Many financial advisors have traditionally aimed to present the financial plan as a thick, bound, all-encompassing document to be used as a tool to help clients achieve their financial goals. But beyond providing an in-depth roadmap for clients, the financial plan also demonstrates the expertise and value financial advisors offer. To help streamline the financial planning process and shift the emphasis from creating a one-time financial plan to providing ongoing financial planning guidance more easily, Carl Richards authored his book The One-Page Financial Plan, which focuses on the most important information a client needs to know in a one-page report. Even though it was originally faced with some opposition in the financial advisory industry, the one-page financial plan has increasingly become adopted among many advisors in recent years to the extent that financial planning software companies now incorporate tools to help advisors easily develop one-page financial ‘snapshots’ for their clients.
In our 89th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss how the one-page plan has helped advisors present clear goals to their clients while still presenting their value proposition, how changes in the financial advisory industry have led to broader adoption of a one-page plan, and what it means for financial advisors now that financial planning software companies are adopting shorter reports as a tool.
As a starting point, it’s important to understand that financial snapshots don’t replace the work of creating a full financial plan itself. Rather, a one-page plan is an alternative to the deliverable for the client that not only saves the advisor (and the client) time, but also provides a living document for the advisor and the client that is easily updated over time throughout the advisor-client relationship. A full, traditional financial plan can be long and time-consuming to create. Which means that it may only be updated once every several years, if at all. A shorter snapshot version, on the other hand, is easier to update on an ongoing basis, which helps the advisor and the client change course (if need be) and helps keep the financial plan on track. The ability to make more frequent changes to the financial plan gives the advisor opportunities to provide proactive changes to the plan, while sustaining the client relationship over time.
Importantly, while advisors may have been likened to ‘mapmakers’ solely responsible for creating a plan, changes in technology and digital communication have enabled financial advisors to do full, in-depth analyses while connecting with clients to update their plans more dynamically and, in the process, serving more as ‘guides’ on their clients’ financial journeys.
Ultimately, the key point is that as financial planning software companies continue to offer automated tools that help advisors keep track of progress alongside their clients, advisors can focus more on building more dynamic relationships with their clients instead of just creating a static path for clients to reach their financial goals. Because going on the journey together with clients can increase touchpoints throughout the relationship, which increases trust and deepens relationships!
***Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we’ve released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Michael: Greetings, Carl.
Carl: Hello, Michael. How are you?
Michael: I’m doing well. I’m doing well. How are you?
Carl: I’m fantastic. Yeah, things are super good.
Why The Financial Advisory Industry Is Adopting The One-Page Financial Plan [00:20]
Michael: Fantastic. I’m looking forward to today’s discussion because there’s been this kind of thing bouncing around the internet over the past month or two where, RightCapital, one of the financial planning software companies, put out this new one-page snapshot that they’re calling it, where single page you can show on the screen pulls in a whole bunch of details about the client’s financial plan, but not just quite at the one-page report projection summary, you can add text boxes so you could put the client’s statement of financial purpose, or you can put their action items or the things that you’re working on. And so it’s actually it’s an emulation of a one-page financial plan. And then there’s been a whole bunch of discussion and buzz bouncing around.
I find just over the past probably six or nine months about one-page financial plans. I know you’d worked on a course with Jeremy Walter around this. We had Jeremy do a guest posts on our site around one-page financial plans. We talked about them a ton at our financial planning value summit last December. So it kind of growing buzz, but tough to a lot of advisors so they were building them manually in Excel spreadsheets. And so out comes RightCapital with this one-page snapshot, one-page financial plan. And I have to admit, there’s a part of me that I saw it and I was like, “I know why they call it a one-page snapshot because they couldn’t call it a one-page financial plan because Carl literally wrote that book, and probably owns a copyright on it, so they had to call it something else.”
