I’m kicking off a “Think Again” series with blog posts that cover ideas and practices that have become commonplace but need to be reevaluated. The check-box culture is a good starting point. After all, who among us doesn’t make lists? There’s something so satisfying about checking off completed tasks, and lists can certainly be helpful.

Yet, as useful as lists can be, there are times when our cultural obsession with checking off boxes leads us down the wrong path. It can trick us into thinking we’ve accomplished everything we need to. Financial planning is one area where a check-box mentality is especially detrimental. As a Calgary-based financial advisor and wealth manager, I’ve seen it firsthand with my high-net-worth clients. 

In this post, I’ll be covering:

  • The check-box mentality in financial planning
  • What a real financial plan looks like 
  • Viewing a financial plan through the Net Worth Thinking Lens

The Check-Box Mentality in Financial Planning

Financial planning software and free financial advisor apps are touted as an easy way for anyone to create a financial plan. Sometimes, professional financial planners even recommend software or apps to their clients. 

While there’s nothing wrong with using technology to keep organized, most financial planning software asks basic questions about your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. You make your way down the list of items and tell yourself that you’ve thought about each one and have a plan in place, checking as you go. 

Sure, you need to figure out things like your income and expenses, but aside from clarifying minor details, using that financial planning software and ticking the boxes accomplishes nothing. The software is narrowly designed and doesn’t have any space for context. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach to creating a financial plan. 

Financial portfolios also fall trap to the check-box mentality. It may look like you have an excellent investment management portfolio complete with a collection of stocks, bonds, and other securities that advisors have suggested. However, if it’s not personalized, tailored to you, and based on a deep dive into your finances and life, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the desired returns, be able to pass on generational wealth to your family, and avoid running out of money in retirement.

What a Real Financial Plan Looks Like

A real, long-term financial plan examines all of the moving parts, including tax, insurance, estate, and even family matters. The plan should evolve as all of these elements naturally evolve. It’s a lot more than simply a projection of how much money you’ll make and how much you can spend in retirement, which is what financial planning software and a check-box mentality has us believe. It’s crucial to sit down with a professional to carefully analyze your unique financial situation and create a holistic, integrated plan that keeps pace with your individual needs. 

Financial planning software doesn’t replace having an actual financial advisor. We’re the point person who pulls everything together. Often, people will have an accountant who does their taxes, a life insurance agent who helps with insurance products, an investment manager who develops the investment plan for a portfolio, and a lawyer who is in charge of the estate plan. Everything is separate, or, as I say, “siloed.” An expert financial planner who is creating a real financial plan keeps tabs on all of these aspects, ensuring everything is cohesive and in line with the long-term plan for your money. 

When helping my clients create a financial plan, my team and I start at the end, not the beginning. We get to know what they want out of life, what they want their legacy to be, and their goals for themselves, their retirement, their communities, and their family. Then, we work backward from there, so that the plan is truly personalized. Only after this in-depth discovery process do we look at things like existing investments, so we can decide if they align with what we found. 

Viewing a Financial Plan Through the Net Worth Thinking Lens

I view each client’s finances through my Net Worth Thinking Lens. I believe you need to touch on every aspect of a person’s life and understand them on a deeper level in order to integrate all of the pieces of their financial life. 

The Focus Lens

In the Focus Lens, I facilitate the big conversations about your values, goals, wishes and hopes for yourself and for your family. This helps us learn what your story is and what’s important to you. We can then focus on the right things at the right time. This is the opposite of a check-box approach, which, instead, goes straight to the impersonal, tangible items and doesn’t let you choose where to focus your strategies. 

The Function Lens

Next up is the Function Lens. In this lens, my team and I go over all of your documentation (i.e., tax returns, account statements, life insurance and critical illness documentation, expense data, information on all of your assets and liabilities, wills, trust information, personal directives and power of attorneys, etc.). We also reach out to bankers, lawyers, and other professionals to fill in any gaps, and determine which strategies will work for you. When we present you with a comprehensive financial plan, it can easily be 30 or 40 pages and cover everything from investment management to estate planning. 

The Family Lens

The Family Lens, while overlooked in financial planning software, is crucial, too. We bring your loved ones into the conversation. Transparency is key. We can spearhead family meetings with your spouse, your children and their spouses, your grandchildren, and anyone else in your life. We talk about the plan openly so that everyone understands what the future will look like and how to be good stewards of the family wealth

The Freedom Lens

Last, but not least, is the Freedom Lens. When we know what freedom looks like to you, we can make sure you achieve it. We ensure worrying about having enough money in retirement or not being able to pass on generational wealth isn’t an issue. You can live your life and build wealth in a way that aligns with your values. 

Not only does this approach give you a comprehensive, integrated financial plan, it also allows us to make changes or adjustments as you need them. Instead of having a financial plan that sits on a shelf gathering dust, we regularly update it to reflect changes in your life, finances, and family situation. 

If you’re ready to say goodbye to a check-box mentality and get to the root of your financial life for a financial plan that truly works for you, contact the Susan O’Brien Group today! 

Susan O’Brien

Susan O’Brien

After years in the tax world working at both the Canada Revenue Agency and in the private sector, Susan O’Brien took a leap and started her own tax-consulting firm. While her business was successful, she had a gnawing feeling that she wanted more. Finding her heart was in wealth management, she started her next venture, the Susan O’Brien Group, with a large global Canadian bank in 1998. It has grown to become a nationally recognized wealth advisory practice.