for this client. Here’s the financial plan. Obviously, you would get consent from the client, work as a team. Could you help them move forward on some of these? That would be one way to collaborate.
Brad: Another way would be to have a relationship with a psychotherapist who is sensitive to money issue and somebody who perhaps has a specialty in that area. There’s a growing number of those individuals where in working with a client you can make a referral. That’s always a little bit of a sticky thing. It takes some skill to do that. Hey, you need a therapist. Don’t do it that way. There does take some skill involved there, but that’s another thing that a lot of planners are doing.
Yeah, I know. I’ve referred out clients to therapist, just suggesting that it might be something that could help them through a rough patch.
Brad: By the way, how does that go? Have you had some success with that?
Hannah: Yeah. It’s really interesting because it usually causes them to pause and think. They’re just like, “Huh.” I think it just expands their world a littie bit, if that makes sense. They’re going to be like, “I hadn’t thought of that.”
Brad: Have you lost clients by suggesting that?
Hannah: Gosh, no.
Brad: Most of the resistance I get around that is around, oh my gosh, my clients are going to fire you. If you do it wrong, they are going to fire you, but there’s ways. You have to be sort of strategic around in opening that door and making that suggestion. You’re referring them to perhaps an insurance specialist. The more comfortable you are around it, the more comfortable they will be with having that discussion.
Hannah: I’ve heard people say, “You can’t take a client somewhere where you haven’t gone.” Is that true from a financial planning standpoint?
Brad: I think that it’s true in some aspects. I don’t think it’s true in others. I don’t think you have to have run a medical practice, for example, in order to help advise somebody on business structure and medical practice, just as an example. You, of course, need some experience around business practices. In that sense, you have to have gone there. I do think that if you’re bringing in these skillsets from the coaching world or the therapy world, and you’re adapting them, that’s where I think it becomes much more important for you to quote, “have done your own work on that.” By that, I mean if you want to engage with a client around their money scripts, for example, so there beliefs around money. What was it like for you growing up around money, or if you wanted to give them a test related to that, or you wanted to dive into a discussion around that. I think it’s a really good idea for you to know your own.
Brad: I think it’s a really good ideal for you to have some insight on how your parents influenced your beliefs around money and how those beliefs around money have either helped you or hurt you throughout your life. If they’ve hurt you, just have done some introspection around what you did to shift those. I think it’s really good for you to have traveled some of that territory before you’re bringing it in. If you are bringing in, for example, an exercise, if you’re going to give somebody a risk tolerance questionnaire, I think it’s a good idea if you took it. It’s that sort of philosophy, like so you know the items. You know where people might get stuck around it. You have sort of a general philosophy, and you’ve also had the experience of having that experience yourself, really, really valuable.
Hannah: Let’s talk a little bit more about money scripts. I know you have done a lot of work around this. What is a money script?
Brad: A money script is a word that we’ve used to describe these essentially subconscious beliefs we have about money. I say subconscious because we don’t talk about them much. A lot of aren’t even aware that these are beliefs. Something really interesting about even the word belief, it starts to become, it makes it a little bit more real and a little bit less than … It separates yourself from it, so this is a belief that’s been instilled in your brain around money. It doesn’t mean it’s right. It doesn’t mean it’s accurate, but we have these beliefs. They’re clunking around in our subconscious. A lot of us aren’t aware of them, but our research has shown that they have a direct relationship with people’s income, net worth, credit card behaviors, socioeconomic status in childhood and a whole host of financial behaviors.
Brad: It’s incredibly fertile ground in working with somebody around their relationship with money, their financial behaviors, their spending habits, their resistance around certain areas, to take a look at these beliefs because they have such a profound relationship with how people actually act and their outcomes around money. That’s sort of the exciting part that that can bring in. There are these beliefs. We quite often inherit them, so we get them from grandparents, great-grandparents. Sometimes we get them from experiences we’ve had in our lives. Sometimes they come from generations, and we have no idea where they came from, but they do have a profound effect on us. It’s an area where a lot of financial planners are finding that there’s a lot of benefit to exploring that with some of their clients.
Hannah: It’s interesting. You’re saying this is exciting, so I’m assuming that these are scripts that can be changed. A person can alter kind of how they view money.
