Can advisors get ahead by getting out of the rat race? Traditionally, no. The old model for financial services was all about long hours, cold calls and hard sales tactics.
But now as advisors switch from commission-based selling to a fiduciary model, many are looking for more balanced lives and a deeper connection with clients.
The Kinder Life Planning program, founded by George Kinder, focuses on the human side of financial planning, training advisors in how to zero in on their own most fundamental life goals—and then help clients do the same.
Based on Kinder’s 2000 book, Seven Stages of Money Maturity and expanded via the five-day EVOKE Life Planning Training, it offers advisors a way to reduce stress, improve client relationships and become more productive.
Personal wellness increases productivity
Atlanta-based financial planner Sidney Divine is a Kinder Life Planner. He says he noticed right away, when he started his business, that client conversations often veered off of financial topics into broader considerations of life, family, hopes and aspirations.
“They would frequently tell me stories about their past and their dreams that were left unfulfilled,” said Divine, the founder of Divine Wealth Planners.
“I didn’t really know how to take those conversations forward.”
One of Divine’s mentors had earned a Registered Life Planner designation after taking the five-day EVOKE workshop designed by George Kinder.
Divine became fascinated by Kinder’s holistic approach, which combines traditional financial advice with planning around personal goals.
He signed up for the five-day EVOKE training held in Hana, Hawaii.
To learn life planning, Divine experienced it firsthand.
Kinder’s team helped him zero in on his goals and hopes and passions, the same process that Divine would later bring to his clients.
After taking the training, Divine reorganized his life. By nature a workaholic, he began to seek balance, cutting back on the 20-hour days and making time for exercise, healthy diet and mindful meditation.
He still got up before dawn, but now headed to the gym before the office.
A former college basketball player, he joined a few basketball leagues and reignited his love for the sport.
Divine also made space in his life for meditation.
“Now, before client meetings, I take 10 minutes to just kind of breath and relax,” he says.“Before, I’d spend that ten scrambling, looking to get papers in order or reading notes to make sure that I’m up to date.
But if you start off with meditation, you’re using your schedule a little bit better, because instead of the scramble, you get into space where all that matters is the client.
You don’t have any agenda in the way.
It’s just wherever the client takes you.
That’s where you go.”
“I feel like I’m a way, way better planner as a result of the training, and here’s what was interesting: My goal has always been to the top planner in my agency.
In 2016, I finished #2 out of 30-something planners.
And 2017, this last year, I finished #1,” says Divine.
“The Kinder training has totally differentiated me,” he adds.
“I no longer go straight to ‘Well, how much money do you have?’ Instead, I’m spending the time to get to know them and what they aspire to, so I know that when I build their plan, putting them at the center of their plan. I no longer have challenges with clients implementing what I’m trying to do for them because everything is with them in mind. Everything is what they said they wanted to do.”
The Kinder Approach
Kinder’s views on integrating life goals with financial ones first began to crystallize in his 2000 book, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity.
In the introduction, he wrote, “Money… can be seen as the place where our internal selves engage the external world. If either side–internal or external, self or money–is slighted, the whole of life suffers.”
Kinder began holding two-day seminars on the book and how to integrate it into financial planning, but he found that even after the training, advisors weren’t really equipped to provide guidance on non-financial matters—life, health, career, family, passions.
In response, he developed the EVOKE Life Planning five-day training, an intensive introduction to life planning, in which advisors learned by doing.
They were paired with other advisors and, over the course of the seminar, each member of a pair prepared a life plan for the other.
“In our five-day methodology and training, people get energized to live their own lives of greatest meaning, and at the same time, they get trained in how to deliver for their clients that inspirational life,” says Kinder.
Kinder says that, by putting the clients’ most deeply held values and goals at the center of the relationship, Registered Life Planners solve one of financial planning’s biggest problems: lack of trust.
“Most financial advisors and many of your readers come from a product orientation and a numbers orientation and a legal orientation and a sales orientation that consumers rightly distrust,” says Kinder.
“If you look at surveys of trust, you have nurses and doctors way up at the top, at 70 or 80%.
