The difference between a traditional financial planner and one that practices financial life planning is significant. The former focuses on the dollars and cents of making good financial decisions, while the later adds the more complex human component to the process. Since researchers tell us that 80% to 100% of all financial decisions are made emotionally, there is no question in my mind that the best financial planning integrates the human and emotional component. Any financial planning process that excludes the psychological aspect is second-rate.
How do you find a comprehensive financial planner who integrates your humanity with the dollars and cents? First, just finding a comprehensive financial planner isn’t easy. The title “financial planner” is not regulated. Anyone can hold themselves out to be a financial planner. The burden is on the consumer to figure out if a planner is actually doing comprehensive financial planning.
The term “comprehensive” means the planner is looking at every financial aspect of clients’ lives. Many self-designated financial planners focus narrowly on one or two areas, which typically are investments and retirement. Because most financial planners earn their living from sales commissions, their focus is typically on selling financial products. A few will throw in a retirement projection and call the process financial planning.
So, to start with, you want to find a financial planner who doesn’t have this conflict of interest from selling products, but who charges a fee for doing a comprehensive financial plan. This is a planner who will pay as much attention to areas like your will, tax strategies, and whether you have the right homeowners or vehicle insurance as to your asset allocation. The best place to find such a planner is at NAPFA.org, which is a vetted association of financial planners who only charge for their advice.
Once you’ve done this, you have found a traditional financial planner who will look at the dollars and cents of your financial situation. How do you now screen for one with the skills to integrate the emotional aspects of your unique history? Looking for several certifications will help narrow the field.
The first designation to insist upon is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). This is the best indication that the individual has training in the comprehensive financial planning process. Next, look for one that is also a Certified Financial Therapist (CFT-I™), preferably with a master’s degree in counseling. Very few planners will have this combination, but even without the counseling degree, the CFT-I is an indication that they understand the emotional side of money.
Other certifications to look for in addition to the CFP® include: the Certified Financial Transitionist (CeFT™), a Financial Fitness Coach (FFC®), a Certified Money Coach (CMC™), a Registered Life Planner (RLP™), or a Certified Internal Family Systems℠ (IFS) Practitioner. Any of these designations assures you that the planner has education in addressing the emotional aspect of making money decisions.
In addition to these certifications, there are also several universities that offer nine to eighteen credit hours of formal study in financial life planning. These are usually called “certificate” programs, since they offer too few hours of study to be considered a master’s degree. You will need to ask whether a planner has completed such a course. The universities known to me to have such certificates in financial life planning are Kansas State, Texas Tech University, Creighton, and Golden Gate University.
There is no question that searching for a financial life planner takes effort. The result, however, is worthwhile. Armed with this article and some clarity about your own needs, you will eventually find that trusted advisor who will best serve you.