A year like no other: The best learnings from 2020

Episode 115: Ben and Emily are joined by Nate Stading for a discussion on the key takeaways from the podcast in 2020.
December 2020
Audiogram - BCBO ep. 115 - A year like no other: The best learnings from 2020

2020 was a year with very few normal moments. Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic provided, one certainty was that we would continue to provide a recap of the best learnings from the year. And there were many.

Ben and Emily are joined by Nate Stading for a discussion on the key takeaways from the podcast in 2020, including how the pandemic has shifted the way financial advisors should analyze plans, portfolios and their practice heading into 2021 and beyond.

Thank you to all of our guests that joined the podcast for the first time or returned to the podcast this year. Your insights are helping advisors around the world drive better outcomes for their clients.

Nate Stading

Director, Regional Sales, Intermediary Distribution


Ben Jones

Head of U.S. Intermediary Distribution


Emily Larsen

Head of Product Governance



Emily Larsen: Although this has been a year like no other, we’re going to end it as we normally do by taking time to reflect on the past year of the Better conversations. Better outcomes. Podcast. We’ll share some of our observations from this year as well as revisit key learnings from our guests.

Ben Jones: Welcome to Better conversations. Better outcomes., presented by BMO Global Asset Management. I’m Ben Jones.

Emily Larsen: And I’m Emily Larsen. On this show, we explore the world of wealth advising from every angle, providing actionable ideas designed to improve outcomes for advisors and their clients.

Disclosure: The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

Emily Larsen: To spice thing up a little bit more, we’ve invited Nate Stading back to the show. Nate spent the whole year coaching advisors and has a great perspective to add to today’s conversation. Welcome back Nate, it’s great to have you.

Nate Stading: Thanks, Emily and Ben, it’s great to be back.

Emily Larsen: I actually thought it would be really great to start today’s podcast with both of you to talk about some of the tactical and actionable ideas that came out of this year’s podcast. I know the three of us have talked a little bit about some ideas there, but I’ll kick it over to Ben.

Ben Jones: Yeah, as I sat and reflected a little bit on the 2020 year and the period of the pandemic, I think that one of the things that will become more valued in advisors, planning, practice, and portfolios will be the concept of preparedness or creating optionality for their clients and their practice as a more foundational part of the planning process. For example, when it comes to portfolios, advisors will take into account the human capital of their clients a little bit more. So for example, Nate has a lot of his personal human capital tied to the market, his job is more like a stock than it is a bond. And so in his case, his portfolio might want to be more conservative because his work or his human capital is more of a volatile stock. However, if you work say at a utility, or in a government job, maybe your job is more like a bond. And in that case, you might want to have more of your portfolio allocated to equities. And so I think things like understanding how to incorporate human capital into the portfolio will be one of those things. When it comes to planning, I think the idea of emergency savings is going to change. I think everybody’s talked about this desire to have three to six months of income and you need to have that in an emergency savings. But what we saw during the pandemic was that a lot of people needed to tap their retirement. In fact, we even had to come out with several adjustments or new pieces of legislation to allow people to tap into their retirement accounts given the crisis that was emerging. And so I do think that you’ll see new workplace savings options become more prevalent for financial wellness and putting aside money for financial hardships. I also think that you might see, and I’m curious how this evolves, but I think you might see the recommendation bump up from three to six months, maybe to something like six to 12 months of expenses might become more common advice. And that creates a different conversation with clients because for many people, this is going to be an incredibly challenging thing, right? It’s hard enough to get people to have three to six months in their emergency savings. Imagine trying to get them to think about six months or a year in emergency savings. And so I think these are some of the things when it comes to planning that are going to evolve and the advice and the tools will evolve pretty rapidly over the coming years to create that optionality. And I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the advisor’s practice, business continuity plans were often something that we’re done because you had to have one, not because we actually thought we needed them. And I think now, post-pandemic business continuity plans were tested, and many of them worked. And I think you’ll start to see advisors and their firms take Business Continuity Planning even a little bit more seriously and I think you’ll see some of the scenarios a little more wild than in the past, right? Who could have predicted the tale of a global pandemic shutting down the economy for four weeks? I don’t know that I would have had that in my scenarios to test and it’s important that going forward, we’re probably not going to test that one, but a lot of other odds scenarios. And I think advisors are well positioned to start thinking through those things, and testing the tales, not the bell curve, or the higher probability options because those aren’t the things that are going to knock your business back or make servicing your clients harder. It’s going to be those things on the tale that are unpredictable that are going to be severe to disrupting a business. So I don’t know if you’re seeing anything in the field Nate, but that’s some of the observations I have about whether it’s business continuity planning, emergency savings or even portfolios adapting.

