When John Hirt and his wife Dianne first met RTD Financial Advisors in Philadelphia, they were a bit unsettled. Instead of just reviewing their investments and budget, counselors asked broader questions about the couple’s values and beliefs, and whether their financial goals reflected them.
Advisors also spent a lot of time making sure the Hirts understood and accepted the company’s philosophy. RTD Founder Roy Diliberto believes in an approach to investing known as financial life planning, which helps clients identify their core values and connect them to their financial decisions and life goals, while managing their portfolio. “They wanted to make sure we weren’t just looking for somewhere to invest our money,” says John, 78. “I was surprised by this at first, but it was very effective in the long run.”
Advisors like RTD represent a growing movement in the financial planning industry, focusing on the human side of financial planning, including anxiety and other emotions related to money and wealth. “People usually think they just need a ‘money guy’, but when we start asking questions they realize they need a lot more,” says Dave O’Brien, a paid planner in Midlothian, Virginia with EVOadvisers. Clients struggling with retirement and other finances “really need advice that covers their attitudes, goals and resources.”
RTD advisers, for example, asked the Hirts about their priorities, such as spending time with adult children, volunteering and travelling. In subsequent meetings, the two parties shared personal details such as upcoming weddings and the arrival of grandchildren. “My fear as a new retiree was whether we would be able to live our lives the same as when we were earning a regular salary,” says John, but RTD advisers put that worry to rest. “We started to feel like good friends and very comfortable with them and discussing all of this.”
Dianne, 77, says she now looks forward to the sessions. “We really pay more attention to our life and our life goals than to the investment portfolio,” she says.
Your experience working with an advisor who uses this approach will be different from working with an advisor who focuses primarily on your portfolio. You typically start with several intense sessions where you outline your life story and priorities, before developing a financial plan based on your beliefs and goals for financial well-being and a meaningful life. You could tackle issues such as your emotional motivations to spend or your fear of debt. Advisors work closely with you on personal financial decisions, from buying a home to moving elderly relatives to assisted living.
Create a link
For the Hirts, the early sessions at RTD led to a 12-year relationship, where counselors helped them make the difficult choice of selling their home and moving to a continuing care retirement community. RTD referred them to an expert in geriatric care, who helped them understand what kinds of arrangements they could afford and even accompanied them on visits to potential communities, a level of service they had not expected. .
The couple moved into their new community in May. “It was a really intimate experience,” says Hirt. RTD did not charge any additional costs for the work; the Hirts pay a flat fee of $10,000 a year for meetings, phone calls and other services, John says.
There is no specific title for these types of planners. Some call themselves life planners and financial coaches, financial life planners, holistic financial planners or simply financial advisors. They may be Certified Financial Planners and Paid-Only Advisors, or have other credentials. Check the websites of potential advisors or companies to understand their background, then meet the best candidates. If a planner tries to sell you products first rather than asking about your values, that’s a red flag, says O’Brien.
Find your advisor
Ask about counselor training. The Kinder Institute of Life Planning, whose founder, George Kinder, is considered the father of life planning, has conducted workshops, counseling and training with more than 3,500 financial advisors and coaches; find counselors who take this approach on kinderinstitute.com.
MoneyQuotient is a nonprofit education and resource organization that trains counselors to help clients consider the practical and emotional factors that affect the way they handle money. Find an advisor on their site at moneyquotient.org. Maggie Kulyk, founder of Chicory Wealth, a holistic financial planning practice in Decatur, Georgia, trained by MoneyQuotient; Kulyk says she guided clients through signing up for health insurance, deciding on a down payment for the car and helping the grandchildren pay school fees.
Sometimes retirees struggle with unique financial and emotional challenges. You may feel guilt or anger, for example, for supporting an adult child and jeopardizing your retirement. If so, you might want to see a new type of advisor called a financial therapist. A financial therapist is a financial professional who has a background in counseling, such as a certified financial planner who is also a licensed mental health professional. You might seek help if you have the kind of financial stress that can’t be solved by just talking to a financial advisor, says Sarah Swantner, financial therapist at Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, SD, and president-elect of the Financial Therapeutic Association.
She sees clients coping with the loss of their identity in retirement or spouses trying to find their way by spending more time together as retirees. Some clients become anxious about their finances; others are spouses who kept financial secrets. “People often don’t know there’s a place to talk about this stuff and they’re relieved when they find a place where they can,” she says. Find a professional through the Financial Therapy Association. Ask potential counselors if they lean more in their training towards the financial aspect or the mental health aspect, to determine if they would be a good fit for the problem you are facing.