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The Rhythm of Financial Planning

  • By Curtis Hearn
  • January 10, 2024

A Year In The Life Of A Fiduciary Financial Planner

Many clients wonder what it is their financial advisor does all day? Is he/she staring a charts looking for obscure patterns like the Wise Men who came to see Jesus’ birth? Is she in meetings back-to-back all day, ‘wowing’ clients with her wisdom and quick solutions to their money problems? Or, maybe he’s diving deep into tax returns with his green visor firmly set on his furrowed brow?

The truth is, I’m afraid, much less exciting.

While a financial planner’s job encompasses many functions, and one day often differs from the next, there is certainly a structure to the ‘seasons’ of the year in which certain parts of the job take precedent over others. In this post, I want to walk you through the “rhythm” of a year in a financial planner’s life, at least from my perspective as a practitioner with 20 years in the industry.

Specifically, I will approach this from the perspective of an independent, experienced, fiduciary financial planner. Not all advisors are financial planning-focused and not all are fiduciaries, and those differences will impact their day-to-day activities.

The Different Types of Financial Advisors

Before going on, it’s helpful to distinguish between ‘types’ of advisors out there. While this is somewhat of an oversimplification, you can break down the advisor community into several broad categories:

  • Wirehouse brokers and Insurance Reps
  • Independent advisors (aka “fee-based” advisors)
  • Boutique, fee-only independent fiduciaries

Fundamentally, wirehouse brokers (and insurance reps) are salespeople for their respective organizations. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Every industry needs salespeople to some degree or another. The problem arises, however, when there’s confusion in the minds of clients as to what their advisor is actually doing on their behalf. Is their primary focus on winning new business or on serving their current clients? Are they themselves experts in financial planning or are they essentially just “relationship managers?”

Independent advisors is a term often used to describe a broad collection of advisors that operate independently of the large wirehouses and insurance companies. The range of services and products can vary widely, so it’s difficult to characterize this group by one particular trait. However, one important characteristic to consider is how these advisors are compensated for their services. Compensation matters because it creates incentives, which may not be in the best interest of you, the client. For example, a “fee-based” advisor who also accepts commissions to sell products could be incentivized to recommend investments based their commission structure rather than on their merits.

(I know that last comment is likely to generate some indigestion on the part of some readers, especially those who happen to be “fee-based” advisors. The truth is I happen to know some very good and nice folks who work in that capacity, and they are the good ones who don’t abuse their clients trust. But the bigger concern to me is, why would you want to justify that niggling doubt in the back of clients heads that wonders, “is he saying that because he really thinks its the best strategy or just to get a big fat commission?”)

As you may have suspected, I belong to and highly recommend working with an advisor in the last group. These are advisors that refuse to allow misaligned incentive structures to muddy the waters with regard to clients. Instead, they have adopted the highest standard–that of a fiduciary–by which to conduct business. A fiduciary standard means, in layman terms, that the advisor is required by law to put a client’s interests above his/her own.

Note: even fee-only fiduciary advisors vary in how they approach things. From my perspective, clients are best served by advisors from this category who, in addition to providing professional investment advice, also heavily emphasize and prioritize financial planning. It’s hard work and time consuming, but it’s the only way (in my opinion) to provide high-quality personal financial advice.

So, What Does a Year in the Life of a Planning-Focused Fiduciary Advisor Look Like?

January: trust distributions, market review/outlook and presentations, tax law changes and research for the new year

February – April: tax planning, retirement plan contributions, client meeting “surge”

May – June: catch-up on industry developments, unique planning opportunities, seminars, conferences, continuing education, and “on-demand” meetings

July – August: compliance audits, marketing activities, “on-demand” meetings, private markets in-depth due diligence, vacation

September – November: intensive client meeting “surge” including year-end planning prep

December: year-end tax planning, RMDs (required minimum distributions), tax-loss harvesting, capital gain distribution avoidance, etc.

Of course, these are just some highlights of the seasonal activities we are focused on and do not include the ongoing, day-to-day work that goes on. Some of the ongoing work includes: market research, performance reviews, money manager check-ins and oversight, trading and rebalancing, daily money movements and cash management, and much more.

Over time, I plan to expand on many of these activities to explain their importance and how they benefit clients. (So sign up for our blog if interested!) For now, if your advisor is spending all his time on the golf course to the neglect of true financial planning, give us a call. We believe it takes rolling up our sleaves and a little “elbow grease” to “make your money sing.” And that’s exactly what we intend to do!

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Client Service Manager

Gabby Diaz

As a Client Service Manager, Gabby focuses primarily on providing a “white glove” client experience as she acts as a liaison between the financial institutions and our clients. In this vital role, Gabby facilitates a wide range of client needs, including onboarding, account maintenance, client scheduling, money movements, and more.

Gabby’s commitment to excellence, proficiency in technology tools, and dedication to serving her clients makes her a valuable asset to Symphony Wealth. “Each client that I work with can expect to be treated with respect and know that I will perform to the best of my ability each day throughout the entirety of our relationship.”

Gabby attended Georgia State University and is a big supporter of the Braves baseball team. For the past three years, she has volunteered at the Shepherd Center Derby Day which is a fundraising event for their Recreation Therapy Program. When she’s not working, Gabby enjoys traveling and working on home improvement projects.

Founder and President

Curtis Hearn, MBA, CFP®, CEPA®

In His Own Words…

If I’m completely honest, when I first stepped into the financial industry over 20 years ago, I did so with a great deal of trepidation. Deep down, I felt a small tinge of resignation in trading in my idealistic dreams of being a high school teacher for the cold and impersonal world of finance. And the first several years did little to encourage me, as I learned the hard way that conflicts of interest are rampant in the industry. Sadly, the ways in which the advisor community can abuse the trust of clients are as numerous as the number of products that they sell.

Then, just as I was ready to quit the industry, I was introduced to the “fee-only” advisor community—a whole new approach to financial advice. There I found an environment in which clients and advisors work together to reach the client’s goals, and where conflicts of interest are eliminated. I also found a peaceful, collegiate atmosphere, where advisors work together on the client’s behalf, rather than in cutthroat competition. On top of all that, I was blessed to work alongside and be mentored by one of the most insightful and experienced advisors in the country. Under Jon Houk’s tutelage, I’ve found a passion for teaching again, only this time by helping executives, business owners, and retirees break down complex financial problems into simple decisions. I get the satisfaction of helping them stride forward with confidence towards the future, even as the markets and political world shifts around them.

Over the last two decades, I completed an MBA, obtained the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation, and added exit planning (including the in-depth CEPA certification) for business owners to my service offerings. I’ve also started three businesses, exited one personally, and helped numerous clients through their own business exits as well. I am an incorrigible serial entrepreneur at heart, and I love working with that same community. I also enjoy working with executives and retirees to help them plan for retirement, invest prudently, and leave a legacy worthy of their hard work and reputation.