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New wave of financial planners helps clients with all aspects of life

Monday, April 23, 2001

By Eve Modzelewski, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

By nature, financial planning can get very personal. Preparing for retirement, calculating health insurance and figuring out estate plans are complicated issues that drop financial planners in the middle of intimate territory with their clients.

In some cases, financial planners even play the unofficial role of therapist, helping to settle family conflicts and ease anxieties and fears that arise from all the thinking and talking about money.

Financial planner Carol Lampe of Lampe Asset Management talks with her clients about personal goals and aspirations.

This type of personal involvement is no novelty in the world of financial planning. What's relatively new is the term being used to describe it -- life planning.

It's become a catch phrase over the last few years, and the label has promoted acceptance of a more humanized approach to finances. Instead of just focusing on the dollars and cents, it's now OK for financial planners to delve into their clients' dreams and personal goals.

Carol Lampe, a certified financial planner in the North Hills, is among a growing number of planners who have embraced the life-planning approach.

Two years ago, she was looking for a way to make her practice more competitive in a growing field that included large financial institutions and Internet-based advising services.

So she settled on life planning, which allowed her to become more involved with a clients' personal as well as financial needs.

"Times are changing and people want to address more than just money issues," she said. "Of course, everybody needs money, but other things are necessary for a fulfilling life."

Lampe, an independent representative for Allegheny Investments Limited, tries to get some of her 200 clients thinking about what would make their life more gratifying.

Mainly, she asks lots of questions: Where do you want to spend retirement? What types of leisure activities do you value? What kind of legacy, beyond money, do you want to leave your family?

She's found that clients nearing retirement often worry about how life will change after they stop working. At the end of an active career, it's hard to get used to long days to yourself, she said. Without a paycheck to prove one's worth every week, it's important for retirees to keep sight of their non-financial accomplishments, such as family relationships or philanthropy.

"All financial planners focus on the wealth," Lampe said. "But few of us are comfortable focusing on the personal wealth and spiritual wealth."

For clients who are skittish of self-help lingo, Lampe said she tones down the life-planning side of her practice.

George Kinder, a financial planner and author of "The Seven Stages of Money Maturity," is definitely not skittish -- he readily embraces the emotional and spiritual aspects of money. He has practices in Cambridge, Mass., and Maui, Hawaii, and leads national seminars that teach, among other things, how to get past naive notions of money that were developed in childhood.

The Nazrudin Project, a think tank of financial advisers co-founded by Kinder, is dedicated to exploring spirituality and human dysfunction as they relate to finances.

"You're not going to be successful with just spreadsheets and a financial plan," Kinder said. Success is about aligning your personal happiness with how you manage your money.

"It's so easy to go to the mall and just shop when you feel lonely or depressed," he said, but it's important to keep tabs on emotion-driven money decisions.

In addition, expectations from family -- about how much money we should earn and how it should be spent or invested -- may affect our financial decisions.

"It's impossible to eliminate those expectations, but you can temper them enormously," Kinder said. Identifying the pressures and keeping them in check can rescue personal relationships that are strained from dealing with financial logistics.

"Couples often suffer because of money arguments," he said. "But, really, money arguments are about personal identity."

Kinder worked with one couple in such a situation. The husband wanted to stay at home, take care of the children and write, while the wife opted to work long hours as the main breadwinner.

The woman liked the setup at first, but she eventually resented her husband for his relaxed lifestyle. And he started feeling guilty for not contributing to the family's finances.

"They would come into my office, and you could just feel the tension," Kinder said. "I pointed out that expectations were getting in the way."

Kinder asked the woman if she was working more than she really wanted to. As it turned out, the answer was yes, and she was happier after she cut back on her hours. And Kinder worked with the husband to eliminate his "I'm no good" mentality.

Financial planner Linda Lubitz, of The Lubitz Financial Group in Miami and board member for the national Financial Planning Association, said she's seen a shift in the financial planning profession over the last few years.

There's been an effort to broaden the scope of the client relationship so that it's about more than just transactions. But, at the same time, it shouldn't get too intimate, she said.

"The dangers are overstepping the boundaries and attempting to be psychologists for our clients," Lubitz said. "That's an area where we do not have training."

To help her understand their personal views, Lubitz asks her clients to fill out a family-values questionnaire. It includes questions about their first memories of dealing with money and how they viewed themselves in terms of socioeconomic class when they were children.

And she makes a point of asking clients whether they're involved with community service.

"We're trying very hard to incorporate into all of our financial plans an awareness of philanthropy ... We've always had to ask our clients' goals, but until recently, we haven't had the label of acceptance to go beyond the numbers."

Leaving a legacy after death is an important part of life planning, and charity work is one way to accomplish that, she said.

"Sometimes I feel like a lone eagle out there, talking about the importance of giving back," Lubitz said. "But it can really improve your quality of life, which is what life planning is all about."

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