The Good A̶d̶v̶i̶s̶o̶r̶ Doctor

There are lots of useful analogies for financial advisors: co-pilot and quarterback, personal trainer and even mechanic, but I think I’ve found another to add to the list: doctor.

Inspired by #FTACon12

This week, I noticed that my Twitter feed was peppered with tweets tagged #FTACon12. On the particular day I made this observation, it appeared that Carl Richards, aka Mr. Behavior Gap, was speaking–always a pleasure–so I set up a column in Tweetdeck to capture all of the tweets from the conference. Then I set about discovering what this conference was all about. Turns out it was the third annual Financial Therapy Association conference:

The conference is open to anyone who has an interest in blending aspects of financial planning, financial counseling, marriage and family therapy, sociology, social work, and psychology.

I read this and thought to myself: isn’t that what a good financial advisor has to be? At core an investment advisor, wrapped in a wealth manager, topped with a bit of financial planner, and finished with a sprinkle of counselor/therapist/psychologist?

So when I saw this:

 …And read these,

…I thought about all of the pieces I’ve written for this site, it just seemed so obvious: Financial advisors are like general physicians.

The truth about doctors and advisors

 Advisors help clients care for their finances, and doctors help patients care for their bodies. Care is the key word here. That’s why the title of this post is the good doctor: because the job of financial advisor and doctor can be done robotically, mechanically, cold-logically, but I believe it’s better done humanistically, benevolently, organically.

Think about financial advice like medical advice: You spend a huge amount of time and energy studying, observing, and analyzing data to provide your client/patient with a solution that will work for them… if only they would follow through with your instructions. In pharmacology, they call this an adherence problem. In the world of the finance professional, this is called the behavior gap (thanks, Carl).

Both professions struggle with this basic problem that behavior is really hard to influence. So we use other tools to increase our chance of success. We use tools (like mint.com or GlowCaps), reminders (like emails and check-ups), and human appeal (logical or emtional) to convince another person that making this change will greatly improve their life in the long term.

You synthesize vast amounts of information to uncover these simple changes that will have a huge positive impact. But still, doctors watch as the overweight continue to eat poorly, and advisor’s watch their clients dip into their children’s college funds for vacation money.

But it’s not all bad! Advances are being made! It turns out it just takes a talented, multi-faceted professional to possess the capacity to inspire real change and behavior. And here’s one tweet from #FTACon12 that sums up what kind of big-picture understanding it takes to be successful as an advisor:

DJ DJ is a freelance writer, hopeful photographer, and social media has-been. He writes to financial advisors about lifehacks, science, technology, business and marketing for Blueleaf, a software that helps create dramatically simpler, more scalable financial advisory businesses. You can find DJ across the web (about.me/djswitz) or you can just follow him on Twitter (@djswitz)!