boomer couple signing contract with financial planner

Canadians need help managing their finances and planning their futures — and they need to know that financial planners can help. Thus, it’s time to change the way the financial services industry talks about financial planning.

The Value of Financial Planning, a longitudinal research study that Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) commissioned in conjunction with the Financial Planning Foundation, revealed that financial planning has a significant positive impact on clients’ lives. Unfortunately, that critical message has failed to reach many Canadians.

In addition, several studies conducted in recent years show that most Canadians still lack confidence when it comes to their finances and report high levels of stress as a result. These Canadians could benefit immensely from a financial planner’s guidance, but they haven’t been motivated to seek it out — at least not yet.

To address this issue, FPSC recently undertook comprehensive qualitative research to understand what message might convey the meaningful difference professional financial planners play in the lives of their clients. The result is the introduction of a new tag line for professionals holding the certified financial planner (CFP) designation: Live life confidently.

This message eliminates the jargon and cuts straight to the point: that working with a CFP professional isn’t just about choosing investment strategies or getting the right insurance; it’s about creating simplicity around complex issues and living your life with the confidence of knowing you’ll be OK financially.

In the past, the focus on the value of working with a financial planner often has been on qualities such as competence, education and ethics. Although these qualities are table stakes, they aren’t likely to inspire a prospect to pick up the phone and call a financial planner. In other words, it shouldn’t be necessary for CFP professionals to promote the fact that they’re competent or ethical as clients already expect them to be just that.

It’s also important to keep in mind that for Canadians who aren’t familiar with the financial planning process, the prospect of sitting down with a financial planner can be daunting. Describing the process using terms such as “analysis” and “optimization” tends to cause clients to tune out and feeds the false perception that financial planning is a painful process. This is akin to your dentist promoting fixing your painful teeth through a root canal rather than fixing your teeth in order to promote confidence in your smile.

It’s essential to view the value a financial planner brings through the client’s perspective and promote the aspects of financial planning that will resonate positively in terms of the impact it will have on the client’s life. For example, a CFP professional takes the time to understand an individual’s unique aspirations and entire financial picture to help design a plan for achieving those aspirations — regardless of how complex the circumstances might be. Explaining that in-depth, personalized approach is more likely to resonate with the average client than rhyming off a list of educational achievements or talking about the financial planning process.

Furthermore, there’s no question that the potential to live life confidently holds far more value to a client than any product or service he or she could buy.

Although it can be easy for financial planners to get caught up in the latest financial planning strategy or investment trend, taking such a narrow focus misses the point. Financial planners must not forget their ultimate objective: helping clients reach their life goals in whatever manner they measure success.

Getting through to Canadians means showing them that CFP professionals understand how complicated life can be; that it’s normal for them to feel anxious about money; and that seeking professional advice is the first step toward taking control. This also means focusing more on the human side of financial planning and less on the technical side — and breaking the stigma that financial planning bears any resemblance to a root canal.

Finding a way of getting that message across is more important now than ever. Technology is rapidly changing the financial services sector and unless financial planners find a way of differentiating their services clearly from the offerings of robo-advisors and other disrupters, they’ll soon find their businesses in a state of decline.

Embracing consumer-focused communication could be the key to getting more Canadians engaged in financial planning. To get this message across successfully, CFP professionals need to embrace this value proposition and use it in their interactions with clients and prospects. The profession needs to change the way they talk about what they do and help Canadians understand the meaningful difference financial planners can make.