Recently I wrote about the parallels between financial planning goal setting and the relatively new field of psychological research called positive psychology. In it I described how the goals that our clients set for themselves – with our help – can lead to what psychologists call either the pleasant life, the engaged life or the meaningful life. Perhaps not surprisingly, the article has generated quite a bit of feedback from both sides of the aisle. 

On the one hand, there are those who believe that the advisor’s role is not to influence their client’s goals at all. Others believe helping them dig deeper to define truly meaningful life goals is one of the most critical and helpful services they can provide and is essential to building strong planner-client relationships.

I would argue that just like the rest of the financial planning process, this portion of the process also needs to be client-driven. Not all of our clients will ever be ready or willing to discuss meaningful life goals. But those who are ready are also most likely to be among your most desired clients and prospects. Your ability to engage in these kinds of conversations may well prove the difference between them staying with you or going elsewhere.

To once again draw parallels between financial planning and psychology, it’s not coincidental that both industries use a pyramid to describe one’s progression from satisfying the basics to reaching the ultimate goal. 

In personal finance, we put the need to establish a budget, manage risk and create an emergency fund as the very first things we recommend. In psychology, Maslow put our basic survival needs for food, water and shelter at the bottom of his pyramid. 

In modern society, it’s also not coincidental that money is the tool most of us use to satisfy those basic physiological needs, so the overlap between the two is fairly complete.  For clients with moderate wealth whose main concern is creating an income sufficient to pay the bills, your value as an advisor is readily apparent.

As we and our clients progress throughout our lives there continues to be a correlation between the accumulation of more wealth and upward advancement on Maslow’s pyramid. What begins to weaken however is money’s ability to satisfy the higher level needs. In fact, by the time we get to the top of Maslow’s pyramid, money is of very little use in satisfying the need for self-actualization. And yet, those clients who are ready to take that step are often exactly the people who have significant assets and fit most advisor’s “ideal client” profile.

And that is where, in order to maintain the relationship and continue to add value, the skills of being able to have life-goal oriented conversations becomes critical.

Chris Bruhl, an independent advisor with LPL Financial in Denver says, “Once a client achieves a certain level of financial freedom, they no longer have to expend time, effort and worry over basic money matters. This frees up energy to focus on the really important things in life.  As clients rise through the hierarchy of needs and start to focus on the really esoteric questions related to the true meaning of life, my skills in finance have less value. ”

Possessing the additional skills to have meaningful goal-setting conversations with clients, and knowing how to – and when to – initiate those conversations is how successful advisors continue to add value to their affluent clients and strengthen those critical relationships.


Keith J. Weber, CFP®, CPRC, is a speaker, author and founder of Weber Consulting Group, LLC, a financial advisor training, coaching and practice management consulting firm focused on providing relationship development skills to advisors.  Keith maintains the CFP® designation and is also a Certified Professional Retirement Coach.  His latest book, Rethinking Retirement, was released in July, 2010.  For more information visit, or connect with Keith on LinkedIn.