Nate Stading: I think lot of us felt this year a little bit of a loss of control in terms of some of the things that we’re used to do in our lives. And that’s why a lot of my conversations and many of our episodes that we taped early near focused on that need, even if it’s very simple to give clients a few actionable steps they could take. What does that do for the client? It leaves them feeling the impact of your guidance as the advisor, and it gives them that feeling of being able to take action to move forward. Some of the best ideas I heard this year include early on in the pandemic, a lot of advisors were leveraging health care planning. And we were able to leverage some of the content provided by previous podcast guests, Peter Stoll to help them with those conversations around the need for health care planning, around understanding health care planning better, and some of the basic concepts they need to think about. One of the other great steps that I heard people talk about was reviewing cash needs. I think you touched on it briefly Ben, but the behavioral mistakes people make by selling at the wrong time generally are the most detrimental to client’s long-term investment success. And reviewing a client’s cash needs is very dependent on their own situation, you touched on that three to six months. Well, in some cases, advisors were stepping into client conversations and saying, “How much cash do you need to feel comfortable? Is that six months? Is that a year?” Some were up to two years. So that is a very unique conversation for every client you’re working with, but I think it’s a great one to have, especially given the rebound that we’ve seen this year that gives us another opportunity to review that with portfolios back, hopefully to where they were if not ahead in many cases.

Emily Larsen: And so what I’m hearing from both of you is this unique year has led us to have some observations about how financial advisors can adjust their approach with clients, with their practice and even with portfolio allocations. I know the other thing we had discussed, the three of us is the episode about coaching clients through uncertainty. And that that was put out at a critical time, but also had a lot of really great takeaways for advisors to be there. If you want to touch on that.

Nate Stading: What are your favorite takeaways from that one Ben? Because there’s so much in that episode, I really listened to it last night, and I had trouble distilling it down because essentially, listening in the LERA framework where I think the best messages that we heard which is the advisors who do the best job listening, are the ones who engage the best with their clients.

Ben Jones: And when you say LERA, for those who don’t remember, what is LERA?

Nate Stading: Listen, Empathize, Reframe and Act presented by one of our previous podcast guests. Dr. Amy D’Aprix.

Ben Jones: I think Steve Sanduski was really ahead of the curve when it came to this pandemic. In fact, I recalled getting the note from him that we needed to start communicating to clients and this had the opportunity to be a very disruptive market event well before the market actually disrupted. I actually found that to be very interesting that he was really ahead of the curve on this particular topic. And one of the things that I really took away was that Steve thought that advisors needed to be very purposeful in their communications to their clients, but also be open to sharing that this is new for them too. And I think that builds a lot of credibility, right? Your clients often look to you to be the all-knowing expert. But how does anyone know how to handle a pandemic when none of us were alive the last time that this happened? And so I think that Steve gave some really good advice on what you should be communicating, how you should be communicating and making sure that it ends with some actionable steps for the client to take.

Steve Sanduski: There was a big question about if I send out some kind of communication, how do I strike the balance between Yes, I want to communicate with my clients, but no, I don’t want to stoke fear in them, or make them feel like I’m panicking or making them feel like, oh, you should pay more attention to this than it’s really worth. And so there’s a little bit of that struggle going on out there. But I’m of the belief that if I’m going to err on the side of communication, I want to err on the side of communicating too early and communicating too frequently because the risk of that is much less than the risk of communicating too late.

Emily Larsen: Even with our episode with Jason Smith, it’s great to have purposeful messaging. It’s great that you’re an expert, but the thought that he put in my mind is that it’s really important to communicate to the clients in a way that makes sense to them like using analogies like the bucket concept or something like that, that really breaks it down in a tangible way for the client to absorb what you’re telling them. You can be the best of the best, but if you can’t communicate clearly, it doesn’t go anywhere.

