Eight Lessons I'm Still Learning

Eight Lessons I'm Still Learning

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

One of the most interesting things about life is that, with a sufficiently open mind, no matter how long you live, you never stop learning.

In my early years as a financial planner, a lot of that learning centred around exams – it seems as though for the first ten years, I was always studying for something.

If those early years were dominated by study, the next phase was all about putting what I’d learned into practice.  Obtaining my Certified Financial Planners’ licence was not my last qualification; however, it was arguably the most useful as it genuinely tested whether I could use my technical knowledge in a way that would produce a coherent financial plan which a client could understand.  A lot of people can be very good at passing exams where you cram to learn the syllabus but can’t then communicate that knowledge effectively to a client.

Now in my ‘mature’ years, I have the luxury of being able to draw on the experience that over 30 years of doing this job and advising hundreds of clients have given me.  I don’t feel the need to impress anybody, to prove anything to anyone.  It is, without a doubt, the most enjoyable period of my professional life.

That said, I haven’t stopped learning.  I’m hoping I won’t have to take any more exams, but I still spend every day trying to be better than I was the day before.

I’ve distilled this down into the eight main lessons I continue to focus on:

  1. Purpose

It took me a while to find this career path (no one mentioned financial planning when I was at school 😉), but once I did, I never looked back.  I was very fortunate to have an excellent mentor in my first job.  She encouraged me to set my sights high.  It would take more than 15 years before I was a business owner, but I immediately knew what I wanted the business to look like.  To do great work for our clients and to always do the right thing.  I believe we do both, but we can continually improve.

  1. Empathy

I don’t know whether this is a trait I naturally possess or if it’s something I learned.  It’s been said that you can’t effectively serve clients if you can’t relate to them and I believe this to be true.  We are in such a privileged position, knowing more about our clients than anyone outside close family and friends.  We experience the ups and downs of their lives with them.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been cried on in the last 30-odd years, but it’s been an honour every single time.

If you aren’t prepared to be emotionally ‘open’ I don’t think you can do this job.  Putting myself in my clients’ shoes helps me to work to understand what’s most important to them.  Often the right answer isn’t what ‘the numbers’ say it is.  You have to be tuned into your clients to recognise that.

  1. Authenticity 

Early on in my career, I didn’t share much with my clients, mostly because I didn’t think they’d be interested.  I’ve learned over the years that of course, that’s not the case and sharing my personal story with clients has deepened our relationships.  I think though that I am still learning just how much to share.  Same goes for this blog really.

  1. Intellectual curiosity 

As a firm, we never assume we have all the answers.  We never believe that our current investment philosophy will be the right one forever. We continuously kick the tyres and question what we do.  On a personal level, I learned from Shane Parrish a few years ago that I could completely change how and what I read.  That has been a revelation which has led me to read books I otherwise wouldn’t have.  My definition of a good book now is one which adds at least one more book to my reading list.  Reading is one of my greatest pleasures – that it is also broadening my horizons, and increasing my knowledge is a welcome bonus.

  1. Active listening 

I’m an introvert, so I have always been happy to let others talk and take centre stage.  Yet I have found myself as guilty as any extrovert in often only half-listening to someone while busying myself composing my response.  I’ve worked hard to remove that trait, at least with clients, and as a result, have found our conversations to be much more rewarding.  Who knew? 😂.  Now I need to roll this out on a broader scale 😉

  1. Passion 

I am passionate about our business being successful.

I am passionate about our staff fulfilling their potential.

I am passionate about helping our clients achieve their goals and live the lives they want to live.

This isn’t always easy.  I am driven to be continually improving the service we provide for our clients, which means I set incredibly high standards for myself and those around me.  Some people find it too hard to meet those standards.  Sadly, not everyone shares my views about self-improvement 😉.  Will I be dropping my standards?  No.  The right people will find us, much as our clients do.

  1. Honesty 

Always, always, always.  Tell clients (and others) the truth, not what they want to hear.  But do so with empathy and sensitivity (see 2 above).

  1. Discipline

We can’t help clients to be disciplined about their investment portfolios if we don’t lead by example.  2008/09 was, without doubt, the most stressful period, professionally, that I have lived through.  It would have been so easy to have abandoned our rebalancing process due to ‘exceptional circumstances’, but we didn’t, even though I was sick to my stomach every time I was executing trades.  I do believe that if we hadn’t stuck to our knitting during that time, some clients might have bailed, and I’d have found it hard to forgive myself if that had happened.

On a more personal level, I haven’t always been the most disciplined of people, but I have learned enough to know that when I bring more structure into my life, I get more done.  This one’s definitely still a work in progress!

Learning is a joy.  Never stop.

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes