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Goals-Based Planning

Four suggestions for getting client buy-in

In an earlier post, I explored the all too prevalent malady of “benchmark–itis”—that is, measuring wealth management success solely in terms of investment performance. Now, let’s look at practical techniques advisors can use to to transform their conversation with clients—and indeed their whole practice—to a “goals-based” model.

Numerous studies document that wealth management clients favor a holistic, goals-based approach over a product and performance approach. How can advisors make this approach central to their practice and get buy-in from their clients? Here are four concrete suggestions:

Introduce Approach at the Beginning

  • At your very first meeting with a new prospect, explain that your process is planning-based, with the key objective being to meet the client’s wealth management goals.
  • Pinpoint exactly what the prospect’s real-life goals are. People will rarely describe these in terms of investment performance.
  • Get an agreement from prospects that success will be measured in terms of meeting the goals they’ve identified, not investment performance. If you help them meet their goals, you should get an “A.” You will, of course, report investment performance on a regular basis, but the key measure of success will be the achievement of the client’s goals.
  • Lay the groundwork for asking for referrals based on successful achievement of goals.

Document the Primacy of Goals

  • Every firm has an “investment policy statement. (IPS).” This only serves to overemphasize investments. Use instead a “wealth management plan (WMP).”
  • In the WMP, document the client’s goals (financial and other), and make it clear that achieving these goals will be the key measure of success.
  • Also include a “service protocol”—for example, the frequency and content of client meetings, calls, etc.  Make this a key part of meeting the client’s goals.
  • Get the client(s) to sign and return the WMP.

Organize Client Meetings Around Goals

  • Every firm has a standard client review report. Too often, these reports are filled with pages and pages of investment statistics and very little discussion of client goals.
  • Restructure your meetings and reports, as follows:
    • Begin by asking the client for a personal and financial update. Are there any important changes?
    • Confirm the goals in the current WMP. Are any changes needed?
    • Ask clients directly if you’re meeting their goals, both financially and from a service perspective.
    • Then, and only then, review the investments. Here, the focus should be on performance in the attainment of goals versus raw performance (that is, benchmark-itis).
    • Document all important changes in a revised WMP, mail it to the client and get the client to return a signed version.

Make Sure All Your Materials Focus on Goals  

  • Standard IPSs and client meeting reports are two of the more notorious offenders in setting a focus on performance versus wealth management goals. But there are many other areas in which you may be undermining the goals-based approach.
  • Make sure all your materials underscore your focus on goals: brochures, flip books, websites, newsletters and client satisfaction surveys, to name just a few.

Follow these simple suggestions and you’ll transform your practice to a truly goals-based culture. Your clients will be happier, and so will you!


For additional information on important wealth management issues, please go to my blog,, or visit me on LinkedIn,

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