“What if I don’t have financial goals?”

Brian Cotroneo

One of the most fulfilling aspects of the Financial Planning profession is helping clients realize their financial goals.  After all, providing peace of mind regarding retirement, education funding, or long-term care is an essential part of the job and our greatest value add.

That being said, the perception of how the process unfolds is vastly different than reality.  It is a scenario that plays out in almost every television commercial for advisory services: an elderly couple or new parents enter an office and are asked a question: “what are your financial goals?”  Their response is usually simple – to save adequately for retirement, save for their children’s college, or purchase a new home.  After a short sit down with a professional, they’re provided a solution to their problem and leave overwhelmingly satisfied.

Sadly, this doesn’t reflect the real world; all it is does is give people unrealistic expectations and anxiety about their own financial preparedness.  It’s not unusual for prospective clients to report feeling awkward or uncomfortable about the phrase “financial goals” – after all, they’ve been told they should have their goals identified and addressed in thirty minutes or less!  If you can’t do that, surely you must have something to be embarrassed about, right?

The truth is ambiguity around your future finances is nothing to be ashamed of because goal discovery is a critical part of any new advisory relationship.  Conversations about goal setting are rarely simple and almost never resolved in a quick office visit.  Saving for retirement or education requires testing and adjusting dozens of variables before a client feels comfortable approving them.  As Financial Planners we anticipate clients will need help identifying what they want to get from a plan – that’s why “Identifying and Selecting Goals” represents an entire step in the CFP Financial Planning Process and the Aviance WealthPlan™.  No one, least of all your financial advisor, should expect you to have everything neatly organized before you sit down for your first meeting.

Ultimately the important thing isn’t HOW you get to a conversation about your goals, it’s just that you DO.  Without knowing the specifics of where you want to go, you can’t know if you’re on the right path to getting there.

Once you start the discussion, a Financial Planner can drive the process using several different paradigms.  One particularly effective strategy we use at Aviance is the S.M.A.R.T. paradigm developed in the early 1980s.  It addresses five key considerations of each goal to ensure it has been properly considered:

  1. Specific: What are you trying to do and why? To what extent?
  2. Measurable: How will you quantify success? By what metrics?
  3. Attainable: Do you have the tools necessary to reach the goal? If not, what do you need?
  4. Realistic: Can you meet the goal you are setting under normal circumstances?
  5. Timely: When do you need to accomplish the goal by? Is that flexible?  What are the intermediate steps and how long will they take?

Using a S.M.A.R.T. approach ensures that we can efficiently bring our experience and insights to your unique circumstances.  We believe this maximizes the chances of meeting or even exceeding your expectations.  Unlike what is often implied by television commercials, properly developed financial goals are seldom simple nor easy; they typically require significant time and effort to construct. As Planners we expect goal discovery to take multiple conversations and be frequently revisited as circumstances change.

If you’d like to start a conversation about your goals and see where they could lead, please contact us and we’d be happy to discuss them with you.