Mak­ing the Fi­nan­cial Grade

To con­nect with prospec­tive clients, an ad­vi­sor of­fered one-hour lec­tures. Then he found a longer-last­ing ap­proach.

Financial Planning - - CONTENT - By Le­var Haf­foney

To con­nect with prospec­tive clients, an ad­vi­sor of­fered one-hour lec­tures. Then he found a longer­last­ing ap­proach.


tried many ways to con­nect with prospects and clients. For years, I of­fered pre­sen­ta­tions on per­sonal fi­nan­cial plan­ning. The events were well at­tended and I gen­er­ally re­ceived pos­i­tive feed­back, but they were ul­ti­mately un­sat­is­fy­ing — I could share only lim­ited in­for­ma­tion in one hour.

I wanted to of­fer a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, and ul­ti­mately I found my an­swer close to home. I went back to school.

I ap­proached the con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment at York Col­lege in New York City and of­fered to teach a course for adult stu­dents on fi­nan­cial skills like as­sess­ing cash flow and debt man­age­ment. I was thrilled when the school ac­cepted the pro­posal and I started in Jan­uary 2015.

My first Per­sonal Fi­nance and In­vest­ing class con­sisted of pre-re­tirees aged 35 to 60. When I as­sessed their knowl­edge, it turned out sev­eral had re­tire­ment plans of­fered by em­ploy­ers, but they did not know what was in those plans.

I sug­gested some ques­tions we need to ask our­selves be­fore we make any in­vest­ments. What are the goals? How long will it take to reach them? How much money do we need to ac­com­plish those goals?


Not sur­pris­ingly, many stu­dents un­der­es­ti­mated the amount of money they would need in re­tire­ment. From my pre­vi­ous pre­sen­ta­tions, I’d known many Amer­i­cans lacked fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy. Now I was in a po­si­tion to re­ally help.

When I asked the stu­dents to cre­ate a bud­get, they weren’t thrilled about it. They thought bud­get­ing would force them to pinch pen­nies and live a mis­er­able ex­is­tence. I over­came their re­sis­tance by as­sur­ing them that a bud­get would help them make spend­ing de­ci­sions and I stressed the im­por­tance of track­ing in­come and ex­penses. The at­ten­dees were re­lieved to know that a cup of cof­fee or a trip to the movies wouldn’t de­rail their fi­nan­cial plan.

After that, we ex­plored the ba­sics of a stock and a bond. That’s when my stu­dents started to get ex­cited. The idea that they could share in the com­pany’s rev­enues in­trigued them. They also liked the idea of lend­ing their money to cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments.

From there we moved on to mu­tual and ex­change traded funds. I used this anal­ogy: “A fund is like a car­ton of eggs. The fund is the car­ton and the eggs are in­di­vid­ual stocks or bonds.” They im­me­di­ately un­der­stood.

Most stu­dents feared mar­ket down­turns and were con­ser­va­tive. To raise their con­fi­dence, I ex­plained how di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion could mit­i­gate risks. To­ward the end of the four­week course, the stu­dents signed up for an on­line stock mar­ket sim­u­la­tion game. I also pro­vided them with a read­ing list so that they could study per­sonal fi­nance in depth.

On the fi­nal day of the class, we dis­cussed the dif­fer­ences be­tween fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sors, fi­nan­cial plan­ners and in­vest­ment ad­vi­sors. We delved into the ser­vices and prod­ucts that pro­fes­sion­als of­fer and their com­pen­sa­tion. I brought in prospec­tuses to show the stu­dents how to iden­tify mu­tual fund fees and ex­penses. We also dis­cussed com­mis­sions and the need for tax plan­ning in manag­ing port­fo­lios.

I have taught this class for two years to more than 100 at­ten­dees and I of­ten fol­low up. Some stu­dents have hired fee-only fi­nan­cial plan­ners and oth­ers de­cided to do it them­selves. It is al­ways satisfying to hear about their suc­cesses since tak­ing my class.

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