And I was just chuckling as I was seeing that because I was flashing back to 10 years ago. Give or take, a little you have to tell me exactly when the book came out. I feel like it was about 10 years ago. And you got, I don’t know, fairly crucified by the advisor community of , “Who’s gonna pay the fees that we charge for a one-page financial plan?” “What are you smoking Carl?” “There’s a reason why we make the plans what we do.” “You got to show the value in part by the page count, the density.” And so there’s this fascinating just full circle, this shift in the advisor world that in the span of barely 10 years we went from, okay, your one-page thing sounds quaint. Well, let’s be honest, you got to make the whole plan or the clients just aren’t going to pay the fees that we charge into this world now where RightCapital rolls up this really nice one-page financial plan snapshot, and everybody’s going bonkers about it.
Carl: Yeah. No, so there’s a couple of things to cover. I love seeing all this. I love Jeremy’s course and his template that he built. I love what RightCapital has done. I know other people have done it. I attended a conference not too long ago, and it felt like half of the conference was around one-page plans. I sat in the back of some of the sessions listening to people talk about one-page plan. I love it. And I don’t claim any ownership over the concept. In fact, the fact that a bunch of people probably don’t know I have…they probably don’t know I wrote a book about it makes me happy. And the way I frame that in my head and we wrote this up. This is like a fundamental concept here at Behavior Gap headquarters that we’re just running around the world trying to insert ideas into the world. And some of them are stupid, we’re wrong, but I’m often wrong, but never in doubt.
So sometimes those ideas, I just actually view the business and all the projects we do as simply a vehicle, and this the way I view the best financial planning businesses, too. Simply a vehicle to forcibly insert an opinion into the world. And here’s the criteria we have…the criteria I have I literally have this written down is that I’ll know that I was successful when number one, we insert an idea into the world. So I could tell you this exact same story with hand-drawn sketches, by the way, which is just super cool. So you insert an idea into the world. In this case, financial planning should be done with a one-page plan. Now, if you’ve heard Michael and I talk about this, if you’ve ever heard me present about it, if you’ve ever… I know there are more plans behind it. I know there are more pages behind it. But the idea was this tool that sits on top that becomes a living, breathing artifact of the relationship ongoing. It’s about being less wrong than precisely correct. All of that guide instead of a defender of a math. All that stuff fits into this one-page plan idea.
So number one, you’ll insert an idea into the world. In this case, it was the best plan is a one-page plan, right? I think Snoop Dogg just said, “The best plan is no plan,” on his new commercial. So maybe we’re wrong. So number one, you’ll insert an idea. And it almost is never met with universal acceptance at first. In fact, I would submit that if it is it’s maybe not on the edge enough, right? But it’s almost never, so it doesn’t surprise me when people are… Number one, you inserted an idea. You know you’ve won when the idea becomes accepted and people don’t recall a time when it was different. That’s pretty cool, right?
So that’s what I’m seeing now. And I’m not the only one. I’m not claiming that I had…I don’t have a patent or trademark on any of it. I don’t care. And I’m not the only one to ever talk about this. Executive summaries have been around forever. So I’m just saying, now, none of us can really remember a time when it wasn’t okay to use a one-page plan. And then the last, the third criteria I love, which really makes me happy is, and I’ve only recently got comfortable with the idea that it actually makes me happy, is no one will have any idea I had anything to do with it. If we truly can get to the point where it was a new and novel idea. It’s now accepted. No one can remember a time when it was different. And people, they’ve lost track of where the idea came from, to the point where it’s so universally accepted nobody really even knows who can claim the original idea, which I certainly can’t. I mean, I don’t know where it came from. But executive summary.
So that’s my view on it, which is why I’ve had gotten so many emails lately about, “Dude, trademark.” “Dude, do you see this person”? And people don’t understand that was the plan. If it was going to work, there’s been plenty of those that have never worked, and nobody’s ever heard about them. But occasionally one works.
Michael: So just in your view, what’s changed that you got so much flak about this a decade ago? And I remember the discussions. And to be fair, I probably gave you a little bit of it. I appreciated it. I wasn’t shooting hard at you.
