Ep #108: Thought Leaders vs. Thought Partners

Benjamin Haas |

💡 In the latest episode of A/B Conversations, Ben and Adam discuss different types of relationships with financial planners. 🤝 Are you seeking advice or a collaborative partner in your financial journey? Tune in to explore the nuances and find what aligns with your needs!


1:19 Different Types of Relationships with a Financial Planner
4:54 Thought Leaders vs. Thought Partners
10:53 Examples of Client Situations of What Kind of Advisor They Needed
15:00 How the Industry is Shifting More Towards Thought Partners

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Full Transcript:

Benjamin Haas  00:03 

Hi everyone and welcome to A/B Conversations where we will help you CFP your way out of it. A podcast where you get into the minds of a couple of Certified Financial Planners on how we think and feel about everyday financial planning questions and what should really matter most to you. A healthier financial life starts...now! Welcome back! 


Adam Werner  00:28 

Hey, thanks. It's that time of the year. The holidays and podcast too, we're doing that. 


Benjamin Haas  00:37 

Yeah, there you go. Nobody can see your true background because you have the Haas Financial Group thing behind you. But if we took, I can promise everybody that maybe watching this instead of just listening, if you could take away that green screen background Haas Financial Group, you'd see a pretty festive living room, I believe. 


Adam Werner  00:57 

Yeah, there's a nice big tree behind me. There are three other trees on the other side of this room. Not so big, but still decent sized? Yeah, it's very festive in this house. 


Benjamin Haas  01:07 

Yeah and I'm in my undecorated, stuffy office. So, one of us seems more cheerful it might be because of our surroundings. 


Adam Werner  01:15 

Oh, all right. It's a good excuse. 


Benjamin Haas  01:19 

So podcast topic today, I think we're going to highlight types of relationships with a financial planner, or as we would deem it, and I would ask everyone as kind of like the precursor to maybe think about a time in their life where they were seeking out help from somebody else. That doesn't have to be professional help, maybe it was personal. As you think about what you need in that situation, I think it's probably fair to assume you're seeking out somebody that's going to be a good listener, is going to ask good questions, going to truly seek to understand where you're coming from and what you're thinking. Then depending on the type of person you are, you know, are you looking for just straight advice from them? Are you looking for interaction kind of working through problems together? And say all that, you know, what's our role when people come to a financial planner? What should they kind of be expecting? In that same realm of help me? Like, yeah, help me figure out what I need to be doing? 


Adam Werner  02:25 

Yeah, I think part of the issue is not all advisors are created equal. Not all advisors follow the same process so there's many different ways that an advisor can approach a situation like that. It's not to say that one is better than another, clearly, we are biased with this podcast and our approach to the way that we do business. But it just opens up the possibilities that in any person's mind, I'm going to talk to an advisor or I'm going to talk to a planner, they may have an idea in their head of what that may mean. But that may not actually be how that advisor or how that planner actually goes about giving advice and giving feedback to clients. So I think number one, you would want to find someone who aligns with the way that you want to receive that advice or that feedback back to you.  


Benjamin Haas  03:29 

Yeah, and I think sometimes it's easier. Well, I think it's sometimes very hard to describe what we do and how we do it because our process may be different, like you said from many other planners, so it's sometimes easier to pick something that's a little bit easier to relate to. So, I've got a problem, I need to go to the doctor, am I the type of person that's going to want them to look at everything, you know, get blood work done, truly trying to understand exactly where I'm at, in order to then make a diagnosis and say, here's what I think you should do. I don't need in that situation. I don't need them to tell me everything that they know and impress me and educate me. I just need to trust they have my best interests of mind. They know exactly what's wrong with me to the point where they can diagnose and then help me understand them. So yeah, there's sometimes it's just lost and maybe I'll tee this up for you in the in the new AI world, you know, robo advisor world, some of what is lost is that for most people, I think they would want personal finance and, in our mind, it's more personal than finance. If you think you're getting personal finance from a Google search or maybe a bigger institution that manages assets and says, well, yeah, we can do planning. All of that is very different in process than the way that we would go about it. If that's what somebody is looking for.  


