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Be More Disney and Less State Fair

By R.A. Monroe February 12, 2016

This week we interviewed Michael Palumbos, a family wealth advisor based in Rochester, N.Y. Palumbos recalls how he came to understand the importance of having systems in place before the first meeting with a client.

After the market upheaval of 2008-2009 my firm and I decided to reorganize how we did business by shifting our emphasis from investment management to financial planning. Around the time we were making this change I was introduced to a brand new prospective client. He was interested in having a financial plan put together, and so we began to work together.

Over the next several months, this client and I met several times and had even more phone meetings. We discussed every aspect of his financial plan, from cash flow projections to survivorship planning. It was a huge amount of information to wrangle.

While I’m proud of the plan we put together, by the time we finished the process I think both he and I realized things hadn’t gone as smoothly as they could have.

The process took eight months when it probably should’ve only taken four. Sometimes I’d prepare to tackle one subject during a meeting only to have the client bring up an entirely different issue. Ultimately, the whole process felt scattershot and unsatisfying.

When the client didn’t end up moving his investments over to us, or even implementing many of the plan’s steps, I wasn’t all that surprised.

For some reason this experience made me think of the difference between going to the state fair and taking a trip to Disney World.

At the state fair you’re overwhelmed with options – should you go on a ride or play a game? Eat a hot dog or buy a souvenir?

In contrast, the people behind Disney World are masters at managing your experience.

Michael Palumbos

When you visit the park you’re seamlessly led from one experience to the next without even realizing you’re being led.

It’s an experience that feels natural – and that’s because a massive amount of work went into making it feel that way.

I realized that an ideal planning experience should feel more like Disney World than the state fair.

If you know in advance the path you want the client to follow and you have the processes in place to take them there, then the client will feel taken care of.

At the same time, you’ll ensure you’re getting all the crucial information you need without letting any aspect of the planning process fall through the cracks.

When my firm switched our focus from investment management to financial planning we hadn’t taken the time and effort to create systems and processes to onboard new clients. Essentially, we tried to make the process up as we went along.

It was a real wake-up call for me – and now we have a plan in place for every step of the process.

There’s a plan for what needs to happen in the first, second and third meetings. We know exactly how we’ll get from point A to point B.

We have templates for every meeting and a checklist to ensure we’re accomplishing what we need to at every step along the way.

Even if the client throws us off with an unrelated question we can answer it and then get right back to where we were without missing a beat.

Not only do these systems help us feel confident we’re giving the client the best experience possible, it also helps the planning process feel more like we’re building a story together with the client.

And that’s a satisfying feeling – for both the advisor and the client.