Ben Jones: This doesn’t just apply to clients. It applies to our teams, it implies to conversations with our friends and family. And this idea of simplifying things, people misconstrue as dumbing it down, but it’s actually more about making it relevant and actionable and easy to understand. And it’s interesting, this year, we had a lot of our team that was dealing with homeschooling kids and getting used to work from home environment and not being able to socialize and dealing with family and friends that were sick or isolated, et cetera. And so there was a lot of stuff outside of work and a lot of technology and changes and processes inside of work that disrupted the normal kind of flow or rhythms that people had. And so actually, I just stole Jason his now soon and later buckets and I started telling people, “Here’s what we need to do now, here’s what we need to do soon. And here’s what we should do later.” And it really helped just calm people that they didn’t have a deadline because I think everybody was working some alternative schedules at some point during the year due to kids or whatever and sometimes, giving our teams those hard deadlines in the midst of real change actually causes more stress and causes them to perform worse. And so for advisors, as you think about your teams and staff, when you lay things out in this simple way of here’s what we need to do now, here’s what we should do soon and here’s what we should do later, you’ll be surprised your teams will actually probably deliver things at a faster pace than they would have had you given them a deadline.

Nate Stading: It’s almost like who guides the guides Ben, right? Because we all do so much guiding. But often, we’re the ones left without our own guides and we really need to be good with each other as well to make sure that everybody’s heard.

Ben Jones: And that really leads into this idea of making tough conversations a better conversation, we had David Wood who is an absolute character, and full of wisdom. And I had so much fun recording this episode with David. One of the things that I really want to make sure that we include and really was a key takeaway for me, and something that I’ve used throughout the course of the year because there were a lot of opportunities for introspective or tough conversations whether it was within our practices as advisors, helping our team through difficult things, whether it was with clients helping them think through some tough conversations. David Wood has a four step process.

David Wood: This is the CARE Model, C-A-R-E. So the C stands for Clarifying the issue, you want to get clear on things like what’s your hope from this conversation? What are you afraid to go wrong and do you have a request? It’s really great. And you may decide not to have the conversation after that you’ve gotten clarity. Or you may decide to go forward, that A stands for Ask permission. We’re not going to say we need to talk, we’re going to ask permission and set context for the conversation so that they might even look forward to it. The R stands for reveal and request. You’re going to share the issue, how you’re feeling about it, and if you have a request, this is the time to make it and then the E is so important. And Ben, I forget this so often. The E is in Enquire. You want to ask about how it landed for them, how they’re feeling about it, do they have any ideas that are better than your ideas, and you work it out together? You don’t want to have a tough monologue, you want to have a tough conversation. So this step is crucial.

Ben Jones: One of my favorite episodes that I recorded during the year was the episode that we recorded with Carl Richards, and part of it is that Carl did a great job of explaining that the job of a real financial advisor is to diagnose their clients, right? It’s for you to understand their problems and make sure that you really diagnose the situation and get to the root of the problem, peeling back the onion and figuring out what is the challenge or what is the problem that they’re facing? And then and only then can you give them a prescription so that you can provide them really good advice. And I think that’s really great wisdom for advisors is especially during this period is that you need to make sure that you really understand the situation because not every one of your clients has experienced this pandemic the same.

Carl Richards: We all think we’re in the solutions business and I think that’s step one, how to get better is at what I think of as what I like to call nailing the problem is step one, to understand you are not in the solutions business. And here’s the reason you’re not in the solutions business is no one cares about your solutions. They care about their problems.

Ben Jones: The other thing that I think is really interesting is he talks about the litmus test for real advisors. And the litmus test is what I refer my mother to them. And I think this is really interesting and if you’re an advisor listening to this, and you don’t know the answer, pick up the phone and call your favorite wholesaler and ask them and then maybe pick up the phone and call your least favorite wholesaler and ask them. And the more interesting thing isn’t whether they say yes or no, but asking them why. And really getting to the root of how you can improve your services, and make them more awesome than they are today.

Emily Larsen: Yeah, I think that’s great advice and something you can do in minutes, right? This is not insurmountable, it’s not overwhelming, you just get some really great feedback.

Nate Stading: Moving forward, clients are going to ask us a lot more questions about our virtual office capabilities. We have to be prepared to engage those clients in that way more often. Clients may be more geographically diverse going forward, think about all the news items we’ve read over the last few months about people moving away from the city or find that resonance that’s a little bit farther out in the country, that’s the new norm. And so as we approach clients, clients are going to ask us to not come to our office, they’re going to want to do these types of meetings in a virtual format a lot more.