Brad: Absolutely, yes. That’s the great thing, is that our beliefs do have a direct relationship to our outcomes, and we can change them. Planners do this naturally. You are changing people’s beliefs every day in your office if you’re doing work. This is a skillset that you have. Sometimes that belief changing comes down to presenting new information for them, like before I met you I didn’t believe I needed disability insurance. Now I believe I do. You’ve just shaped a belief. It doesn’t require an expertise as a psychotherapist to do that. Sometimes it’s just simply presenting some of that information. Sometimes it’s presenting information to a client, like let’s say that you’re working with a person who grew up more middle class or lower socioeconomic status. This is one that I see all the time. They’re moving up that socioeconomic ladder, or they want to move up that socioeconomic ladder, but they have a real resistance to outsourcing help. It’s a miracle they’re even talking to you because they have do it yourselfitis, which is a common sort of barrier to entrepreneurial success, people coming from those lower, middle class and below.
Brad: One of the things that you’re perhaps doing is educating them on people who are really successful in business are often doing these things. They often have met with an attorney or a CPA to go over their corporate structure, or these tax issues or ways to protect their intellectual property or whatever it is. You’re educating them around this whole other world that they’ve never really been a part of it, and it feels alien and foreign to them. That’s an incredible role that planners can make, is bridging that, basically, the cultural gap between middle to lower class, to upper class in terms of what behaviors people actually engage in or how people approach investing, for example, all sorts of terrible ideas around how to do that that are proliferating all over social media. We were talking about this before the episode, so what an incredible opportunity for you to shape some of those beliefs.
Brad: When it comes to beliefs around money, people aren’t aware of it. They’ve never really thought about what it was like for them growing up around money, and their parents, what they taught them. For example, I have these negative beliefs around rich people, is a common money script, like rich people are greedy, money corrupts. I’m having some success, but I’m also feeling alienated from my family because there’s these negative beliefs around money. Just being aware of that can have a profound impact on somebody’s relationship with money and their behaviors moving forward. That’s where you can get a lot of value from digging a little bit deeper into their psychology around money.
Hannah: They have an awareness. I know in my firm we ask the question, how did your parents relate to money? Different things like that. Once they have an awareness, what’s the next step, or is that often enough?
Brad: Sometimes awareness is enough. Sometimes you have this aha moment, and I can think of many of these aha moments that have happened with clients and for myself, and you probably can too where you’re like, I hadn’t thought of it that way, boom. Okay, now I think about it this way from now on.
Brad: We have those experiences, those aha moments. Sometimes though, people have the emotional anchor to that belief is so incredibly intense. I’ll give you an example. People who grew up in severe poverty can have this incredibly intense belief that there will never be enough money. Some of these people go on to amass huge fortunes. My first book was The Financial Wisdom of Ebeneaer Scrooge, great example of somebody who grew up in poverty, had this believe there will never be enough money, and then ended up basically living a life of poverty even though he had plenty of money. We see this with clients. We see this with a lot of successful clients who have a really hard time spending money on the other side of all that success, or taking care of themselves or going to the dentist, or god forbid getting a massage. I always give them that homework assignment just to sort of expose them to this, the fact that you don’t need to be so miserly, you’re making everyone miserable including yourself.
Brad: Just as an example of somebody, if you grew up with that type of extreme emotional relationship of not having enough, it can be extremely difficult. You as a financial planner can be sitting there saying, “Hey, look, you got $11 million in net worth. You’ve got $4 million in this trust account. You should be taking some distributions.” It can be really tough for them because they’re thinking, “If I do that, I’ll run out of money.” For some people like that where the emotional intensity is so incredibly attached to that belief, that’s where I think referring somebody to potentially a therapist can be really helpful because what you need to do is you need to basically weaken that emotional intensity related to that belief in order to shift the belief because people like that, they might know that they have enough money intellectually, but emotionally they’re in denial around it because they have so much fear.
Hannah: Interesting. That’s what a therapist would do, is kind of help in that space.