Adam Werner  04:54 

I think that first step is to try to find for people out there it's one: what's that best first step? How do I even figure out what's going to work best for me, as you said, there's these Robo advising platforms out there that are more focused on the investment side more so than the planning advice side. AI is a thing, right? I think we all have access to that now you can go to whatever that AI is, many of them now type in your question and you're going to get a result, whether that result applies to you. I mean, it's just massive amounts of information that are being distilled down to one output to you and you have no idea, does this pertain to my situation? All of those question marks that kind of come along with it and just the internet in general, is just an abundance of free information. So, I think number one, it's trying to figure out what's going to work best for me. I think maybe that comes back to how do I best make decisions or what am I actually looking for help with? Sometimes it is just telling me what I need, tell me what I need to do, I'll go do it. I know, I don't know what I don't know and other sides of things may just be I know enough to be dangerous. I just need to make, I don't say just, I need to make some decisions and I want some more perspective to help me feel like I'm making a good decision. So, for certain, I'll say Do It Yourself investors, that Robo advising platform, if they're purely just looking for help with investments, that may be more than sufficient. AI can help be a filter for all of that free information on the internet, right, you can get to more specific, detailed questions. But even then, as we've heard the stories of the accuracy of some of the answers that come out of these programs, it all has to be taken with a grain of salt. For people that are trying to make potentially big decisions, maybe it's around retirement. I don't want to speak for everybody, but I don't know that I would trust something like that in the hands of some computer models that just tell me what to do and then follow that blindly. So yeah, I think it does go back to what you just said, it's the more the personal side, if I'm talking to a person, I think that's good. Clearly, that's the business that we're in. But even there, you said these large institutions so I'll name some of them, right? Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, these big money management institutions that have advisors that people can talk to and access, and that may do planning. Even there and I'm going to paint a broad brush so this may not necessarily be true of all of them. But I think you still have to be pretty critical of their planning advice, too because in those institutions, it's all about volume. Right? They're not these advisors and I'm not speaking from personal experience. I don't know these answers, but my guess is they work with many, hundreds, if not 1000’s of clients' kind of underneath their purview. So that personal touch that I think a lot of clients want, they may not necessarily be getting all of that and are these planners CFPs? What is their expertise? What's their experience? Do they work with people like me? Have they helped people get through insert whatever decision I'm trying to make? You know, what kind of experience do they have there? And this comes back to the what I'm looking for side of things. Are they just going to tell me what to do without some of the rationale that will help me feel good about whatever that decision is? Or do I want somebody who's going to actually collaborate, helped me figure out the tradeoffs, talk through the pros and cons, and then ultimately lead to a decision that I feel good about. In the end, I think that's clearly where we live but there's two different ways to go about that. It's the thought leader versus the thought partner. 


Benjamin Haas  08:56 

Yeah, I think that's the important definition and distinction to make here because if I think about the time that we came into the industry, we were educated, we were coached to become thought leaders, right? Become good financial planners by understanding the technicalities of finance by understanding cause and effect, by doing good modeling of mathematics and understanding how assumptions can change variables, spit out some report that is going to allow you to be the thought leader saying yeah, if this is what you told me matters to you, data, goals, etc. Then here's the way to go about that and here's the way to accomplish that. For many people, tell me if you feel differently for many people, that is perfectly fine and it works well because I need to feel that there's some basis for making this decision and you mister or missus thought leader have told me, now what to go do. But I think the issue is, that doesn't work for a lot of people. I think as we are moving into a world where people do want to feel more involved in the process, probably because, I don't want to make the one we'd say personal finance, I don't want to make it sound like we have to be best friends. And we're buddy buddy. I think we're becoming more skeptical, right, we want to make sure that that person isn't just crunching numbers, because like a couple of the podcasts we just did, we get into a lot of what ifs in our head. We want to make sure that the person on the other side of the table, giving the advice, really kind of understands my perspective, really understands my priorities, and is able to work with me on that, and that's where I just think thought partnership is becoming more important and a process for us. We need to build our process around how to become better thought partners and not just spitting out advice as thought leaders, which is perfectly fine, because that does work. 


Adam Werner  10:53 

I think sometimes it just comes down to the depth of the advice. For instance, or maybe let me ask you a question. First, I think, you know, in our experience, we said this on a lot of podcasts, it's all situational. It's all about, you know, everyone's financial life is different in some way, shape, or form. So, it's very difficult to just give a blanket statement that says, hey, you're looking to make your Social Security decision, here's the best thing that you can do without actually knowing the situation. Right, pull the curtain back a little bit, we were doing some planning this morning and there's so many factors that go into a decision. It may, I don't say it's simple because it's not, but something as simple as just, when am I going to start taking Social Security, there's so many things that go into that. Getting that feedback from a client, to help us figure out what's going to fit them best. You need somebody to bounce ideas off of, you need somebody who is genuinely curious about your situation, someone who actually cares about your situation. Again, maybe I'm painting a broad brush here with these bigger institutions. But I think that's part of what's lacking, is anything below the surface level when it comes to the high-level advice on when decisions need to be made. 


Benjamin Haas  12:28 

Think about how that affects an approach like to use your example of us doing some planning as a group this morning. I think maybe as recently as a year, maybe two, three years ago, I used to feel going in every meeting that I needed to have the answers, right. Now, if you truly do think of yourself as a thought partner, you understand the value and just coaching somebody to their own self-discovery, right? Create the space for them to explore and then be able to share with you what really matters because the technical side of what we do may mean that there's many different ways to move forward. And what is truly best for them has nothing to do with the mathematical modeling. Right? It has to do with not only what is most comfortable to them, right? What are they prioritizing? But also, what is the advice that they're going to stick to? If they come to their own conclusions in this safe space of thought partnership with us, then they're much more likely to follow through on the advice that they created on their own. That's the beauty of coaching and it happens to us as professionals, we're coached. But it's really just this space where we come to our own conclusions sometimes. 