Ben Jones: I don’t know if you recall, but we did an episode on the secrets of the two X advisor and David Griffin was one of the guests. And on that episode, he shared that he and his team had made the decisions to not have a physical office, not have physical infrastructure, and that their entire practice was virtual so that his team didn’t have to commute, didn’t have to go to the office, didn’t have to be stressed about those things. At the time, it seemed like a radical way to run your practice. But going into the pandemic, he was so incredibly prepared that they didn’t even skip a beat, working from home wasn’t a new thing for them, it was nothing for them. And I think that’s a really great example of making sure that your technology is future-proofing your practice.

Nate Stading: These practices barely impacted. I would bet if we talked to him today, his clients probably didn’t even notice outside of the conversation shifting around the pandemic the interaction at all which is incredible when you think about how forward looking he was,

Emily Larsen: Ben, I think you had some observations there too about productivity.

Ben Jones: One of the observations that I had related to work from home was that it is the potential opportunity for advisors to rethink their practice of it and improve their productivity. For example, a lot of advisors have spent a lot of time thinking about these ideas of traditional offices, fixed operating costs like parking places and office space and servers, and internet and computer, things like that. And while those things are all really important and part of the client experience, my belief is that the client experience will be much more hybrid in the future. And it’s going to be a lot harder to get a client or a prospect to decide to come down to your office, it depends on where your office is of course, and this is all dependent on cultural norms, et cetera. But it’s going to have to be a different experience and I think that in the places where advisors have been very deliberate about delighting their clients and wowing them when they come to the office, making sure that the receptionist knows their name, that they have fresh cut flowers, that they have their favorite beverage ready for the meeting that they can use flat screens in the conference room and all of these things. And we’ve done episodes on all of these things, right? That advisors spend a lot of time on making a deliberate and delightful client experience now have to go digital, and how do you delight a client on Zoom? How do you delight a client on Microsoft Teams? How do you make sure that that client experience is up to the level that you would have expected in person? And I think those conversations, if you’re not having those right now with yourself or your team, boy, you better start having them right away because I think it’s a real opportunity. And if you don’t do it, clients will probably just expect you to pass through some of the cost-savings around those fixed costs to them. And fee compression becomes more of a retention issue and so I think there’s a lot of neat ways that I’ve seen and we’ll be doing some episodes here in 2021 on how do you up the game in that digital environment.

Emily Larsen: And it’s not just about a digital meeting, right Ben? There’s a whole other digital experience that the advisor needs to focus on now.

Ben Jones: Yeah. Just imagine, right? And I know you did meet with your advisor this year in person, maybe one of the few, right?

Emily Larsen: The trend, yeah, we met in our driveway and our biggest challenge was staying in a shady spot. So we kept moving our chairs and shuffling around. It was quite comedic, but it also was maybe the best meeting we ever had because we got to end it with a beer which is pretty great.

Ben Jones: Yeah, and so just think about that client experience. Those are things your advisor hadn’t had to think through. Does he need to bring a shade umbrella? Does he need to bring his own chair? Did he need SPF? And I know we’re joking a little bit here, but just think about this different experience, think about your client has moved away from your geography through this pandemic. Now on the day before their meeting, they get the FedEx package that says do not open until meeting. Upon the signing on to zoom and pleasantries, you say open the packet and inside of that is a lot of the physical material and information and maybe they’ve imported some of the smells from their office and some of the other senses that we don’t normally get to activate as part of the digital experience. I think there’s a lot of unique ways and there will be an entire cottage industry that’s created around upping your game in the client experience realm.

Emily Larsen: Are we suggesting scented paper?

Ben Jones: I do love scented paper. If you send me any, please send me spruce or pine. I do have my pine-scented candle right now.

Emily Larsen: That’s funny, I have a spruce-scented candle on my table as well.

Nate Stading: A lot of advisors practice a lot of different themes and concepts a lot. However, what I don’t see them doing is practicing for virtual meetings. Just like the sport that they love playing, you need to practice your virtual meetings just like you would prepare for your in-person meetings. And in Episode 110, I thought Joel Weldon provided a whole lot of actionable items, his five step framework, the golden thread, just having an idea of how to prepare the content that you’re going to deliver in any meeting, whether it’s a larger group meeting, or maybe just a one on one communication. What will you ask them to do? How are they going to feel about that information that you’re presenting? And lastly, what is it that you want them to act on? What’s the actual item that you need to have? So there’s a lot of great information in that episode that I think advisors should step back. And when they start planning for their virtual meetings, take a look at some of those tips. And as he mentioned over and over again, be yourself, add humor if that’s you, don’t worry as much about the hand movements, et cetera that we all get concerned about when we’re looking at ourselves on Zoom. And what’s hard for me, and I’m sure many of you find this is to look at the camera because most of us find ourselves looking down at the screens at the other people or at ourselves and we need to focus on the camera itself in order to be effective.