Brad: Yes. You’ve tried. You’ve sat there and you said, you’ve linked this to their past. Maybe they even agree with you, yes, I know I’m like that. Then you’re like, “Okay, here’s the spending plan. You’re going to take a distribution. I want you to do this.” Okay, sounds good. They come back, I couldn’t do it. I tried, I couldn’t do it, or I was so anxious about that, or whatever. You’re seeing them run into those emotional roadblocks. That’s where you would want to bring somebody in who is going to do more psychotherapy work with them around letting them process probably some of that fear. It could involve tears. It could involve much more deeper introspection. There might be some therapeutic elements that are needed in order to shift that behavior.
Hannah: I love what you’re saying, is that those behaviors and those scripts can be shifted.
Brad: Absolutely. It’s really exciting when they do because it leads to profound change and profound improvements in financial health.
Hannah: In this context, what is your hope for clients when they come and work with you?
Brad: It’s variable. It depends on where they’re at and what they’re needing. Overall, overarching, in my work with clients I’m wanting to improve their financial health, all sorts of components to financial health. It’s, of course, the basics like I want to make sure you’re adequately covered insurance. I want to make sure you have a good portfolio that meets your needs, all that kind of stuff. There’s those elements too, but I also, I’m very interested in your life satisfaction too. I want you to be enjoying your life. I want you to be enjoying your resources. I want you to feel satisfied about your financial life. I want you to have less anxiety around it. I want you to feel like you have good communication with your family around money, so high financial satisfaction too, low financial stress. For me, it’s that’s kind of where the rubber hits the road. Those tools are all great, and they’re totally necessary. They’re part of financial health, but if ultimately you’re not improving somebody’s life, I think we’re missing out on really what we’re meant to do here.
Hannah: One thing that’s been fun watching you is you’ve had a YouTube channel for two years now, a year and a half?
Brad: Yeah, something like that.
Hannah: Now you’ve kind of branched out into TikTok and other social medias. I’m just curious, first of all, what kind of drove you to start doing more video based content from YouTube and then on TikTok?
Brad: Yeah. You’re kind of putting me out there on TikTok.
Hannah: Outing you a little bit.
Brad: Right, I’m starting to sweat.
Hannah: For the listeners, he’s a little bit of a TikTok star.
Brad: Yeah, right. TikTok is another medium. Don’t go there and judge me right away, okay? There’s a culture over on TikTok.
Hannah: There is a culture, yes.
Brad: Yeah. The bottom line for me is I have this overarching mission statement in my life. My goal is to help bring hope and healing to the world. I said help. I’m not going to be able to do it all, but everything I do, that’s sort of the lens in which I look through it. Feel free to adopt that mission statement, I would love it if everyone did. It makes you feel good. When I’m doing this podcast, for example, I’m picturing advisors out there that I might be able to help them help their clients more. Oh my gosh, I love these opportunities because that’s my goal. My work really on social media is less about building my practice, quite frankly. It’s more about, I’m sort of picturing me when I was a kid, quite frankly. My mom says we were middle class, but lower. I’m like, “Yeah, mom, they have words for that,” but she didn’t want to say what they were.
Brad: I grew up with a family who were hardworking, really smart people. I was always curious as a kid, like why don’t we have a name on a building? Why are we living in trailers? These are hardworking people, some branches been here from the Mayflower. It’s like, what’s going on? I got really curious around the psychology that seems to go along in family systems and get passed down. I got really curious about the psychology of wealth. One of the things that we’ve talked about is I do research on how to improve financial health, I do research on money scripts. The other thing I’ve done is a lot of research on the psychology of wealth and comparing that to middle class and lower. What can we learn from that to help people shift their behaviors? What sort of stereotypes are either true or untrue? What sort of spending habits keep people stuck because they’re misunderstanding what actually wealthy people do? We’ve done several studies on this.
Brad: One of the things I try to do, TikTok is actually, I think, the audience is younger than a lot of the other social media, so you think high school age kids, a lot of people on there. I’ve worked with high school delinquent type kids for years in my psychology world. I love those kids. Basically, what I’m trying to do is educate them on what actual wealthy people do because social media is full of utter lies around what wealthy people do. They’re being shown wealthy people, they’re all driving Mercedes and BMWs and wearing Rolex watches. Then what happens is people get their job. Let’s say they start to get some success, they’re making $100,000 a year. Now they go buy a BMO, and then they go buy a bunch of watches. Now they have no money and they have no net worth, and just sort of understanding that’s actually not how wealthy people behave.
