The “Ah-Ha” Moment: Our ‘Why’

By Daniel Sexton, CFP®

Not long ago I had a meeting with a prospective client. The meeting was typical, that is, until the very end. I asked, “Is there anything I haven’t addressed or any question you would like answered?” Her response was, “Yes. What made you want to be a financial planner?” I have been doing this for quite some time now and I am rarely asked this question. I was taken back and then recounted my first client meeting experience…

I was in my first year with RS Crum 25 years ago and very green. I was hired to help with reporting, client services, and just about anything else Dick Crum needed. I was still figuring things out. What is financial planning? What exactly do financial planners do?

We had met a new couple who were married with two kids. They were a little younger than our typical client, but both were professionals and dedicated to saving. The couple was saving to their company retirement plans, were facing college expenses soon, and had accumulated a little bit of debt (that if not addressed could be a serious problem in the future). They were also strapped for immediate cash. They had all the right pieces, but couldn’t make them fit into one cohesive plan. They knew they had to correct course and do more, but just could not see the way. Fortunately, another client told them to give us a call.

Under Dick’s guidance, I went to work gathering and organizing information: bank statements, investments, tax returns, insurance, expenses, etc. After a few months, the time had come to present our recommendations. Graciously, Dick insisted I attend the meeting. My job was to be quiet, take notes and learn. It was not long into the meeting that I realized this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

We prepared a full financial plan that covered insurance, investments, debt, savings, etc. When we got to the budget, something changed in our client that has stuck with me since. We presented a budget that re-prioritized expenses, which if adhered to would pay down their debt, increase their savings and improve their liquidity over time. In my mind it was pretty straight forward, nothing magical. But that’s when it happened (I saw it in slow motion); a weight of stress and worry lifted in them… literally! Their shoulders relaxed, they sat up straighter, their moods lightened. Smiles and laughs came more easily. That’s not to say things would be easy, but with clarity decisions came more naturally and with confidence. They saw the way out and I saw my future.

What I did not realize then was that their greatest pain was finding a way to pay down their debt and increase their immediate cash. We had talked about various financial concerns of theirs (life insurance, paying for college), but this was critical to them. Until this was addressed, nothing else mattered.  Like I said, I didn’t realize it till then, but Dick knew. He probably knew since the first meeting.

It was, and still is, amazing to see our work have such a profound impact. I’ve learned that no matter what the problem — whether an uncertain retirement, loss of a love one, or like the young accumulator couple above where money is tight — when things are unclear, the resulting feelings are all the same.  Fear, uncertainty, stress.  Finding those one-to-two issues and delivering that ah-ha moment when the client realizes they are okay (or they see a way through, or the right decision to make) it’s the reason I’m a financial planner. It’s the reason all of us at RS Crum do what we do.