Ben Jones: That was one of my favorite episodes to record the year. I had so many favorites this year, but Joel was a hoot. Part of it was he’s really good at what he does. And he’s really got a lot of good advice for advisors about a digital first world, but he made me laugh a lot as well along the way. And I think the two of us had a lot of fun. This was probably the one that I got the most audience feedback on. People really love Joel and he’s a really magnetic character. And I could see why so many people loved this episode. But my number one takeaway from that episode Nate was start with your clothes.

Joel Weldon: So if in the first few minutes of a presentation you tell the audience, what are they going to know? What are they going to have? Are they going to know statistics, examples? What’s happening with the current tax law? Are they going to have a handout? Are they going to have a follow up material? Are they going to have an opportunity to come in for a second opinion? And talk about this virtually one-on-one with you plant that seed of your clothes in the opening. And then how are they going to feel? You’re going to feel more confident you’ll be more excited, you’ll be focused, whatever that’s going to be of telling the audience up front what will they know, what will they have and how will it make them feel?

Nate Stading: I really liked how he talked about repeating your messages virtually because sometimes cameras go off when you’re speaking to clients, do you think they’re paying as close attention as they were when you see them? And people come and go a lot more mentally and physically in virtual meetings because they’re not sitting in front of you. So that idea of constantly repeating your key messaging throughout the virtual meeting is very effective strategy towards better communication as well.

Ben Jones: As a podcast for advisors, we have tried for a couple of years to really put modern media at the forefront of an advisor’s mind. And the way that business development is happening is different than it was when I first entered this business. But the pandemic accelerated that another five plus years and that things that probably would have eventually been the norm like business development virtually versus in person and whatnot have become the way forward. And so I just want to bring a couple of things up that advisors might want to think about as they think about 2021 when it comes to business development which has become the harder part of running the advisory practice for certain advisors and there are other advisors who were way ahead of the curve here and they haven’t even seen a slowdown in their new business development. And so if you’re an advisor who has seen business development slow down, I want you to think about a couple of things. First of all, digital first environment allows an advisor to focus on niches beyond the traditional niche of geography. So it used to be that people were very community-oriented in their advisory practices and that they maybe served certain niches of people in certain geographies. In the new digital first realm, you can specialize in pediatric oncologists across the whole country, it doesn’t have to be just in your state, your city, your geography at a certain hospital and so on. There’s some advantages of that. One is that you can go endemic post-pandemic. That was a term that Steve Moore used, endemic marketing means word of mouth marketing. And so it’s a lot easier for a pediatric oncologist to refer you to another pediatric oncologist and not worry about the geographical limitations post-pandemic, but you’re going to have to be a lot more intentional about that niche as well. And you’re going to have to make sure that you’re in the places that pediatric oncologists are gathering virtually whether it be forums, LinkedIn, Facebook, or conferences, et cetera that have gone virtual. So that’s number one is make sure that your niche is a niche and that it doesn’t necessarily need to be focused geographically going forward. Number two is you need a gravitational pull for your business. If your business was about outbound dialing for dollars, you are stuck in the 1990s. And going forward, you need some sort of pull to bring people to you as an expert. And so whether that’s social media, whether that’s through networking, competency, et cetera, you need to figure out what it is that your gravitational pull, and bring those together. And I think we heard from Bill Whitehead that one too many events for some advisors is a gravitational pull. We have heard from other people where a book was their particular gravitational pull and that book was really about showcasing competency. And I think competency is one way to draw people in. Another way might be through social media and making sure that you’re very distinct or that you stand out or that you’re in those groups where those conversations are taking place. One of my other favorite gravitational pull ideas was the COI idea that Sarano Kelley shared with us earlier in the year. And in a digital environment, you can still be hosting those COI mastermind groups virtually maybe even easier than you could when you had to get together in person and I think you can host more than one mastermind group which I think is also really interesting in a digital first environment. So whatever it is, you should be spending some time here at the end of 2020 or the start of 2021 saying, “What is my gravitational pull? What is my flywheel? And how am I going to get that spinning?” And you should be putting quite a bit of energy into that so that you’re green and growing, not ripe and rotting.

