SEATTLE -- Rarely do complete strangers, all financial planners, stare into one an others’ eyes for uncomfortably long seconds and offer deep appreciation for how far each has come and why they have gathered.

But that was the instruction at the outset of a four-and-a-half hour life planning workshop at FPA's annual conference that brought together 40-some planners from about 20 countries to get a taste of how the increasingly popular form of financial planning works.

If the exercise produced momentary embarrassment, it also transformed a group of strangers into something closer to a Flash Family fired up by a similar mission. Attendees hailed from Brazil, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Scotland and South Africa, among other places.

“I believe, as financial planners, our work is to help people live the lives they want to live,” Moshe Laroh, a certified financial planner from Tel Aviv, Israel, said during the workshop, seeming to speak for many.

“But most people don't know what they want to do,” he said. “We understand as financial planners, to help them we first have to help ourselves.”


Mary Zimmerman, the facilitator and a licensed life planning advisor through The Kinder Institute of Life Planning, probably couldn’t have said it better.

She is the owner of PATH Financial Strategies in Chandler, Ariz.

“I had clients I worked with, and I thought I knew about their life” before realizing that she had been separating the bigger questions in their lives from the technical aspects of the planning process, Zimmerman told the group. “There are ways that we can work with people that bring their lives and money together.”

To get started, Zimmerman solicited from the group the “innocent messages” each had picked up in their home countries about money. These included money doesn’t grow on trees, money is the root of all evil (which one attendee pointed out is a misquote from the Bible which actually says, “The love of money is the root of all evil”), time is money and a Bulgarian twist on the latter, which posits that time is free.

A discussion ensued about how some of these “innocent” messages can lead to painful constricted behaviors around money.

Examining internalized money messages, Zimmerman said that the life planning approach can help free up both financial advisors and their clients from making painful and often unnecessary assumptions about money.


Later, she had the attendees get into groups of four. One person at a time was instructed to spend five minutes confiding in the others about a challenge that they are facing, while the other three group members could only listen, saying nothing in response.

The theme of active, quiet listening is one that ran through many of the presentations at this year’s conference.

Afterwards, the three listeners got about two minutes in total to offer constructive feedback and problem-solving ideas.

Part of the aim of the lesson was to put advisors through the process of something their clients’ experiences as part of life planning: sharing painful experiences and beliefs that stand in the way of realizing greater goals.


Zimmerman also took the group through the three central questions that life planning uses to shake up and revitalize clients’ thinking about money.

They are:

  1. You have enough money to take care of all of your needs. How will you live your life, and will you change anything?
  2. A doctor tells you that you have only five to 10 years left to live. What will you do in the time you have remaining?
  3. You learn you have 24 hours to live. Ask yourself: What did I miss? Who did I not get to be? What did I not get to do?

After writing these down, there was a discussion.
When one planner said he couldn’t live his dream of traveling around the world because he has to take care of his six-year-old son, Zimmerman said, “I'm going to push back on that,” as the planner looked down and didn’t meet her eyes.

“Have you heard of home schooling?” she asked him.

Another planner told a story of an advisor who managed to design her life so that she could work half the year in Minnesota and half the year in Hawaii.

When she presented the idea to her clients, the overwhelming response was enthusiasm, as they thought if their planner could live her dream, they could, too, she said.


The message seemed to be: Helping clients’ break through their blocks and live their deepest desires will provide them with a greater satisfaction than the most successful asset allocation ever could.

And to do this well, advisors need to do it in their own lives, Zimmerman said. “We can only take our clients as far as we ourselves have gone. What about us?” Zimmerman said.

“How many of you feel that planning is a mission?” she asked the group at one point.

Nearly every hand went up.

“I believe life planning could change the world,” Zimmerman said.

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