Carl: I think we have a Kitces forum post somewhere saves maybe printed on the wall over there on our bulletin board. Anyway, I’m just kidding. Let’s do put a point in this though. That’s actually true. We did get a lot of…not from you, but it was…
Michael: You did. I mean, I’m not being facetious. I remember the discussion, the plank here which just it’s the idea…
Carl: The idea…
Michael: I really feel like it was that sort of, “Quaint idea, Carl, but come on.” We all know, air quotes, how it works. We do the comprehensive plan, it thunks on the table. We know that people don’t usually open it and read it again afterwards. But it’s part of the credibility factor that you just have to have when you come to the table and you’re charging money for plans. So I’d really be curious from your view, what’s changed that suddenly we feel so differently about this?
Carl: Yeah, it’s such a good question. And I think we are…there are other lines of research/work, other occupations, other professions, where this has happened, too, where we’ve gone from waterfall computer programming to agile, right? And as we’ve gotten more comfortable with complexity theory and making decisions, and I’m seeing this happen in other places faster. I mean, that’s what I started seeing 10 years ago, it was like, “Wait, we’re kind of fooling ourselves that we…” Because the one-page plan fits in that same model of we’re going to be agile. We’re going to realize that it’s about course corrections and we’re going to iterate and we’re going to end it’s about being less wrong. I think as that has made its way through the planning world and you’re seeing this you certainly see this in business planning, too. And I’ve got a venture capitalist buddy that says every single pitch he gets, he literally turns to the projection section and tears it out or deletes the PDF pages whatever.
So I think as we’ve seen that it’s we’ve become more aware, I believe. I want to believe that we’ve become more aware in realizing that our value wasn’t in the plan, the document, the two-inch-thick document that really that was just a tool for us to be sellers of certainty. And we started to learn that certainty is easy to sell, but impossible to deliver. And so, as we become more comfortable with that, we’ve realized our value is in the relationship, our value is on the ongoing process of planning. And then we’ve also gotten really comfortable with the idea that you can hold two competing truths in your mind at the same time. The work you do with a spreadsheet and calculator is insanely important. The projection is you build a crazy valuable, you’re the best guesser in the world, and your projections are wrong. You just don’t know how yet. As we become more and more comfortable with all of that, I believe that’s what’s changed is we’ve started to see our value as being guides, and not map builders.
How The Evolution Of Financial Planning Business Models Created Demand For One Page Financial Planning [11:24]
Michael: I like that framing that this is much more about being the guide because to me the… So one of the powerful things around the framing of the, I guess, the guide versus the person drawing the map is you when you create maps, you make a map, you give it to the person to go on the journey, and then they go on their way with the map. And hopefully, the map remains reasonably accurate as they go and follow the journey they’re going using the map to navigate. When you’re a guide, you don’t give them the map and they go on their way, you go with them on the journey. The whole nature of guide is you’re on the journey with them, not just you told them where to go and wish them luck. And the key seems that to me is that the map process is the traditional financial planning process.
Give me your data, I’m going to do an analysis, I’m going to map out what the future is going to look like, I’m going to charge you for that. I’ve got a document all the work that I did. And off, we go into the traditional plan. The one-page plan and just even it struck me as I was looking at what RightCapital came out with, strictly speaking, I’m not sure it’s really a substitute for the map because, I mean, just it’s pulling in updates from all the accounting issues behind the scenes. It’s literally not actually about the deliverable when you do the plan for a new client. It’s the thing you log into the next 29-and-a-half years of the 30-year relationship after the first 6 months, which should be why it’s powerful to have clients value statement of financial purpose, ongoing action items, the things we’re working on and their status, figure you can add a bunch of this now with just customizable textboxes that they added.
It’s not just that it’s the projection or that it’s got more stuff than the projection, it’s that what they’ve created now is essentially a guide touchstone you can keep checking in. So I guess, I think…I’m trying to find the right words for it, like it’s a compass. The difference is, they didn’t make a one-page financial plan or replace the map, they made a one-page financial plan as a compass, while you’re walking along with your clients as a guide, and maybe I’m pushing the analogy a little too far. But just there’s this distinction to me that I think the fundamental thing that shifted to me is we’re doing… it’s less about the plan and more about the planning. And just what RightCapital built I think why it’s getting so much traction and excitement is it’s not a financial plan tool. It’s a financial planning tool. And we don’t have very many of those. We have a lot of financial plan tools. I’ve taken recently to actually just trying to stop calling that financial planning software because I actually don’t think most of them are financial planning software. Its financial plan software.
