How Financial Planners Save Their Clients From America’s Top Killer (Part 1)


You probably aren’t aware of this. But it’s true: financial planners are heroes.

When people think of the top killer they might think about smoking, cancer or obesity. Or maybe even a serial killer.

But the truth is far more surprising.

Because, according to Duke University’s Ralph Keeney, the top killer is our inability to make smart choices and overcome our self-destructive behaviors.

Ralph estimates that about half of us will make a lifestyle decision that will ultimately lead us to an early grave. And as if this were not bad enough, it seems that the rate at which we make these deadly decisions is increasing at an alarming pace.

Why Do So Many of Us Make Lousy Personal Decisions?

It has everything to do with one of the biggest problems we encounter in our financial planning practice.

This week I received an email from a financial planner after I asked him what his greatest struggle is nowadays. He wrote this:

This may sound strange, but one of my challenges is to get clients interested in their own finances. Many have the best of intentions but keep getting distracted by life. I have one client who needs to withdraw some money for his daughter’s education. I have been waiting over a month for him to tell me how much.

Why is this?

Why can’t we enthuse our clients to save for their daughters study?

Why can’t we save part of our paychecks, as we know we should?

Why can’t we resist new purchases?

Why can’t we exert some good old-fashioned self-control?

The answer comes from Dan Ariely, writer of Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Now I know I recommend a lot of books. And I can assure you – this book is the gateway to success, if you want to understand how your clients make decisions (to go in business with you).

Ariely explains that at first we’re in a cool state when we say that we’ll save money. We feel good about ourselves. However, after a while, this hot piece of lava called emotion passes by. Just when we promise to save, we see a new car, the latest iPhone or this great pair of shoes.

We promise to spend the money on retirement, but we spend the money on vacation.

What happens here is that people give up their long-term-goals for immediate gratification.

In other words, people procrastinate.

But Why do We Lose the Fight Against Procrastination So Frequently?

In Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions Ariely tells about his search for the root cause of this problem and the fix for this human weakness. He tells about himself – standing in front of his class – asking his students to finish three papers over the 12-week semester. The papers would constitute much of the final grade.

“But what about the deadlines?” a student asked.

Ariely decided to test his students by dividing them in three groups:

  1. Group 1 had to commit their own deadlines to the paper. After setting the deadlines, they couldn’t be changed. Late papers would be penalized at the rate of one percent off the grade for each day late. To help them, Ariely gave them a scheduling tool and spaced the timing of their papers across the whole semester;
  2. Group 2 had no deadlines at all. They could hand the papers at any time before the end of the semester. There was no grade benefit if they turned in the papers earlier;
  3. Group 3 received the dictatorial treatment: Ariely dictated three deadlines for three papers, set at the fourth, eight, and twelfth weeks. There was no choice. This was it.

So, here’s a question for you. Which do you think achieved the best final grades?

Ariely found out that the students in group nr. 3 – the group with the three firm dictated deadlines – got the best grades. The group with no deadlines (group 2) had the worst grades. And group 1 – logically – ended in the middle.

So what do these results suggest?

  • Students procrastinate. Nothing new here
  • Tightly restricting freedom, is the best cure for procrastination
  • The biggest eye-opener however was that by giving the students a simple tool by which they could commit to deadlines, helped them achieve better grades. It helped them to achieve their goals.

How does this tool look? Well, very simple. They had to fill in the blank to this question: I promise to submit paper 1 on week _________

And they did the same for each paper of course.

This eye-opener implies that the students generally understood their problem with procrastination and took action to fight it when they were given the opportunity to do so, achieving relative success in improving their grades.

What Does This Mean for Your Financial Planning Service?

A lot, I believe.

Although people have all the information and tools available within one or two swipes, they find themselves again and again in the same predicaments as the students – failing to reach what they really want to achieve.


Because without commitments, people keep falling for temptation.

You see, most of your clients don’t get what they really want these days. Not from their jobs, not from their families, not from their religion, not from their government, and most important, not from themselves.

Something is missing in most of your client’s lives. Part of what’s missing is purpose. Values. Worthwhile standards against which your client’s lives can be measured. Part of what’s missing are goals worth pursuing.

As a result, your clients scramble about hungrily seeking distraction and instant-gratification. Through television, via Facebook, and return on investments. Distraction and instant gratification fill the emptiness.  

What most people need, then, is guidance. Guidance from someone with a purpose, with order, with meaning. Someone who shows the way to become organized and clearly focused on a specific worthwhile result.  

And this person, mister and miss Financial Planner, is YOU.

You are the one who’ll become prized for who you are: a leader whose values such as integrity, intention, commitment, vision and (financial) excellence can be used as action steps in the process of producing worthwhile results. 

What kind of results?

Results that satisfy your client’s basic needs:

  • a feeling of competence (or feeling capable)
  • a feeling of relatedness (or belonging and feeling connected to others)
  • a feeling of autonomy (or feeling a sense of mastery and control)

What Do You Need To Do

Unless you believe that you’ll get the most out of giving orders to your clients (just like Ariely did to group nr. 3), you need to consider the group 1-approach.

This is great news for you. It’s scientific proof that your clients really need you, to help reach their goals. To make the approach work, you need to give your clients the opportunity to commit up front to their goals and preferred path of action. This helps your client in the right direction.