Nate Stading: To this day, I think sometimes advisors overlook the importance of their website, or their LinkedIn profile. And I cannot tell you how many times preparing for a meeting and think about how many times clients will do this, or the errors of your top clients are doing this. They’re going to go out and search for you and if you have a poor website, or if you have a poorly built LinkedIn profile, they judge you. And that tells them a lot on the front end before they even talk to you, who you are in whether or not they want to work with you going forward. So one key area to focus on in this digital environment is to make sure that the blocking and tackling is done first which is make sure that you have, if you’re going to have a website, it has to be good. It cannot look old school and it cannot look like a boiler template type of website anymore and number two is if you’re going to have a LinkedIn profile, build it out and we have a lot of great support pieces that can help you do that.

Ben Jones: So Nate, I’m curious since you brought these up, and you’re a guy who spends a lot of time perusing the World Wide Web for advisor websites, and LinkedIn profiles, maybe for the audience here you could share what’s the number one thing that you think makes an advisor’s website stand out?

Nate Stading: Sure. So a) it’s got to be able to be found easily. And sometimes if you go to a search engine and you type in the advisor’s practice or their name, it’s seven, eight, nine items down the list. So you have to have a quality URL so that it’s very easily found when you go searching for it. Number two is that landing page needs to be less static than a lot of web pages are. You don’t want your webpage to look like you built it 15 years ago. So it should be graphical, it should help people see immediately who you are as a firm, who you are as a person and the types of people that you help or the types of businesses that you help, it has to give clients the easy no which what do I mean when I say that? Is we in sales, we in investments, you have to get to know as quickly as possible as you can. So when a client looks at your website, they have to say, “Yes, that’s who I’m looking for. Yes, that’s the type of firm I want to work with. And yes, they work with people like me.” And you also want those same people to get up and say, “No, this isn’t a fit.” So that neither of you waste your time. So make sure that your content is updated regularly with current pictures. There’s also nothing odder than when you walk into an office, and the picture on their website is 20 years old. So when you meet with the person, you barely recognize who they are when they sit down in front of you. And that goes for us on the investment side of business too is your LinkedIn picture profile should actually look like who you are today. So keep that profile picture up to date, keep it professional, I cannot tell you how many times I still see selfies used as LinkedIn profile pictures or you just see some less professional content out there, you want to keep that LinkedIn profile or that website extremely professional. You also want to connect with the people who are reading your website. So things I like to see on a website, what passions, maybe some personal characteristics about the advisors or the teams, what is it they’re passionate about because that helps me identify commonalities just like a client who was out in your website would do is if you love skiing Ben for example, you’re going to have that on your website and anybody who knows Ben knows that he loves skiing and that’s what he and his family do together. So that should be out there so that you help create that personal connection right on the front end. So those are just a few of the tips that I would say, and I hear advisors say this all the time that it’s too expensive or they don’t know how to do it, or it’s on their list goal, hire somebody to do it. I’m sure your broker dealer or whoever your platform is that your leverage has resources as well and just go out and find somebody to do it for you and do it yesterday.

Emily Larsen: Speaking of things that could potentially be viewed as expensive, Ben, you talked about in one of the episodes the power of software, and the value it can provide the advisor.

Ben Jones: This year was a really special year for us, we celebrated our 100th episode which is a monumental accomplishment for our entire team and maybe not so monumental for everybody listening. But for us, that was the culmination of four years of exploring the world of wealth, and really trying to help advisors through providing them actionable ideas for their practice, their portfolios and their planning and Episode 100 really centered around this idea of financial planning software. And there are a lot of nuances when it comes to selecting financial planning software. Fortunately, we were joined on the episode by Michael Kitches who started out quite a bit with myself, it’s too Chatty Cathy, he’s talking about software for an hour and a half, we didn’t put all of that in the episode, we spared the listeners and kept it to the most relevant information. But one of the takeaways that I had was that advisors are asking their software to do more for them, not less. And if that’s the case, what you might find is that software might be more expensive in the future, not less expensive which is opposite of the way that software usually works where once it’s released, it gets cheaper and cheaper as time goes on. In this case, you actually might see some of this software get more and more expensive because it’s becoming more and more valuable to an advisor. And it’s allowing them to do complex equations, tax planning, modeling for uncertainty simulations, and incorporating the human element into planning from a software perspective and then freeing up the advisor’s time so that they can spend their time coaching their clients through the really complicated parts of financial planning which is really that intersection of emotions and money and all of the choices that an individual has to make regarding some of those challenging components of planning. And so having advisors focus more on the human element and letting their software do a lot more of the calculations I think is the future. If you’re still an advisor that’s nerding out with a spreadsheet, you might want to consider how you can make your practice a bit more efficient.

