Five “A-Ha Moments” in Financial Planning
By Steve Ambuul, VP, Customer Development, Asset-Map
When I talk with other team members at Asset-Map about the initial experience we want to deliver to financial planners and advisors, we often talk about getting them to their “A-Ha Moment” as quickly as possible.
What is an “A-Ha Moment”? It’s when you come to a sudden realization or a more profound understanding of something.
Usually, we hear that those moments occur during their first client meeting using Asset-Map.
Sometimes that moment occurs when a client who had been stuck in analysis paralysis turns their inaction into action, and sometimes it happens when a long-time client decides to roll over a held-away asset they’ve kept tucked out of sight.
Sometimes it’s a simple interaction, like a hug from a client when they finally feel like they understand their financial plan.
Whatever shape they take, all of these are moments at which advisors realize the value and true benefit of the Asset-Map technology they’re using to create actionable conversations with clients.
Our goal is that these moments happen quickly — we want new advisors to get from their first login to the system to a printed plan in thirty minutes. Accelerated decision-making is what we’re all about, but most importantly, we want to help deliver better conversations to advisors so those accelerated decisions occur during client meetings.
One way we help deliver more focused conversations is by de-emphasizing the statistics and periphery information that, though it’s important for the advisor, is not critical to helping clients make good financial decisions.
Less Features are a Feature
One question that I often get from new advisors, as well as new employees, is about why we don’t add more features to Asset-Map that other financial planning tools include.
When you’re an advisor, you should talk most about what you want clients to evaluate you on. If you write and talk about investment strategy all the time, and then wonder why clients only evaluate your performance based on their asset performance, the answer should be clear.
We’ve built Asset-Map around the elements of financial planning that drive conversations and decisions, rather than features that can generate paralysis.
Apple removed buttons from their phones so users could put their attention only on what was on-screen, and we try to do the same for financial planning.
Asset-Map doesn’t have investment analysis, decimal points on growth rate assumptions, data aggregation, projections that inflate future asset values, and other “industry standards” of financial planning.
Even our year-by-year Future View of cash flows in our Target Maps is available only as a back-office view and not a client-facing feature.
This is all purpose-driven so advisors and their clients can focus their time and energy on making decisions about their plans, rather than spending time on details they can’t control or predict.
More Precise Doesn’t Mean More Accurate
It took me far too long to realize that adding more precision — like a decimal point to a growth number — doesn’t always make a financial plan more accurate. But so many advisors had grown used to more precise predictions of the future, and some questioned whether our approach was simplistic. For a long time, I assumed that these advisors knew what they needed from their software, and so I requested “enhancements.”
It turns out that some advisors knew better than others what would help their clients accomplish more. Surprise!
Once I had that “A-Ha Moment” of clarity, I committed to speaking with at least two top advisors each week. These conversations shed light on my own understanding of the real value of planning tools.
My Top Five “A-Ha Moments” in Financial Planning
Just like Asset-Maps generate meaningful conversations between advisors and their clients, I’ve found that talking with advisors leads me to the most profound realizations about how they can benefit from our planning technology.
Me: “Why don’t you let your staff create Asset-Maps for your client’s meetings?”
David, an advisor in New York City: “Those five minutes it takes to create an Asset-Map are the best meeting prep I’ve ever had. By the time I’m done, I know exactly what we need to talk about in our meeting.”
Asset-Map prep is not back-office paraplanner work — it’s meeting prep for lead advisors to better understand and connect with their clients.
Me: Are Asset-Maps too simple for clients with more complex needs?
Jeff, an advisor in Boston: “I’ve found that the more money someone has, the less they know about it. The Asset-Maps I use in meetings are for my clients to understand what they own, so they can understand my advice and act on it.”
High net worth investors are often delegators who appreciate the simplicity of Asset-Map.
Me: “Do you only use Asset-Maps in certain meetings with certain clients?”
Ken, an advisor in Kansas: “I use Asset-Maps with everyone because they love correcting the templates I use and filling in their correct information. It’s like a game. If I put a policy or asset with $0 on their Asset-Map, they always ask to discuss those options and we end up having deeper conversations as a result.”
People love to fill in the blanks. Instead of taking time to research and update missing information for clients, it’s more engaging to ask clients to help correct any gaps in their plan during a meeting. They want to interactively take part in the planning process.
Me: “Have you ever had clients refuse to fill out a blank Asset-Map?”
Joe, a branch manager at a broker-dealer in San Diego: “Steve, I first used Asset-Map just to prove you wrong! But when clients saw the mess and all they were missing, they asked me to help them consolidate assets and even add new parts to their plan. Now, we use Asset-Map every day and are a top firm at our broker-dealer.”
Joe’s response just makes me laugh. But I’d challenge every advisor to do what Joe did: Try to prove me wrong. Go into a meeting with an incomplete Asset-Map and lots of questions, and see if clients hate or love the process. I dare you.
Me: “Do you think Asset-Map gets more adoption than your other tools because it’s more simple and visual?”
A Broker-Dealer Executive: “No; I would say most of our software is visual. But Asset-Map creates specific visuals and single page planning summaries. That simplicity gives clients space to get comfortable and talk because they aren’t facing down twenty pages of a financial plan. Instead of listening to one of our reps talk the whole meeting, that approach of using a single page for each topic makes conversations easier to start.”
It’s not the features an app has, it’s the experience it delivers. Many advisors don’t let their clients talk enough, but with Asset-Maps clients feel heard and understood almost immediately.
Conversations Make All the Difference
What all these stories have in common is that these were as much my “A-Ha Moment” about Asset-Map’s value as they were for each advisor. I admit, I’m afraid of confirmation bias, so I don’t like to trust my own opinions until they’re confirmed by others with knowledge, integrity, and discretion.
And just like these advisors saw the impact of Asset-Map in real conversations with clients, I had to do the same.
Financial advice can sometimes get bogged down in the minutiae of decimals, details, and data points. Asset-Map helps keep you above the fray so you can communicate with clients instead of at them.