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  • Writer's pictureJake Morris

What Brought Me To Financial Planning, Part Two

Part Two: Finding My Calling

A few moments and epiphanies from that time stand out as being formative in how I view financial planning then and now and why I heard a calling to train myself so that I could help people. Among them were:

1. Rich or poor, we will ALL most likely have to deal with a loved one dying during our lifetimes. Even if you made preparations and have an estate plan in place when you pass away, your loved ones will have to wade through the financial and emotional fallout that occurs without you being there and may be forced to make decisions under duress and during periods of deep confusion if they aren’t prepared in advance.

2. Most of the financial people I spoke to that first year for guidance gave me selfish or self-serving advice, some of which could have had disastrous financial consequences that could’ve been easily avoided.

3. Many of the same professionals’ bedside manners and senses of empathy towards what my brother and I were going through at that time were straight-up awful. Unfortunately, this was during a time when we could have really used some help and an empathetic ear.

4. Well-intended or not, family members can often be enormous sources of peer pressure, have disagreements, and might not always have the most objective or prudent advice or information to offer, especially in times of loss and confusion.

5. The healing process can take years, not days, not months, even though we are under enormous pressure to move forward as soon as possible. Sometimes, when dealing with loss, we’re left with a feeling of, “Who cares? It doesn’t matter anyway,” that can be dangerous to our own best interests.

In addition to these insights, one of the other major discoveries that I made in 2014 was the CFP® designation. When I found out that the professionals that I had been dealing with were being held to a standard of suitability, meaning that they only needed to offer advice that they considered suitable for the client’s needs, it began to make sense why I was getting such self-serving guidance from them. What I was looking for was a fiduciary, someone who was legally required to act in my best interest. A Certified Financial Planner™ professional is just that.

Let me illustrate the difference between the standard of suitability and the fiduciary standard through an analogy and a real-life situation I dealt with all the time when I was a suit salesman.

Here’s the standard of suitability.

Customer: I need a suit for my wedding.

Salesperson: (Thinks to themself we only have grey suits in stock.) This season, everyone is wearing grey to their weddings.

Customer: Okay, let me try it on.

Salesperson: (Thinks to themself we only have size 40, and he’s a size 42.) Here you are sir, just your size.

Customer: I don’t know. This feels tight across the chest.

Salesperson: You want it tight across the chest. It’s very slimming on you. Are you ready to buy?

Here’s the same shopping experience, but with the fiduciary standard applied rather than the standard of suitability.

Customer: I need a suit for my wedding.

Salesperson: (Thinks to themself we only have grey suits in stock.) We only have grey suits in stock currently. Let’s try one on for size. We can order you a suit in any fabric you want.

Customer: Okay, let me try it on

Salesperson: (Thinks to themself we only have size 40, and he’s a size 42) Here you are sir, try on this size 40. Your true size is 42, but let’s see how you like the fit.

Customer: I don’t know. This feels tight across the chest.

Salesperson: Let’s try on a size 44 to compare.

Customer: All right. I think 42 is my size. Can you order me a suit in blue?

Salesperson: Yes, but the suit will take three months to arrive. Will that be enough time for your wedding? We’ll also need time to do a round of alterations to customize the fit.

Laugh all you want, but as a former suit slinger, I instantly understood how compensation incentives drive what is sold to customers and how the standard of suitability can create conflicts of interest.

When I was selling suits on a bespoke or made-to-measure basis (what I will call a “fiduciary suit standard” for the purposes of this illustration), the aim was a long-term relationship, not a quick buck, and the focus was on customizing the suit to the client’s needs so that they would look their best. When I was selling off-the-rack suits on a commission basis though (what I will call a “suitability suit standard”), I was motivated to sell the inventory I had available and incentivized to sell the products that earned me the highest commissions, any way possible.

When I sold suits off the rack, I remember literally “sizing people up” when they walked in the door to prioritize who would receive service and attention. I hated it, but that’s how you had to sell your inventory. When a man walked in whose size we didn’t carry, there was nothing to sell that person, and they were ignored. That’s the standard of suitability from the perspective of the salesman: Offer suitable recommendations (don’t give them pants when they asked to try on shoes, for instance), but don’t disclose anything that may interfere with the sale or be considered unfavorable (like, “This suit doesn’t fit you, but it’s all we have, and I want you to buy it, so I’ll convince you that it fits”). Basically, from the perspective of the consumer, the standard of suitability falls short of a fiduciary standard, and at worst, creates the potential of being ripped off.

Back to the CFP® or Certified Financial Planner™ certification. As a fiduciary, a CFP® is legally required to act in your best interest, and their training on a broad base of financial planning topics allows them to see your finances in a more holistic fashion than someone who is trained in only a specific area of knowledge. That was exactly who I was looking for, someone who could see the big picture and who was legally required to act in my best interest, which suited me just fine.

So, I made an appointment with a CFP®, asked her a few burning questions that I couldn’t find the answers for, and was off and running. I’m happy to say that that this advisor has since become a professional mentor of mine and someone who I learned a great deal from in the time that we worked together. I’ll always be grateful that I found a fiduciary who became such an important figure in my life at the time that I needed it.

Today, I know that because of my experience, training, and background, I can be that same person for someone else who needs help. That’s why I’m proud to call myself a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a fiduciary.

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