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On Introspection and Why the ‘Future is Fulfillment’ for Wealth Advisors

November 12, 2020

By Jim Cannon, Dynamic founder & CEO

2020 may go down as one of the most trying times in history: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives in countless ways, from unprecedented health and safety concerns, to challenges affecting our infrastructure, the economy, our work environments and our daily lives. A dramatic economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression—with the worst GDP reported ever for April, May and June—exacerbated political instability. All the while, a contentious and record election year added to the uncertainty about our future…our democracy, social and economic paths forward.

Despite the hardship the pandemic has caused, we must not lose sight of the fact that we not only have adapted, but also have prevailed against tremendous forces. And, like all crises, there are positive outcomes. A few notable ones come to mind:

Innovation. The vast applications of AI—robots, natural language processing, machine learning, 3D computing—have been used to advance the development of life-saving drugs, medical equipment and a multitude of manufacturing efficiencies, to name a few.

Public/Private Partnerships. We’ve seen big pharma and government agencies come together for the expeditious development of a vaccine, testing and drug therapies to combat the virus. In October, Remdesivir, an antiviral breakthrough developed in record time by Gilead, became the first medication approved by the FDA to treat coronavirus in hospitalized patients. We now have at least four vaccines in phase 3 trials, only nine months after identifying the virus.

As we wrap up this edition of Dynamic News, Pfizer just announced their vaccine as more than “90% effective.” Operation Warp Speed, the largest public/private partnership run by Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense, is preparing for the distribution of 600 million doses of vaccines beginning in January (see 60 Minutes report on Operation Warp Speed here). Other vaccines are underway by Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Acceleration of Mobile-First and Online Shopping. As a result of social distancing and the need for contactless sales, online shopping has become the norm. Retailers are meeting the need for consumer preferences for delivery, curbside or in-store pick up—not to mention the significant increase in usage of grocery delivery apps and others in the retail and restaurant sectors.

Despite all the negative news, we’ve rallied as a country on many levels, bringing all forces together for the greater good.

Economic Comeback. A good portion of the economy in the U.S. has done well. We have actually reversed about 75% of the decline. In fact, with GDP bouncing back at a much faster rate (33% in Q3 2020) than expected, many business sectors (beyond technology and healthcare) have thrived during COVID-19: Grocery, durable goods for the home and other essential retailers (particularly those that enable online shopping and contactless delivery), housing, warehousing and shipping.

Amazingly, we’ve seen restaurant success stories from those that have adapted, enabling contactless ordering, curbside pick-up, and socially distant configurations and other safety precautions for in-dining. Clearly, we have a long road ahead to regain the job losses that are necessary to regain growth rates, but we seem to be on our way.

The Opportunity: Introspection to Fulfillment

The involuntary “pause” in our daily lives that resulted from the pandemic has perhaps created one of the greatest opportunities for us to reflect on our life, family, business, etc. From the early days of the pandemic, I’ve heard countless stories of team members and advisors who have engaged in rich discussions about their lives, futures and aspirations.

I have had several discussions with advisors about their practices and the future in the same context this year. This opportunity of introspection—to consider goals, aspirations and what really is important—seems to be on the minds of many in 2020.

Futurist Steve Brown, the author of “The Innovation Ultimatum: How Six Strategic Technologies Will Reshape Every Business in the 2020s,” told Forbes back in May that “COVID-19 has been called ‘the great pause,’ a time for reflection and introspection.” In the context of the important work wealth advisors do, I think this is especially true.

The disruption to the busyness of our daily routines has left many pondering what fulfillment means to them and how they can align their lives to actualize their idea of it.

As it turns out, what we are seeing in our industry—the work you do with your clients every day to help them realize their goals—is a major part of their fulfillment. The important role as a trusted advisor becomes even more pronounced in these highly uncertain times.

What does it mean to lead a fulfilled life? And how can wealth advisors play a major role in helping clients to shape their life to achieve it?

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization and fulfillment are at the top of the pyramid. Many advisors are recognizing that this is where they need to be in discussions with their clients, encouraging clients to actualize the fulfillment in life they wish to achieve.

Engagement at the ‘top of the pyramid’ is a much more substantive discussion; a deeper relationship develops between advisor and client beyond traditional planning and portfolio management.

Fidelity introduced the Advice Value Stack™. It’s a pyramid that helps articulate how investors assign value in the advice relationship. At the top of the pyramid: Fulfillment. Fidelity’s research speaks to the connection between money, work, health and life.

In talking with advisors this year, I know many have embraced client discussions at this level and are having conversations with their clients that lead to helping them better understand what fulfillment means to them. What it comes down to is understanding the person beyond their money. Are you addressing your clients at the top of the pyramid, in addition to the foundation of planning and investing?

There has been a lot of attention lately in our industry on the critical importance of dedicating more time to the “human element.” I was particularly struck by an October article in FTAdvisor, “Planners warned over becoming ‘army of technical experts.’” It cited that adviser academies reported record intakes this year and summer spikes as the government moved to protect the jobs market from the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

In the article, James Mousley, co-host of the Adviser Gap Podcast, warned thousands of hours were spent by professional bodies training advisers and planners to be “technical wizards,” but no time at all on the “art” of financial planning.

I couldn’t agree more with James, who said, “There are zero hours on the art of communication and zero hours on being human—it’s the listening, questioning, relationship building and body language. But without fully understanding the wants and needs of a client, what use is all this technical knowledge?”

Perhaps 2020 is a catalyst to starting the client relationship with a process of discovery to learn and understand your clients’ visions and how to actualize fulfillment in their lives. Now more than ever, your clients—current and prospective—are open to this deeper level of discussion. They will appreciate that you are listening to them and have a sincere interest in their lives.


Photo credit: Andreas Selter