What does a financial life planner do? How is it different from regular financial advice? Financial life planning is a combination life coaching, counselling and financial advice which goes beyond investment and digs deeper into what the client wants to get out of life and how they can achieve their dreams. We spoke to Tina Weeks, the founder of Serenity Financial Planning, to find out more.
Tina Weeks began her career as a financial adviser in 1996. Like many advisers, Tina fell into the sector: “I did a chemistry degree and then ended up working in a computer company in the marketing department and realised it really wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she says, “my sister told me I should put a pension in place and the lady who came round to sell me a pension got me into financial services.”
She founded her company, which was predominantly a mortgage brokerage, in 2006 before making the transition to financial advice in 2008, but things were rocky in the beginning. “The credit crunch hit and things got really difficult,” she says, “it was really bad. We had to lose staff, we lost our income, lost offices…it was a really tough time.”
Despite the pressure of the recession, Tina re-invented her business to focus on life planning.“In 2009, I discovered life planning and knew it was exactly what I was looking for, there weren’t many financial life planners in the UK at the time, in fact I was the first female to do Kinder Life Planning training in the UK, so even though things were really tough and my business was struggling, I decided to go down this other route and I have not looked back since,” she says.
What makes financial life planning different to regular financial advice? “A financial life planner combines financial planning with life planning,” she says, “if a financial planner is doing a thorough job, they will be asking the client about the things they want to do and building up a comprehensive financial plan for them.”
“Life planning takes it a little bit further in that we encourage clients to really dream big and come up with all those things which they maybe didn’t think they had permission to think or talk about. We push them to explore the things that make their lives meaningful, give them purpose, and all sorts of things that sometimes can be really emotional for clients.”
Financial life planners don’t just help clients with their money: they also delve deeper into personal goals and interpersonal relationships. “It could be anything from someone wanting to change their career or give up work and spend more time with their family, or write a book, or go off and do more travelling,” Tina says. “We cover all sorts of things with the client that a financial planner normally wouldn’t. For example, we cover things like communication methods between couples and help them to be able to communicate much more effectively.”
What would your life be like if you didn’t have to worry about money? This is one of the questions that a financial planner may ask their clients: “We want to encourage the client to dream big and try to imagine what life would be like if they didn’t need money,” Tina says, “we ask them questions like ‘what if you only had five years to live, how would you change your life?’”
“We ask them questions like that because we want people to appreciate that time is finite. Some people say: ‘when I retire I’ll do that, when my kids leave home I’ll do this’ and we’re encouraging them to appreciate that sometimes there’s no better time than right now.”
“Finally, we ask them what it would be like for them if they only had 24 hours to live. The whole point of that question is to explore regrets. We know people tend to have the same sorts of regrets, they tend to be ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family, I wish I’d worked less, I wish I’d been kinder to myself and explored my creativity’.”
Life planning sessions are pretty flexible and can be tailored around what the client wants” It’s a lot of life coaching sometimes, but it really depends on what the client needs and where they need to go,” Tina says, “we’re happy wherever the client needs to go to get the maximum experience out of this. That’s why there’s not always a set structure that we follow.”
For financial life planners, money is just one part of the big picture. “Financial planning allows people to live a life of freedom without worrying about money,” Tina says, “people don’t care what fund you put their money in, people don’t care what company you use to invest their money, they just want to make sure that you’re doing a good job and that you know what you’re doing. Good financial planning is based on trust and that comes from creating a relationship with the person you are working with.”
We know that financial planners are predominantly male, so what’s it like to be a woman working in the industry? “ I’ve never had to work in a large corporation. I’ve never really had to work for anyone else and it means I’ve been able to dictate my working environment,” Tina says, “I know lots of women who have suffered huge sexism, not just in finance but in law and in other areas as well. I do think I’ve been really lucky that I’ve not much had to experience that because it is out there.”
Should there be more focus on getting women into the financial sector? “I get annoyed when I see people focusing specifically on women, but I’m coming round to the idea because there is a huge gap in opportunity, education, in support, in mentoring,” Tina says, “I can see why for example there are awards just for women or conferences just for women, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable because it feels almost like sexism on the other hand.”
“It’s all about making sure that everybody has the same opportunities and when the focus is just on one area, i.e. women, it’s easy to forget about all the other areas,” she continues.
As technology becomes more advanced, is there a danger that robots will steal human financial adviser jobs? Tina isn’t convinced. “Have you ever tried to have a relationship with one of these chat things online?” she says, “it’s not about knowing what questions to ask, it’s about knowing how to deal with the answers. It would have to be super smart, like nothing we know now. For AI to be that intuitive…never say never, but I can’t see it happening.”
If you’re a young person interested in a career in the financial sector, how should you get started? “Find people who you admire, find people that are working in the way that you want to work and contact them. Get in touch and say: ‘this is what I want to do. Can you help me? Can you mentor me? Can I get some work experience with you?” Tina says.
Financial life planning is still relatively niche as a career, but it can be incredibly rewarding for both client and adviser.
“I feel super lucky to be able to do a job like this that has such an impact on people,” Tina says, “ there are a lot of people out there that don’t even realise this job exists. I know clients don’t because when they find me they go ‘oh, you’re just what we’ve been looking for but we didn’t even know what to look for’.”
“The sad thing is a lot of financial advisers don’t know this job exists. Financial life planning is a hugely fulfilling and rewarding role and if it interests you go out and talk to people like me, we’d always be happy to help.”