However, There Is One Problem Financial Planners Have to Solve First

As you can read in my free eBook, 97% of our clients don’t have goals. They say they don’t have life-goals. No financial goals. No goals at all.

But what your clients actually do, is that they hide. They hide from themselves. Think of it: have you ever had a client who – without you asking – says: “My financial goal is ……………..”

They hide because when they don’t reach their goals they have to admit to themselves they were wrong. And that’s pretty painful.

That’s why people need your help. You need to reassure them that it’s ok to express themselves. And guess what: people love you for that.


Because your clients only care about one thing – themselves.

And when you are helping them to express themselves, you are helping to make them feel good. 

Is this easy? No.

Is this scary for you and your clients? Yes.

Does it have an impact? Yes, like a tsunami.

Do your clients appreciate this? Yes, they LOVE it.

How Do You Help Them Express Themselves?

You help them by taking them on a journey that goes 10% – 25% deeper than they normally go.

You see, one of the biggest ways people ‘hide themselves’ is by speaking in ‘symbolic language’. For example, if your client says:

“I’ve always wanted to be successful”, what do you think successful means?

What you think is success, can be completely different from what your client considers success. Your client might value success in money terms, while you might value success in lifestyle terms.

You and your client can use the same ‘language’ and assume you’re talking about the same thing, while you’re probably not.

This is disastrous. When you assume you understand your client – when you really don’t – you leave them feeling disconnected from you and themselves. It makes you and your client feel dissatisfied and uninspired.

Also your client’s goals stay hidden.

In this scenario the conversation could go like this:

Client: “I’ve always wanted to be successful”

Financial Planner: “Oh, how many employees do you have?” or “Wow, that’s great”

In moments like this, your clients keep hiding themselves and because of that feel disconnected from you. You’ve engaged them in a conversation with nothing new or inspiring for them.

However, when you take your clients on that 10% – 25% journey, the ‘symbolic language’ of your client could be an opening opportunity. A chance to let your clients express themselves so that they can truly find their goals in life. In this situation the conversation could go like this:

Client: “I’ve always wanted to be successful”

Financial Planner: “Really? What would success look like to you?”

Do you feel the difference?

With this approach you are taking your client on a journey that’s new and self-revealing. Your client is now on his way to really finding his goals.

Now, there are many, many examples of your client’s ‘symbolic language’. Here are a few:

  • ‘I’ve made some mistakes in the past’
  • ‘We haven’t had good experiences with your industry’
  • ‘I’m disorganized’
  • ‘My wife and I come at money from different directions’
  • ‘I have real growth plans for this year’
  • ‘My values are everything to me’
  • ‘I have difficulty making decisions’
  • ‘I care about consistency’
  • ‘I’m getting tired of product sellers’
  • ‘I want to make this year the best year ever’
  • ‘I can’t remember the last time I took time off’

This is what happens all the time in conversations with our clients. And guess what? You have a huge opportunity when your clients say things like this. You have the chance to empower your clients to express themselves.

However, there still is one big problem to solve. It’s …

F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real.

You may be thinking: “How am I going to do that?” or “What’s going to happen when I can’t get myself out of it?” I understand. It’s legitimate and understandable.

But when you make this change, when you do take this step to go 10% – 25% deeper than you normally go, you are going to have the most amazing experiences with your clients. They leave you with the best feeling your ever had.

And your clients feel like they won the lottery.


Because now your clients have an emotional connection with you.

To help you I’m going to share some of the questions that I know really work to automatically get this emotional connection with your clients:

  • ‘What do you mean?’
  • ‘What does that mean to you?’
  • ‘Tell me more about that’
  • ‘Give me an example of when that occurs’
  • ‘Why does that worry you’
  • ‘What’s missing for you’
  • ‘What will happen if that happens’
  • ‘What’s that like for you’
  • ‘How does that feel’
  • ‘What are you afraid of’

These are some of the questions you want to ask when you hear your client’s ‘symbolic language’. These questions open doors to your client’s goals and it creates a deeper connection.

When you have established this connection, you need to consider the next step in this process. This next step in the conversation is probably even  more crucial than the steps you have already taken.

It’s The Most Uncomfortable Step in Your Client Conversation and 3 Tips to Take Care of It

If you are interested in this next – highly important step – the only thing you have to do is to fill in this poll here below. After you click you’ll be redirected to the page with  The Most Uncomfortable Step in Your Client Conversation and 3 Tips to Take Care of It. 

You can also leave a comment – if you like – to be redirected to this page.

Oh, and before I forget. I’ll also share what you can expect in part 2 of this article.

Here’s the poll:

[gravityform id=”2″ name=”America’s Top Killer” title=”false” description=”false”]


Let’s make financial planning matter.

To Your Success,



Leave a Reply 4 comments

Lindo Reply

This is a very interesting article, Great work

Reuben Zelwer Reply

Ronald this is a fantastic article. We need to take time to understand what motivates our clients, rather than just focussing on the superficial. A number of times I have misjudged or pre-judged a client\’s motivations based on my perception. This may have been solved by having a deeper conversation at the right time

Wolfgang Reply

When you go deeper you can uncover the clients wants or how he would like to act on his needs.
We buy from people who understand our needs and give us what we want.
Your article reinforces the strength of a coaching approach to selling professional services

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