Adam Werner  13:39 

Yeah, so I'll draw that right back to a recent client example and the one that we were planning for this morning. They have an advisor at Fidelity that they have access to, have had some conversations and just weren't feeling like they were answering their questions. What I mean by that is, they were told you gave us all this information. Here's a report that we can spit out and I can tell you based on this, take Social Security at this date because that's what's best for you financially in the long run with these given assumptions. But I don't think there was the why behind it. Right, the rationale that I think is what a lot of people need to feel good about whatever that decision is, or to say, I understand that but, heart disease runs in my family. So the odds of me living to you know, age 95 and collecting all this Social Security, I don't want to bank on that for my situation. This is what I would like to plan for. Just being able to talk those things out and hopefully get to, as you said, getting someone to make a decision that number one, they were a part of. Yeah, to see them be able to stick to it is an incredibly important part of our process. 


Benjamin Haas  15:00 

I think it's the way financial planning needs to be and I think it's moving in that direction. The FaceTime, airtime that you get with a client, involving them in the process, I think is more and more what people are going to look for. It doesn't mean that it has to be hour long, hours upon hours two-three-hour meetings. But I think there is a responsibility to do a lot of discovery, you use the word be curious, not be judgmental. Now, I'm like pulling the TED lasso, give that space and time to truly understand what matters to them because those are incredibly important inputs into this financial planning process. I think, more and more, we are being called to be less thought leaders and more thought partners, and it is an important distinction. 


Adam Werner  15:52 

Yeah, and I think you said it earlier, too. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of a thought leader, dealing with a client, that there very well could be from the client perspective. I don't want to know all these details. I don't want to be the expert on how retirement accounts work and taxes, right? Just tell me what to do and I will go do it because I trust you. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as you said, I think the way things are kind of evolving over time, people are more involved in their finances now than maybe they were in the past, especially when it comes to retirement planning. Because in the past, you had a pension, you had to make a pension decision, you had Social Security. You may have not had a retirement account per se, there were just fewer moving pieces. I think then now over the last, I don't know, 30-40 years, people have had to shoulder more of that responsibility, as pensions have kind of faded away. Now 401k's are the primary savings for a lot of employees and workers out there, it puts more of the onus on the person to be a little bit more of an expert by themselves but not everybody wants to be that. Again, that's not to necessarily say that's a bad thing. It all comes back to knowing what's going to work best for you, seeking out the person who can meet you where you want to get advice, where you want that feedback. Ultimately, as long as you're going to stick to it, as you said that's really where the power of planning comes into play. Because even the best advice, if the best advice is, hey, delay Social Security. But I say yeah, but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to take it as soon as I can, then that's fine but then the advice is worthless.  


Benjamin Haas  17:38 

That's it. So, I think you summarized that really well and we'll wrap it up. There are many different types of relationships. Whether you need a thought leader or a thought partner, we just don't want somebody thinking they're getting one or the other, not understanding what's truly being provided. So, it's okay at the onset of a relationship or even somebody you were working with for a little while, go back to the beginning. We have a rediscovery meeting where you think about, what do I really need? What do you really want? And is this person serving me in that way? It's fair to ask questions on how people come to that advice and just make sure you're getting the one that best suits you to move forward.  


Adam Werner  18:17 

Yeah, and not to prolong this even further but that can change over time too from the client perspective, right? Or when we're facing a huge decision, we may want a thought partner to help us make that decision. But then at some point, if it's in more what we would consider like the maintenance mode and those huge decisions just aren't there.  I'm okay to just tell me what I need to do. You've already helped me through this process. I don't necessarily need the partner. I just need somebody to lead and that's okay, too. So it doesn't need to be static. They do adjust over time but yes, to your point, whatever your expectations are, try to find somebody that can meet them. 


Benjamin Haas  18:54 

Hey, Adam, thank you for being my thought partner. 


Adam Werner  18:59 

Likewise, always fun.  


Benjamin Haas  19:01 

Happy holidays, everyone and I guess we'll do this again in January. 


Adam Werner  19:06 

I guess we're going to continue doing this.  


Benjamin Haas  19:25 

Thanks for your help. Hey everyone, Adam and I really appreciate you tuning in. Please note that the opinions we voiced in the show are for general information only, and are not intended to provide specific recommendations for any individual. To determine which strategies or investments may be most appropriate for you, consult with your attorney, your accountant and financial advisor or tax advisor prior to making any decisions or investing. Thanks for listening! 


Investment Advice offered through Great Valley Advisor Group, a Registered Investment Advisor. Great Valley Advisor Group and Haas Financial Group are separate entities. This is not intended to be used as tax or legal advice. Please consult a tax or legal professional for specific information and advice. 


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