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The FPA Retreat in Scottsdale last week (May 5 to May 8) would have more aptly been called an advance because I did not see any of the 400 advisors on hand taking steps backwards. Advisors did get CE credit, but that definitely wasn’t the focus of this gathering. Rather, it was more of a think tank than a conference. It was held at a typical conference center — at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort — but the attitude was different. The advisors don’t really go to the sessions simply to get continuing ed; folks come looking to make transformative change in their business.

The focus was on how can we better help our clients: What are the practices that will make their experience more meaningful? How can advisors be sure that they deliver the best possible service? As such, the meeting didn’t really go in the fiduciary debate direction. What struck me is that a lot of people were talking about psychology and a lot of advisors are eager for that sort of training. See: In what may be a first, an RIA brings on a psychologist as a financial planner. Seems like the next stage beyond the planning is helping them help clients implement their financial planning, avoiding emotional mistakes and connecting with clients on a deeper level. The advisors seemed to be really coming from a place of wanting to help their clients.

A matter of trust

The program kicked off with a circle gathering where attendees share their goals for the meeting and pave the way for open dialogue. The central theme of the program was trust: both building trust with clients and trusting methodologies and practices.

The technical programs generally challenged the status quo, asking attendees to look outside their current processes and beliefs. On the first day, Bob Veres, a commentator, author, speaker and consultant in the financial services industry for more than 20 years; Ken Solow, CIO at Pinnacle Advisory Group and Garry Miller challenged traditional buy-and-hold, mean-variance portfolio management with more-tactical approaches that look to take advantage of market inefficiencies.

Stephanie Kelton, economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, presented a compelling balance-sheet perspective in which government deficits are offset by private-sector and foreign government beneficiaries of the surplus on the other side.

I was asked to join Jon Guyton, principal at Cornerstone Wealth Advisors Inc. and Manish Malhotra, CEO of Income Discovery, on a retirement income panel moderated by Dan Moisand, principal of Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo and a former chairman of the Financial Planning Association. See: Fearful that the SEC has been overworked, lobbied and bullied into a SIFMA stupor, fiduciary crowd launches 16-page missile. Our general takeaway was that decumulation is different than accumulation and that advisors need to look to different strategies to make sure that clients don’t run out of money.

Liberal arts approach

Equal time was given to the softer side of planning. In fact, I heard several attendees applaud the increased attention given to how clients think about their money. Carol Anderson, president of Money Quotient, a non-profit that develops Financial Life Planning® tools and training for professionals who want to make a difference in the lives of their clients, focused on helping advisors build trusting relationships by building skills to uncover and navigate their clients’ emotions as they relate to money.

Sonya Britt and John Grable from Kansas State University presented research on how clients’ stress levels elevate when they hear financial news, good or bad, and showed what advisors can do to help their clients manage.

A unique part of the FPA Retreat experience is what they call lunch under the trees. These sessions are meant to facilitate open discussion about topics that don’t usually make it onto standard conference agendas. I sat in on a session called “Finology,” facilitated by Dick Wagner. The gist was if you could create a curriculum for a financial planning program, what classes would you include? Money and… psychology, sociology, the Bible, etc.

Ministers of New Zealand’s version of FINRA sat in on the session and have adopted the liberal arts approach espoused in the session.

Gary Klaben demonstrated mind-mapping techniques, showing how advisors could use this unique approach to show complex systems both to help clients visualize the value of the planning process as well as to organize the many complicated processes within a practice. Several advisors shared how they use mind mapping to capture revenue for work, like estate planning, that may be outside the standard planning relationship.

Brent Burns is president and a founding partner of Asset Dedication, a fixed-income separate-account manager in Mill Valley, Calif.