Emily Larsen: That’s great Ben, it’s actually a perfect transition. Do we want to talk about the learnings from this year in terms of the human element that continues to be critically important? We had some great guests talking about different angles of this, this year like the navigating family connections.

Ben Jones: Yeah, we did have a lot of people talking about the human element. And I think this is really a takeaway I’ve had for a couple years. I hope it’s come across on this show in particular, but certainly, I know there’s a lot of other people in the market talking about this which is the human aspect of planning, we’re human. And as humans, there’s a lot of conversations that can’t be optimized in an algorithm. And some of those conversations or I should say many of those conversations now that we’re here in the holidays happen with your family. And so navigating family dynamics, navigating conversations about money and family, these are some of the more challenging and impactful conversations that advisors can have with their clients. And one of the things I really liked was in our episode around navigating family dynamics, Courtney talked about some of the particular challenges of clients that have wealth, particularly multi-generational wealth and that a lot of the errors of that wealth are still human, and they might have their own ideas and aspirations and things that they want to pursue and they might feel burdened by what the family expectations are. On the flip side, the family’s expectations might be too high or guided in the wrong areas for the individuals. And so Courtney talks about this idea of the triangle. And I really like this, I actually drew it out, put it in my journal and I’ve thought a lot about it, since with respect to how I can encourage my own children who don’t have multi-generational wealth, but this is just great life planning. The triangle is about having a meaningful and purposeful life. And in order to do that, you have to have three connection points. One, you have to have connection to the family. Two, you have to have autonomy to make your own decisions and pursue your own aspirations in life. And three, you have to feel like you’re contributing. And so how do you make sure that you connect those points of the triangle for your clients as they think through the conversations with their children, their grandchildren, and so on and so forth, so that you’re not kind of imposing your own aspirations on them. One of the guests I’ve always wanted to have on our show was Russ Roberts who is the host of EconTalk and just a wonderful thinker, an economist and the depth and breadth that he brought to that conversation is absolutely amazing. But one of the things that I’ve learned from Russ over the years and listening to his podcast is that a lot of the things that drive true happiness in life aren’t economic in nature.

Russ Roberts: The true source of happiness is it’s not the latest gadget, it’s not how much money or stocks or in this year, your portfolio, these are all pleasant, we’d like those things. They’re not the source of enduring satisfaction. Those enduring satisfactions come from our relationships with the people around us and the respect we earn by our actions and by our words.

Ben Jones: It’s really important for as we think about how we live a happy and a good life, we think through the relationships that we have, the connections to the community, how we help others, these are the things that bring a lot of wisdom and richness into life and certainly a lot of happiness. And I think he had some great ideas that he imparted there. And it’s a place where advisors I think are slowly transitioning to realizing that they need to help clients with that as we talked about earlier, that human element of how do we make sure that you have a rich and fulfilling and meaningful life, not just have the money to do it?

Emily Larsen: We’ve talked a lot about the issues that we were confronted with this year. Did we have any pleasant surprises that came out of this year?

Nate Stading: So one of the biggest things I stepped away from, number one, obviously, relationships are fantastic, right? Having good relationships. But number two, I think from an advisor perspective, clients are more forgiving than we ever give them credit for especially when we’re transparent about the issues we’re facing. So think about things like when you’ve been delaying using e-signature or tools like DocuSign, a lot of people always told me, “I just can’t risk having to have the client come back in and deal with this again.” Well, this year you’re forced to do it and what did we learn from clients, they’re okay with stumbling a little bit here and there as long as they know that you’re working on it, right? So give clients more credit, they’re more flexible as long as we’re transparent.

Ben Jones: The biggest pleasant surprise for me if I was just to observe what has just transpired across the wealth management industry is how incredibly adaptable advisors, their firms, the clients and their staff have been this year. In a period of two weeks, everybody transitioned to virtually servicing their clients in the midst of a financial crisis. I can only imagine in 2008 if in the midst of a financial crisis, you had also sent everybody to work from home, what kind of chaos that would have created and here we are in 2020 with a very similar scenario and for the most part, most advisors, most of their teams, and most of the clients didn’t miss a beat. Kudos and congratulations to everybody.

