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Puppet & Master

4 June 2024

FINANCIAL PLANNERS – Here’s a weird situation you’ve probably come across.

You’ve delivered a knockout Financial Planning session, invested significant effort to shift your client’s focus from the small technical details to the bigger questions about their ideal life and lifestyle outcomes.

Most importantly, you’ve got them viewing decisions through a human lens rather than a technical one.

Pleased with the progress, you arrange their next session and send them away to ponder a few things.

Then something strange happens…

At the next session, you’re ready to dive deeper into that human detail but they start asking weird questions—technical questions about tax, performance, and investments.

  • Questions you thought were resolved last time.
  • Questions irrelevant to their situation or financial plan.
  • Questions prefaced with “I’ve heard that…”

This is when your instincts should kick in.

You have a puppet and master situation.

There’s someone in the background whom the client is reporting back to, someone they hold in high regard and seek a second opinion from. It could be their spouse if they’ve come alone, a family member, a colleague, or even a professional such as an accountant or solicitor.

While probably well-meaning, they are not helping.

Financial Planning is one of those unique professions where people will seek guidance from almost anyone, regardless of their qualifications.

If you get a diagnosis from a doctor, you don’t call your accountant for a second opinion on that lump, do you?

And if you did, they’d tell you they’re not qualified to give an opinion.

As would Dave, the guy at work who did the first aid course, when you try to show him your rash.

But when it comes to money and investments, everyone has something to say.

So, what to do?

You have two options:

  1. Cut the strings – Ask, “Are you making your own decisions or are you consulting someone else?” This forces the issue into a binary choice: either they are making the decisions, or someone else is. If they confirm they are making the decisions, agree not to allow any outside influence, however well-meaning. If they admit they are not comfortable or capable of making their own decisions, then move to step 2.
  2. Talk to the master – If there is someone in the background pulling the strings, your next best bet is to get them to come along. If they are the one making the decisions, they need to hear the information firsthand. It’s not going to work otherwise.

If you do get them there, they will be your best ally. Instead of criticising from the outside on a subject they don’t understand, they will engage directly with you and reinforce your message to your clients. If you can’t beat them, get them to join you.

But you’ll never succeed by talking to the puppet.

So, either cut the strings or talk to the master.

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