You have advisors 14-24%.
Politicians are a little bit below that and journalists just above it.
So, the number one issue that an advisor has to face when a client comes in to work with them is trust.”
The Kinder Life Planning process starts with a really open-ended conversation in which clients do 90% of the talking.
“We train the advisors in handing the meeting over to the client and developing great listening skills.
Which means being quiet, being caring, having empathy.
It’s largely just great listening.
That’s what that first meeting is,” says Kinder.
“You can’t be a fiduciary without being a life planner,” Kinder adds.
“Because how could you be? If you think being a fiduciary is simply about how you charge and your relationship to products, you’re missing the whole point. The whole point is about placing the clients’ interests first.”
The tools for a career transition
Cristina Behrens, now the CEO of Mana Financial Life Design in Marina Del Ray, California, took the Kinder training when she was making the transition from working as a wholesaler for Russell Investments to setting up shop as a financial planner.
“Three years ago, I set about and started obtaining all my education requirements for the CFP through UCLA, and at the same time, I started working with George Kinder and the Kinder Institute of Life Planning,” she explains.
“His book, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity, changed my life. Through this book, I realized all the sudden that there was meaning behind the money and I was so moved by it that I enrolled in his five-day registered life planning in Hana, Maui. I was still a mutual fund wholesaler at the time and I essentially joined a group of 12 registered investment advisors and I was the only investment wholesaler there. Everyone thought it was quite strange. That was actually the beginning of my transition out of wholesaling into launching Mana and doing what we’re doing today.”
Getting her own life plan was a key part of the process for Behrens.
“For me, my biggest obstacle at that time was disposing of the golden handcuffs of my current job, so that I could make the jump from corporate life to the entrepreneurial life that I so craved. While doing that I needed to take the CFP.I needed to go to school while working full time,” she says.
There were also personal goals to consider.
“I also was looking to find like a long-term boyfriend and get married,” she added.
Through the training, she received what Kinder calls “a torch” that is, a specific long-term plan for reaching her goals.“Within the next two years, I took and passed the CFP test, and I started saving money to launch my business.
Despite working full-time and going to school, I was still able to surf, which is my favorite thing to do because I live in Los Angeles.
I spent time going on dating apps and going on dates and not being too hard on myself,” she says.
“The EVOKE training gives you the building blocks that we all know are within ourselves, but we need someone to tell us. And honestly, every single thing that was written down in that torch was accomplished in two years.”
Today, she brings that same holistic notion of wellness to her clients. "Financial wellness is a critical piece of the puzzle of overall wellness,” she says, but it’s not the only piece.
“Financial wellness, spiritual well-being, love and relationships are all factors that make up a true picture of wellness. We believe that financial wellness is key, but it’s also integrated into every other aspect.”
Following the Kinder training, she spends time early on in her relationships coaxing clients to think big picture.
“What would you do if money were no object? What would you stop doing? What would you start doing? What are your biggest dreams? And then it really narrows it down to if you only had 24 hours left to live, what would you regret? Who would you regret not being? What would you regret not doing?” she says, “In really digging deep into those answers, we find the purpose and we find out we can help to bring about this overall picture of the best version of our clients as possible.”
Through these life planning meetings, Behrens’ clients identify actionable goals – concrete steps they can take to move closer to their ideal life. Once these goals are set, Behrens holds clients accountable.
For instance, she works with a couple who just had a daughter.
They decided they wanted to be healthier, so they would be better able to take care of their child.
“Once they come up with their idea – for instance, I could not drink for a month or I could get an exercise class pass— we say great, how soon can you get that done? They say well, next week. Wonderful, what day next week? And then it’s like okay…so now we know it’s Wednesday of next week that they want to get that done. We put a reminder on our calendars to check in with them. It’s a regular check-in.”
Behrens says she’s done life planning for 60 to 70 clients since she became a Registered Life Planner, and every one of them has been wildly positive about the experience
“What you’ll hear over and over from people who have experienced this process is that life planning is financial planning done right,” she says