Michael: They make a plan. It’s map making software. It doesn’t have the compass and the ongoing guide tools and a snapshot that continuously updates where we can track not just our financial projections like, what we were doing, what we were working on, your action items, and the core purpose that we’re trying to achieve with this journey, you go from being a financial plan software to a financial planning software. And I think that’s the shift. And it just pairs with the fact that over the past 10 years, we’ve increasingly gone towards everything from assets under management models to finance planning subscription retainer models. We’re charging more for financial planning than we ever did before. Just if you look at industry numbers there’s more charging for planning, and we’re charging more than we did before. But we’re charging more for planning than we did before, but it’s less about the plans because we need to plan to sell the product. We need to do planning if we want to get paid on an ongoing basis for doing planning. So there’s a shift from the upfront plan to the ongoing planning that’s a function of business models changing AUM and subscriptions, to the rest. And now, I think we’re seeing the software starting to follow suit.
Carl: Yeah, I almost get emotional about this because it’s just so…and it doesn’t have any, I don’t mean emotional because it’s about me, it’s not, I’m simply saying… I often call this reality-based financial planning. This works for humans, and it’s so gratifying to see us… It makes me so happy for the people pointing out the window out there that we’re now realizing it’s not a product or an event, it’s a relationship and a process. And one thing I didn’t do really well in the early days was a guide, I’m so excited about guides that sometimes in the process of being so excited about guides that I would be disrespectful to map builders. And when you understand that it’s an “and” not an “or” that I’ve guided people in really crazy places. And I’ve been guided in really crazy places. And you better believe the guide had a map, right? And a really good map. Now, the other thing that’s really interesting about this metaphor, is imagine now, too, that the landscape is literally moving, right? So the map actually isn’t an…
Michael: It’s hot lava.
Carl: Yeah, the map literally actually isn’t a good representation of reality five minutes after it was drawn. So we’ve got that added layer of complexity that’s just because we’re humans in a complex adaptive system. And it’s just so, to me, it’s so powerful if we can get…and I think that’s what we’re seeing is we’re starting to recognize, yes, the map was important, please draw the best map you can, and then realize that the real value you bring to the table and the real value you bring to the table is that you’re a guide, and you know that the landscape is not going to match the map, you are a guide in a changing landscape is not going to match.
And you know what’s amazing? And I think we’re getting over this fear we still all have a lot of fear on this is because we’re humans, too, we don’t like uncertainty. What’s amazing is the skill we have the valuable skill we have is not in the map drawing, even though we’re really good map drawers. The valuable skill is saying, “Oh, shoot on the map, there was supposed to be a river here and there’s not anymore. There used to be I promise there used to be because I’ve been down here like 50 times there used to be, but guess what? Do I look worried? I got a bunch of tools in my backpack. We’re going to figure out what to do now. I have done this 1000 times.” And what this is is help you make mission-critical decisions in the face of irreducible uncertainty. Right after I did everything I could to get rid of the uncertainty, we were still left with a pile of it. It’s called life. That’s what I think it’s so beautiful about all this.
And, yeah, I guess what I was saying earlier is I may have done a disservice early by just the enthusiasm around the one-page felt like I was just counting the 200 pages. And it’s not as you’re really correctly pointing out, it sits on top. It’s the thing that adjusts in moods, and it suggests to the client’s mind that this wasn’t an event. We were working with our new financial planner for over a year now or maybe a little bit more. We still have never had a grand unveiling of the plan, right? I know there’s a million calculations going on, but I’ve never seen the plan. It’s because by the time she calculates it, she calls back three weeks later, there have been material changes in our lives, right? And so it’s like, “What are we doing?” We’re figuring out where are we right this second, solve for the next local optimum, which from the research is the only way to navigate a complex adaptive system, get clear about where you are, solve the next local optimum. So, I think we’re starting to get comfortable in that where it used to feel like that was unmooring.
