In the words of Ferris Bueller, Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop, look around once in a while, you could just miss it. One of the most critical aspects that I see in the role of financial planner is the constant balance between today and tomorrow. It’s something that I think is our mission to help clients live well today, but also plan responsibly for tomorrow. And that’s not an easy thing. Years can fly by as if they were weeks, and all of a sudden, it can change overnight.
On the 18th of August 2009. I was 14 years old. What I and my friends and family thought was going to be just a normal summer’s day turned out to be anything but. I made a decision that day that would change my life forever. Despite advice from my dad, just five days prior, a friend and I decided to play with fire, not just fire but petrol and fire. That decision resulted in me having 30% of my body covered in grade three and four degree burns, a trip in an air ambulance, an induced coma and my parents being told that I may not make it through the night.
So why am I telling you this? Well, mainly to just remind myself and to remind you, that life is a fragile thing that is paper thin, and it can change so quickly. So when it comes to financial planning, I think we must seek to understand whether our clients are too far on the side of the seesaw of living for today, or too far living for tomorrow.
We live in a consumerist world where we’re constantly surrounded by advertising, marketing and notification campaigns that are giving us highly frequent doses of hormones that we just would not have got even 50 or 60 years ago. This is creating neurological responses within us that have been beneficial for economic growth, creativity, innovation. However, they’ve also led to increased debt levels and increase mental health issues.
As humans, we are now extremely predictable. Studies across 50,000 mobile devices has shown that 93% of our daily movements are predictable. However, we have this inner freedom, we want to feel unique and original. We do not want to feel predictable. So I think is a key aspect of the role is for us to truly understand how we can make our clients, through the financial planning process, feel unique, feel original, give them objectives and goals that truly reflect what they want, and not just what a compliance department wants.
We need to allow our clients to be unique and original, and use their predictability for good. Within the first 18 months of me qualifying, I met truly one of the most amazing couples I’m ever likely to deal with and it became apparent very quickly that the husband had an aggressive form of cancer. He was trying to get his finances in order so that his wife and wider family were going to be okay. As we went through the process, and we sorted all that out I learned that he had been an aggressive saver, and there was large sums of money. Sadly, he died just six months later. And I often think about this case, because now he’s left his wife and wider family with far too much. Did he get the balance right? Who knows? It’s a very difficult question. Did he miss out on experiences?
As for my own story, after finishing university, I’ve continued to take exams. I now find myself working quite long hours trying to build the business. I’m effectively saving saving saving, as my family would like to say, storing potentially today moments that I’m missing out on for tomorrow moments. Again, a difficult balance. Who knows? For me, true wealth is at the center point, and it’s what we should aim to do. As financial planners we must be comfortable in exposing our vulnerability to allow people to open up about this so we can truly understand their values and their goals.
I am reminded of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus was a genius inventor, and he created the labyrinth. King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus, within the labyrinth. As the genius inventor, it didn’t take him very long to start thinking about how he could escape. He noticed the birds were flocking around and they also had candle lights within the labyrinth. He took feathers from the birds around the tower and he used the wax from the candles to create a gigantic pairs of wings. As he was strapping the wings to his son, Icarus, he gave him a word of warning. Icarus, fly to near to the ocean, and the wings will become down and they will falter. Fly too high near to the sun, and the wax of the candles that make the wings will disintegrate and to the wings will falter. So the key to escape the labyrinth was maintaining a balance between high and low.
We should absolutely get people to save, we should absolutely get people to protect their families and loved ones, we should absolutely use cash flow models and illustrations and projections. But we must not for our own sake, and our clients do so at the detriment of missing what today has to offer. We all have two lives. The second begins when we realise we only have one.