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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Don’t wait for elephants to send you clients for FP

Financial Literacy is about creating awareness on financial products and financial well-being so that individuals can take informed decisions, and today this literacy is in dismal state and none is doing anything substantial to change this scenario. For financial planners like us, we want this to be a level higher. For us to succeed as financial planners and this profession to take deeper roots, the consumers should know what is financial planning, how it can benefit them and who is the right person to do it for them.
In many forums and platforms, this topic is widely spoken, discussed and debated – on what ‘others’ – the governement, regulators and professional associations can do to further the cause. And we all know the flexibility and vigourness with which these elephants dance. Although they can make a huge impact if they act fast and firm on this issue, I dont think we as FPs should sit and wait for this to happen. Financial Literacy is too big a cause and we all can contribute in our individual capacities.  
This article is an attempt to explore how, we as professionals can build in Financial Literacy initiatives in our practices and ultimately benefit from it.
Government, regulators, media and large financial institutions play a major role at a mass level whereas Financial Planners like us can contribute to a large extent in group and individual levels. Financial Literacy may not necessarily be a government sponsored mass campaign as it is generally perceived. It’s perfectly alright to do something in smaller doses and even maybe attach a price to the knowledge being disseminated.
Financial Literacy by Planner

Mass Level

Mass Awareness is usually possible through mass media which can be categorized as Print, TV, Radio and Internet. Print Media has already become popular among the CFP Certificants. Most of the articles written on personal finance by experts are already being authored by CFP Certificants, that’s an imposing position for the rest of the fraternity. Writing in print requires skill, time and a strong command over language. On the other hand you can also be giving bites, quotes and information to the journalists covering the personal finance beat.
There is wide choice of media available out there, don’t wait for the Times of India or the Economic Times to come and approach you. There are numerous newspapers and magazines, if you good with language and subject, you will be able find someone who will need your contribution. The medium and small media houses are approachable, you do not need any contacts to have an audience. Make a case for yourself and approach them with your intention to write or share information/knowledge with their journalists.
A special mention has to be made about vernacular language here of which there is a much larger readership. If you really want to contribute to financial literacy, write for these newspapers, there are plenty of them – big and small and they are always looking for subject experts as they usually have a dedicated space or page for personal finance beat.
TV is another medium where Financial Planners can contribute though currently only a handful of CFP Certificants have made it on TV. There is yet a Suze Orman to be born in the Indian media. Financial Planning is very conservative; planners don’t give calls for short-term traders or predict the market like the sensex astrologers who are quite popular on TV! Though a very effective medium, it will take some time for the medium to talk the real Financial Planning language. Participation here is exclusive and by invitation only and you will have wait for some journalist to find you. CFP Professionals who have already made it there are doing a good job by talking of the larger picture of an individual’s finance not just stock/sensex movements. Hope the rest of us follow the benchmark set.
Internet is catching on real fast and in most of the content generated for Print and TV is also being put on the web to make it accessible anytime anywhere. There are numerous news portals and websites catering to personal finance space. And they are looking for good content on a continuous basis. Moneycontrol.com, rediff.com, sify.com, msn.co.in, yahoo.co.in, apnapaisa.com, myiris.com etc have personal finance section and there is lot of scope for good voluntary content contributors. You may also start your own blog and starting posting your own content or links to content you think will be useful for readers. Make sure your friends, family and associates know about your blog and they will spread this further. Check jagoinvestor.com, tflindia.in, ranjanvarma.com, raagvamdatt.com, these chiefs are doing a great job out there on the web and many are being benefitted.

Group Level

This is much more effective then mass awareness but requires more efforts and time commitment. You need to be good with communication and presentation skills along with a strong command over subject to take on questions impromptu. Once again what matters here is the intention with which you are approaching a corporate or association for delivering a lecture/workshop. If the intention is to get clients, not many will be enthused to give you the podium. If the intention is just to create awareness, there will be many takers but you end up doing the work for a much bigger cause of which the beneficiaries will be many not just you. Just let your existing clients, friends and associates know you are open to conducting such workshops.
You may speak on a wide variety of topics like how to manage retirement corpus, how to calculate life insurance requirement, financial well-being, role of EPF in retirement planning, checking current financial health status etc. Bigger corporate houses usually conduct some or the other kind of general training programs. Your presentation on a good personal finance topic can easily fit into this.
The challenge of course will be in convincing the HR or management that you don’t have any self-interest in this. Charging a small fee will go a long way in establishing this credibility and also ensure seriousness of the participants. If you do it for free, people will doubt you and if you are charging some fee for delivery of a workshop they may be hesitant to take you on. This is a very dicey situation and sticking to your nerves by doing the later might be a better solution in the long run.
Once again, the lecture/seminar/workshop has to benefit the financial consumers in the end, it should either help them take decisions on their money matters or direct them to a place/person where they can seek help. Any benefits accruing to you as a Financial Planner must be purely incidental. This kind of group talks can also be carried out in social clubs and public associations.

Individual Level

This is the most effective way of all and requires maximum time commitment. It can be carried out with clients, prospects and maybe even family & friends. Financial Literacy is an integral part of any good Financial Planning service delivery model. Clients need to be empowered with knowledge; information and ideas to take decisions and act upon them and Financial Planners play a very big role in this. Clients should be able to understand the various components of personal finance like investment assets, economic scenario, inflation, employment benefits, mortgages, investment returns and many more. When you carry out the FP process with this perspective, there will be a big difference in the service level. But the fact is you can offer financial planning services without getting into this mode. The degree of involvement is left to you and the client and comes with a cost attached.
Financial Education can start right from the data gathering stage as mentioned in my previous article this journal. During the meeting, you can educate the clients on various concepts like what are various types of insurance policies, income avenues, expense categories, general cost of important goals like children’s goals, international vacations and current housing prices. Clients/Prospects also need to explain why particular data is being collected. Making a choice to educate your client is your choice, not rule written in any practice standards. Similarly while presenting the plan to client; you can take the opportunity to make him understand the nature of various asset classes, how retirement corpus has been calculated, how a particular insurance policy he holds will benefit him etc.
And if you are implementing the plan for the client i.e. mutual fund sales, insurance sales, stock broking, be forthright in disclosing the commissions on each products and the logic behind a particular product recommendations. Client should know this and take an informed decision on which product to buy. Even after the plan is presented and implemented, client can be educated through regular updates through email/newsletter on the economic factor affecting his financial plan, new products in the personal finance space or just send links of articles which may be beneficial to them.

Conclusion

Professional Financial Planners are considered to be at the highest level in the financial advisory pyramid. We should take it as our responsibility to contribute to the financial literacy of the country and set a benchmark for other type of advisors to follow. However note that most of the above activities require time and efforts. It might mean putting your day-to-day tasks on a backburner and spending time which may not be remunerative. However we need to make a choice here and balance it. If we all contribute towards the financial literacy of the country in whatever small way we can, it will surely make a huge difference in the long run for all of us!
Put down your thoughts below on what you are doing to promote financial planning and what you intend to do from now onwards.

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