Brad: For example, I’m always citing this study. We compared ultra wealthy to middle class. The ultra wealthy had an average of $12 million in net worth. The middle class had $500,000 in net worth. One of the examples is that the ultra wealthy had 18 times more money in that scenario, but they only spent twice as much as the middle class on things like watches, houses, cars and vacations. If you’re a financial planner working with ultra wealthy people, you know this to be true. The only way you become ultra wealthy is by saving your money and not spending it. A lot of the work we have to do with some of the ultra wealthy people is to get them to spend their money because this mindset led to their success. What kids are seeing is they’re seeing all the flash. They’re seeing all this stuff. I feel really passionate about it, you might be hearing this in my voice, around educating those kids and society, as many people I can reach around what actual wealthy people do. What are these actual habits that are associated with financial health and success versus the ones that end up keeping people stuck in this cycle of not having enough money and having a ton of debt.
Hannah: It’s so fun because I’ve been watching you on TikTok. Pulling back to what you were saying earlier about the importance of meeting people right where they’re at. I see you doing that in TikTok where you’re meeting people with how they’re consuming content. It’s the same message, but it’s a different package of it.
Brad: Yes. Back to your question earlier in our conversation, how do we talk to clients? The great thing about TikTok for me is that it forces me, like you’ve got 15 seconds. For example, how can you take an issue like compound interest and get 15-year-olds to understand it in 15 seconds while dancing and lip syncing to music. That’s the challenge.
Hannah: I love it.
Brad: That’s the challenge, but I will say this too. If you can actually effectively communicate like that, you’re going to be a much more effective financial planner in your work because a huge gap for us is we have all this technical language and people don’t really get it, and we’re missing them. You have to find ways to make it relatable, really connect that emotional brain. I’m talking even working with genius people. It’s an emotional thing much more than any logical thing. To find ways to really meet people where they live is so important if you want to be effective.
Hannah: I just love that challenge because especially when you look on social platforms, how you communicate on Twitter versus TikTok, versus Facebook versus Instagram. There’s a different culture, I don’t know if that’s the right word, for each one of those platforms. We have this message that you’re saying. We have this ability to bring hope and healing to people. It’s we can do that, it’s just going to look differently. It’s almost this challenge of hey, how are we going to take the same message through different channels in different ways of, and help interpret that into ways that people will actually consume it that they’re looking for.
Brad: Hannah, we need to, please.
Brad: Everyone who’s listening here, please get on these social media platforms and start telling the truth. This is where kids are getting their information. There’s an entire generation or two. This is where they’re getting all their information. They’re being shown all this crazy stuff, and people flashing their private jets and selling them programs on how to flip houses. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but day trading, it’s back. It’s in vogue and people are doing it on margin, and it’s insane. You might not even be aware of that, but this is what’s happening on social media.
Brad: Until I got really deep into it, I thought that was all gone back in 2000. No, it’s back, and people are convinced. They’re looking for that one stock buy. They’re just being inundated with all these other people who are essentially predators who are getting them to buy programs and this kind of stuff by flashing all these cars and watches. You know there’s probably not much underneath that in terms of their own net worth, but they’re trying to sell this misinformation to kids and young adults. People are, they’re lapping it up. I want all financial planners to get on social media and really help stem the tide. Actually, there’s a whole movement of physicians, by the way, who are doing the exact same thing.
Brad: You’ve seen that too.
Hannah: On TikTok, yes, the physicians. It’s amazing.
Brad: It’s amazing. They’re educating people. You got to meet them where they are, and this is where they are. Get out there, make a fool of yourself. Join me in making a fool of yourself, but get out there. This is where, if you really want to change the world and educate, get on social media and start telling the truth because people are being told lies there all day long.
Hannah: If you join TikTok, let me know. Find me on Twitter. Email me. Instagram.
Brad: Let’s all connect.
Hannah: Let’s all connect.
Brad: Let’s all connect on there and support each other. We got to get the message out.
Hannah: Great stuff. Thank you so much for being with us today, Brad.
Brad: Always a pleasure. Thank you for having me.