Nate Stading: Last but not least, I think there’s a lot of words choice that we need to get better at in our industry and using the right words with clients. I like when advisors talk to clients about now and next because that helps clients identify priorities, right? And we’re not using financial language. The best advisors I work with stay away from that. They call their meetings fall updates, spring updates, winter updates, instead of quarterly, or semi-annual updates that are very financial terms. Other things like, “Hey, these are things to think about. These are things to take action on and these are things to talk about.” Because that is a much broader way to talk about goals and priorities than just saying what are your goals. And then lastly, but I think having a plan so that you have choice control and independence is essentially what you’re trying to do as an advisor. So those advisors that haven’t truly engaged in the planning process I think did have a rougher year because they focused on the investment side which you want to stay away as an advisor from clients being able to say you were either right or wrong, yes or no. And going back to the plan process, that is much more flexible than saying you picked the right mutual fund or the right stock or bond for me in this time period.

Emily Larsen: So what I’m hearing really Nate is that a pleasant surprise is that some of this uncertainty forced us to be better. It was the push we needed to improve for the clients and ourselves.

Ben Jones: Opportunities for growth almost always happen during periods of discomfort. I would like to just end maybe with something that I’ve taken away from this year which is thank yous go a long way. And I just want to thank everybody who’s made our podcast, tuning with us into their headset throughout the year, and who sent us ideas, suggestions, comments, thank you. It means a lot to everyone here, on our team here at the Better Conversations. Better Outcomes. Podcast and we really thank you for allowing us to be part of your practice.

Nate Stading: Thank you all for the hard work with your clients this year. Thank you for listening to this podcast series over the years. And thank you for your relationships. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over the years.

Emily Larsen: A big thanks to our friend and colleague Nate Stading for joining us today and sharing his perspective on 2020. Thank you also to our listeners and everyone else who worked on the podcast to make it a success this year. Wishing you and your families the best as we head into the holiday season and there’s one more Thank you we’d like to share.

Carl Richards: Thank you for the work you’re doing. I can tell, I do a lot of these and I can tell the difference between somebody who knows what they’re talking about and somebody who doesn’t. And so he doesn’t and so thanks for the work you do because we know we speaking broadly, your audience know that you don’t have to be doing it, but it makes a big difference in our lives. So thank you, this has been a blast.

Ben Jones: Thank you for listening to Better Conversations. Better Outcomes. This podcast is presented by BMO Global Asset Management. To access the resources discussed in today’s show, please visit us at www.bmogam.com/betterconversations.

Emily Larsen: We love feedback and we’d love to hear what you thought about today’s episode. You can send an email to [email protected]

Ben Jones: And we really respond.

Emily Larsen: We do.

Ben Jones: If you thought of someone during today’s episode, we would be flattered if you would take a moment and share this podcast with them. You can listen and subscribe to our show on Apple Podcast or whatever your favorite podcast platform is. And of course, we would greatly appreciate it if you would take a moment to review us on that app. Our podcasts and resources are supported by a very talented team of dedicated professionals at BMO, including Pat Bordak, Derek Devereaux. The show is edited and produced by Jonah Geil-Neufeld and Sam Peers Nitzberg of Puddle Creative. These are the real people that make the show happen. So thank you, and until next time, I’m Ben Jones.

Emily Larsen: And I’m Emily Larsen. From all of us at BMO Global Asset Management, hoping you have a productive and wonderful week.

Disclosure: The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates or subsidiaries. This is not intended to serve as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any company, industry, strategy or security. This presentation may contain forward looking statements, investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such statements as actual results could vary. This presentation is for general information purposes only and does not constitute investment, legal or tax advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment product, security or service. Individual investors are to consult with investment, legal and or tax professional about their personal situation. Past performance is not indicative of future results. BMO Global Asset Management is the brand name for various affiliated entities of BMO Financial Group that provide investment management and trust and custody services. BMO Financial Group is a service mark of Bank of Montreal. Further information can be found at www.bmogam.com.

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Notice to Canadian Residents: The information on this podcast series is not intended to be construed as an offer to sell, or a solicitation to buy or sell any products or services of any kind whatsoever including, without limitation, securities or any other financial instruments in Canada.