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What does “Holistic Financial Planning” really mean?

The past decade has seen a rise in the use of terms such as “holistic financial planning” and “financial wellness,” but what do these terms really mean and does a change in industry vocabulary really foretell any actual impacts to how financial advisors do business?

Like all industries, the financial advice industry is continually evolving. If you’ve been in the industry for a significant amount of time, you have likely witnessed titles change from “stockbroker” to “financial advisor” to “wealth manager.” The duties of these roles have changed as well, from presenting individual securities to clients to promoting mutual funds to educating clients on diversification and asset allocation to where we find ourselves at today.

Enter the Wealth Manager

“Holistic financial planning or financial wellness are terms that truly express the value proposition of today’s advisors,” David Kaufman, CEO of Voyant[1], a technology-based financial planning platform, said. “Advisors who are succeeding are expanding the suite of services they offer their clientele from providing investment advice and asset allocation guidance to really help give their clients confidence in reaching their goals. That can mean providing them guidance on both sides of their balance sheets and tackling challenges that 10 years ago were beyond the responsibilities of the average investment advisor.”

How did we get here? Like trends in many industries, it started among the more affluent segments of clients. “As HNW client needs become increasingly complex, firms must adapt their service and product offerings [beyond investment management] if they want to increase walletshare,” according to The Cerulli Report[2]. “This ‘holistic’ approach allows firms to retain significant walletshare among their clientele by providing a ‘one-stop shop’ for wealthy investors and families looking for a suite of wealth management, banking, credit/ lending, and business advisory services. …It comes down to delivering personalized advice and customized solutions, including wealth transfer planning, business consulting/advisory, and concierge services.”

With holistic financial planning becoming the norm for serving HNW clients, it was only a matter of time before such practices worked their way ever-further down market. Mass affluent and emerging affluent segments may find themselves challenged by retirement planning, cash flow or struggling with tax planning for the current year.

Likewise, Gen X and Millenial investors may struggle with different elements of their financial health, including developing an investment strategy to pursue their goals, budgeting (including managing the challenges of student loands), getting the right level of life insurance protection for a new family, or starting a business.

Our definition

At AssetMark, we think of financial wellness as a shift from a focus on investment portfolios  to a focus on creating a roadmap so that your clients can identify and meet their goals as their circumstances evolve and change. It's about helping your clients get a handle on their big picture financial goals and then pursue them.

The holistic financial advisor coordinates the capabilities and activities of various financial functions—which the advisor’s practice may or may not provide—based on what is required to help the client achieve their envisioned financial life.

The good news

Financial technology – fintech – has been evolving steadily over the past decade, providing advisors with access to financial planning capabilities that scale with their clients’ needs.

“Today’s financial planning platforms put an incredible array of financial capabilities at an advisor’s fingertips,” Kaufman said. “If you’re not an expert in social security optimization, platforms like Voyant can help you. If estate planning isn’t in your sweet spot, financial planning software helps advisors deliver that guidance in a way that’s easy for both them and their clients to understand.”

How “financial wellness” might impact your practice

While complexity of client challenges and solutions may have started with the wealthiest of client segments, as we’ve seen, that complexity is increasingly working its way to the broader market.

Here are a few thoughts to consider in light of the evolving industry:

  • Consider adding a new or improved financial planning capability – As we’ve explored, today’s financial planning fintechs can really help advisors efficiently deliver expertise that 10 years ago might have been out of reach. Additionally, many of those platforms have collaboration features that really help advisors to deliver their value in a way that wasn’t necessary prior to the pandemic.
  • Adopt partnerships or outsource – Some levels of support that clients increasingly are demanding – think lending or trust solutions – aren’t bundled into fintech platforms. Rather, some financial situations may require advisors to establish relationships with third-party providers. Many advisors choose to outsource to a full-service solution like AssetMark, which allows the advisor to own the client relationships while utilizing AssetMark to access a wealth of integrated financial products and solutions to meet unique client needs.
  • Differentiate your value from competitors – Among the high-net-worth, Cerulli[3] has shown “The most successful firms in the wealth management space are those that add value beyond the realm of investment management.” Successful advisor firms set themselves apart from their competitors through their client experience and by building relationships across generations of clients (one of the biggest opportunities to increase retention of assets).
  • Increase walletshare and improve client retention – Expanding services “beyond investment management” can pay off for advisors. Research has shown increasing the number of products and services delivered to a client through a holistic approach typically correlates to improved walletshare of that client’s assets and higher retention rates for client relationships.
  • Illuminate a path to higher value clients – As a firm becomes more proficient at delivering niche financial expertise – say, legacy planning, long-term care, or annuities planning – the easier it becomes to confidently use that expertise to attract clients seeking specific guidance on high-impact financial decisions.

Regardless of where an advisor finds themselves or their practice, denying the benefits of a holistic financial approach is near impossible. Staying competitive means understanding where one adds value, setting one’s strategic direction for the next five to 10 years, and then taking the appropriate steps to get there.

Do you add to staff financial professionals with niche expertise or start using a financial planning software that enables you to provide that kind of guidance? Do you want to market and attract higher-net-worth clients, or are you happy with your current clientele?

The options for you and your firm to grow are almost endless, just like the challenges today’s investors face. Pursuing those options and meeting those challenges head-on will continue to change as new products, services, and technologies continue to appear.


Looking for opportunities to ease the transition to a holistic financial planning process in your practice? AssetMark would like to get to know you. Schedule your consultation.

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[1] Voyant is an AssetMark company.

[2] Source: The Cerulli Report. U.S. High-Net-Worth and Ultra-High-Net-Worth Markets 2020 Implications of Wealth Concentration. https://portal.cerulli.com/reports/us-high-net-worth-and-ultra-high-net-worth-markets-2021

[3] IBID