How One Page Financial Planning Software Simplifies Client Deliverables [20:32]
Michael: I don’t know, I think it was a… used to think it was unmooring. Candidly, I’m thinking back to where you were a long time… Well, not that long ago. I didn’t get paid for that. I mean, that was the truth of the business model.
Carl: I never thought of it that way.
Michael: We would draw a map that projects something because it shows that you have a gap that you’re off course because I have a solution to get you back on course by mutual fund managed portfolio, life insurance, variable universal life, whatever it was that was getting drained, sell at the time. Let me draw you a map that shows you that you’re off course. If I sell you this thing, you’ll be on course. And a couple of years, let’s come back together and do this again because I want to draw you a new map about how life is changing, you’re off course again because you’re not good I can sell you another thing. We did have clients and ongoing relationships where we wanted to do this because it’s easier to do repeat business with existing clients than to go get new ones. But we literally weren’t paid to go along on the journey. We were paid to find opportunities to reorient their journey from time to time with a new sale. And so that’s what we did.
And to me like just that, I think the shift in the business model, is a really material factor in this. And even when you wrote the book, the majority of revenue from largest broker dealers was commissions. And today, the majority of the revenue from largest broker-dealers is fees and the IRA community is all fees and growing.
Carl: So I think that, but I never thought of it that way. From day one, I was early version of fee-based, right? Which would have been now we think of it as bad, but C-Shares, early version of not having to… And then as soon as it became available wrap fees, and then as soon as it became available a separately priced quarterly fee, I was always that way. And so I never thought of it that way. But I think what you’re pointing to, which is important, I always thought of it as okay, you’re paying me an ongoing fee, that fee is not…I watched other people do this, like, “Oh, this is amazing. I just replaced selling stocks with an ongoing fee that I have to do nothing for.” I never thought that way because I thought if I did that I would lose clients, right? Yeah. So but I think what you’re pointing to is really an important shift, which might be why there’s momentum behind this is the whole industry is getting more and more comfortable with moving towards that business model. They’re starting to realize, well, wait, what’s the value in this model? Well, it turns out the value is ongoing advice. Being a guide is just another word for ongoing advice.
Michael: But I guess to me, the irony, then is we’re talking about the one-page financial plan from financial planning software. And to me, it’s really the opposite we’ve gotten a one-page financial planning tool from what historically was financial plan software. And we’re putting the “ing…” We’re putting the verb and the noun. And frankly, just once you do that, I think we’ve all felt that if I’m going to be continuously doing financial planning updates and work on an ongoing basis, I’m not making a new 50-page output every time that’s just not even efficient for me. It’s not good business. I don’t need that much stuff for continuous iterative guidance with the client, just like, “Where are we? Where are we now? What’s changed over the interval? Is that what we wanted? Do we need to make some course corrections?” I just see it so. Are we on course? Do we need to make course corrections? I only need one-page financial planning software. I’m still going to defend my large financial plan to the grave because I think it’s important in both initial analysis and just kind of that credibility and trust dynamic with the clients. But that’s an upfront plan. That’s the initial map. It’s not what I used to do the plann-ing. It’s not the verb.
Carl: Yeah, I agree. And the only thing I disagree… I think the financial plan software is actually a tool for the planner, not a tool for the client. And the financial planning, the one-page plan tool, is what the client interaction sees. So other than the rare case where I felt like I was grasping a little bit and I needed to make sure I got this client and I would just drop the plan on the desk from about a foot off the desk, so they would hear a thump.
Michael: Oh, you need the sounds every now and then.
