Big Picture, Financial Planning, Millennials

Accountability: An Advisors Silent Superpower

Let’s go back in time ten to twenty years ago when you were in grade school. 

Do you remember being assigned those random school projects that somehow all seemed like they were the hardest project you’d ever had? Even though you said those very same words about the last project you did as well? Yeah, me too. For me, the daunting project that has stuck with me came in the fourth grade. My class was assigned a project where we had to read a book and then dress up as one of the main characters and tell the story through the eyes of that character. My ten year old self was not fond of public speaking,so it’s safe to say I was extremely nervous. 

To prepare for this project, I did what any smart young kid would do, I started working on it weeks in advance so I had plenty of time to prepare myself… just kidding. I did what most other people would do, the exact opposite. I kept coming up with excuses and putting the project off until the day before it was due and then complained to my mom that it was too hard and I couldn’t do it 😂. Thankfully, my mom and my teacher held me accountable and made sure I did completed the project in time. 

My youthful tendency to procrastinate isn’t all that unique. It is ingrained in our DNA to push daunting tasks farther down on our to-do lists until the last minute where we have no choice but to do it. 

So…how does this relate to financial planning? When I stepped into the profession, I was always told that a financial plan is only as good as what gets implemented.. It means nothing to pay a financial advisor and have a well-thought-out plan created if it ends up in a random drawer untouched with dust on it years later. Unfortunately, this still happens all the time. Lack of implementation is a huge problem in the financial planning industry — it’s one I wanted to solve with my clients. 

To tackle this task, I decided that I would add accountability meetings with my clients at different stages throughout the planning process. First and foremost, after I meet with my clients and go over recommendations, I added a follow-up call about a month later to make sure that all recommendations actually got implemented. This could be adding a new savings account and starting the monthly automated contributions. It could be making changes to their 401(k). It could be starting different investment accounts and setting up the initial funding. Regardless of what it is, I decided three or four weeks is more than enough time for a client to get everything done, but also not too much time where they would forget about it. 

The other accountability meetings I added were based on milestones — so if a client is set to pay off student loans in 6 months, or hit their emergency savings goal in 5 months, etc., I would add a meeting on that date to ensure the goals we planned for were achieved. Once they achieve that goal, I work with the client to reallocate these new dollars somewhere else. These accountability meetings have been part of my business model for about six months now. What I have found is that the add-on of these accountability check-ins has worked wonders for making sure our clients implement the necessary components to achieving their goals. I’ve noticed that most of my clients did not start implementing the recommendations until the day or two before the accountability meeting. Similarly to how I handled my projects in school, even successful adults tend to put daunting tasks off until they are held accountable. I do want to note that I do not think this is not a bad thing at all. It simply shows the power of adding accountability and due dates and how important it is to incorporate them with the tasks at hand. 

As we saw from my grade school book project, as humans we put off tasks until the last minute. It’s not that we want to do them, it’s that we can always find something else to do that seems easier. As a financial advisor, it’s important for me to understand this universal human tendency and to create a system that helps my clients overcome it.

I will continue to stand by the fact that accountability is something we all need more of in our lives. As a financial advisor, holding my clients accountable is one of the most important parts of the job, and it is something I promise to deliver on for each and every client from the beginning.