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What CPAs Must Do at The First Financial Planning Meeting?

The initial planning meeting is a crucial juncture in any successful financial planning relationship. In the following, experienced CPA financial planners share practices to help you establish yourself as a trusted adviser and ensure a successful and productive engagement.

What CPAs Must Do at The First Financial Planning Meeting?

Make Clients Comfortable

Your clients must be comfortable sharing with you in order for you to provide true value. As far as Susan, CPA/PFS, president of Paraklete Financial Inc. in Atlanta, is concerned, making her clients feel comfortable is one of the primary goals of the initial consultation. She refrains from even glancing at their financial documents until talking with them at length about their lives. “If I can spend an hour learning about my clients and getting them to share, I consider it a very successful meeting,” Tillery said.

Dorsey, CPA/PFS, director of tax strategies at Cassaday Company in McLean, Va., also structures the initial consultation to ensure his clients feel relaxed. “I try to keep things as informal as possible and avoid overloading them with charts and graphs,” Dorsey said. “The first meeting is all about establishing trust.”

Dorsey likes to get a read on his clients’ previous experience working with financial planning professionals. “I ask them whether they’ve worked with CPAs, insurance professionals, or financial advisers in the past, and whether the relationship was fruitful or not,” he said. Dorsey feels that, once he has a handle on his clients’ financial planning history, he can then more effectively determine the best course of action.

What CPAs Must Do at The First Financial Planning Meeting?

Take Their Financial Temperature

Once you have successfully encouraged your clients to open up about their financial lives, you can dive into their documentation. Thomas Tillery, vice president of Paraklete Financial, issues prospective clients a “shopping list” of financial documents. Clients are expected to come bearing 15 to 20 separate statements including tax returns, bank statements, and estate documents. He then reviews the information to establish an understanding of a client’s financial footing and identify their most pressing financial issue, or what he refers to as the “triage” event.

Often, the triage event that he identifies is not the reason the client initially arranged the meeting. For instance, he frequently finds that his clients do not have an appropriate estate plan in place. “Often the client is eager to discuss their investment portfolio, but I have to tell them to set up a revocable trust first,” he said.

What CPAs Must Do at The First Financial Planning Meeting?

Adjust Their Expectations

CPAs must be clear about their approach to financial planning and what the client can expect from the relationship. New and prospective clients need to understand that the client and CPA will need to work together as a team to identify and achieve the client’s goals.

Dorsey, too, finds that he often must modify his clients’ expectations. At the first meeting, Dorsey makes his client aware that his approach centers on building a long-term, stable portfolio with a focus on allocation. “I discourage my clients from investing too much in the latest hot trend, whether it’s cryptocurrency or something else,” Dorsey explained.

Determine Whether They Are A Good Fit for Your Practice

It’s important that your client is aligned with your financial planning philosophy and approach. Thomas does so by establishing “high expectations for the client as a participant in the financial planning process,” stressing that they share responsibility for its success. He makes clients aware that unexpected events may arise during the engagement, such as an economic recession or the failure of a business, which can affect the process. He also lets them know his job is to give them the knowledge they need to “come into reasoned dialogue with their advisers” and “arrive at specific solutions.”

The sensitive nature of personal financial planning demands a great deal of interpersonal and technical skill. Take a thoughtful, sincere approach to the initial planning meeting to get your relationship with prospective clients off to a great start.