Carl: Other than that, I just learned so early because I said I remember to Christine, I remember saying to her, “Hey, I could print out this 200 pages if you want, or I can just tell you what it means for you, and what our next actions are, which would you prefer?” And Christine looked at me and said, “Is that a question?” And from then on, I was like, “Okay, yellow pad it is.” Now, I still use that software. That was a tool for me. So that’s the next line of this thinking is, “Well, does the client really ever need to see that? And if they need to see it? Is it us just using it as a crutch?” And that’s beyond the scope of this conversation. But I think you’re right, one of the things that’s happened is the whole industry is converging on and I hope it’s because people are demanding. And I don’t know if that’s true or not. But the industry is converging on the idea that ongoing advice is what we need to be delivering. And then they’re saying to themselves, well, what’s the artifact of value? What’s the tool we use to kind of navigate that relationship? Oh, wow. Turns out we could do this on just a small one page, can we pull it off on one page?
And let me just get one other thing out of the way. I don’t care if it’s one-and-a-half pages. I don’t care if it’s two pages. I don’t care what your template looks like. I don’t care.
Michael: It’s got to fit on a screen, Carl.
Carl: I have my super strong opinion about this. I have my version. And I don’t care, right? We should all just… I just think it’s great that we’re getting to the point where somebody like Christine can look us in the eyes and go, “I wanted you to make my life simpler. Why did you just send me a 300-page document that’s going to collect dust?
The Future Of One-Page Financial Plans [26:58]
Michael: So one final question then as we wrap up, just we’ve made all this progress over the past 10 years. Do you have any view or perspective, what comes next? Is there something beyond the one-page financial plan or one-page financial planning? What’s the next step in this iteration?
Carl: I had a whole…I remember, I spoken at FPA event in Denver. During my…just know that the one-page plan was a compromise because I was on this no-page plan…
Michael: Because it was going to be a half page.
Carl: No, I was on this what Snoop Dogg’s now saying in his Corona commercials that the best plan is no plan. But what I think…
Michael: I need some goals, Carl. I’m a goal-oriented financial planner.
Carl: I know. What I’m hoping is that we now…because it’s fine to have a template and a tool and a tactic. That’s fine. What I’m hoping is that we can start building our relationships around that idea of being ‘less wrong’ guides, everything we just talked about planning, not the plan. So I think what’s next, and it’s going to take us 10 years is for us all to get really comfortable with actually, how do you use these tools?
Carl: And how do you shift the relationship? Because it’s so easy to be like, “Never mind, forget it.” And go right back to like, “I got to sell something, or I got to close business, or I got to speak to…” And instead, if we can get to the point where we realize templates are great, tools and software are great. Even the tactics are great. But it’s the confidence and the comfort to act and do the thing instead of just using this debate. What I’m curious about with this debate is, is it just another place to hide? Is it just another place to hide from actually getting out there and having these kinds of conversations with clients? So that’s what I’m hopeful is we just see a lot of these conversations, where clients start to realize they get a cold call from somebody in the industry that’s still doing it the old way.
It’s literally, “You don’t even know what you’re talking about.” You know what I mean? “How could you even think…” Where that becomes the norm. And I would love…this is actually an opinion that I am forcibly inserting over the last year I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been saying it out loud. It’s scary to me. And I think I’ll get similar ridicule. And I may or may not be right or wrong, who knows. But I would love for the sake of the people out there. I would love to get to the point where every client had and knew they had a statement of financial purpose, right? Which is just the top two lines in one-page plan. But I would love a statement of financial purpose to become as common and accepted as an investment policy statement is in the institutional world, right? So anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about, right?
Michael: Very cool. Very cool. Thank you, Carl. Congratulations on the world finally catching up to you.
Carl: Now we can’t end with that because that’s not… I guess, I should say thank you. That’s very kind of you, but that was never the intent of this conversation, right?
Michael: I know. I understand. I understand, but that’s why we come and hear from you so that we can find out where we’re going next.
Carl: Can I put futurist on my card and start charging $75,000 for my keynotes?
Michael: Only if the blue couch comes with.
Carl: Okay, perfect. I’m now a futurist. Thanks…
Michael: Fantastic. Futurist on a blue couch.
Carl: The blue couch…
Michael: The blue couch can’t make prognostications. The futurist on the blue couch that will be your logo.
Carl: Done. Done. Done.
Michael: The futurist on the blue couch.
Michael: Fantastic. Thank you, Carl.