Skip to main content


FEFP: Get the Most Out of Your Financial Planner (EP66)

How do financial planners demonstrate value? In this episode, John, Tommy, and Ben explain the intricacies of the client relationships they maintain as financial planners. They unpack the distinction between onboarding and ongoing client service, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a continuous partnership with your financial advisor.

Listen in to learn why existing clients always receive top priority, why flexibility is key to a successful financial plan, and the forward-looking approach the advisors at Mason take with their clients. From meticulous preparation for client meetings to ensuring clients understand their plans, your financial planner should always strive to deliver exceptional service. 

Listen to the full episode here:


What you will learn:

  • The importance of having an ongoing relationship with your financial planner. (4:55)
  • What a long-term relationship with your financial planner should look like. (8:00)
  • Why existing clients always take priority over prospects. (10:30)
  • The benefit of having someone to hold you accountable. (15:00)
  • The power of writing down your goals. (19:40)
  • Why having a flexible plan is essential for success. (23:00)
  • How John, Tommy, and Ben prepare for client meetings. (27:30)
  • The importance of ensuring the clients understand their plan. (33:00)
  • Why John, Tommy, and Ben always have a game plan for client meetings. (36:00)

Ideas worth sharing:

  • “Requesting documents from clients is not a sales pitch—it’s how you add value.” - Mason & Associates
  • “Part of what we do is forward-looking. We’re not just reviewing your investments or recording things from last year—we’re doing tax planning and looking at your entire financial plan to make things easier moving forward.” - Mason & Associates
  • “A financial plan needs to be actionable and attainable.” - Mason & Associates

Resources from this episode:


Did you enjoy the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast? Never miss an episode by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, AmazonSpotify, and YouTube Music.


Read the Transcript Below:

Congratulations for taking ownership of your financial plan by tuning into the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Mason & Associates, financial advisors with over three decades of experience serving you.

John Mason: Welcome to the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast. I'm John Mason, Certified Financial Planner, and with me on this episode, Ben Raikes and Tommy Blackburn. How you guys doing?

Ben Raikes: Tommy, how are you doing, man?

Tommy Blackburn: Doing well. We're experimenting with a new podcast recording way of doing this. We typically are all together in a room. We're now trying out a new technology where we're all separate. So that's been fun. It's a learning curve, like everything. Doing well. I assume this episode will be released in 2024. Hard to believe we're in 2024. But everything's going well. Family's chugging on along. It's been fun. It's going well. How about you, Ben?

Ben Raikes: I'd like to say that we got through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years, and we're at the beginning of the next year now, and we can kind of slow down and relax, but it seems like we're hitting the pavement pretty hard here. But I don't think us three would have that any other way. So it's busy, but it's all good things. Love hearing from our clients and love recording this podcast in the new format I think will be really successful.

John Mason: Well, it's exciting to have the video version of the podcast where people can hopefully watch this on YouTube as well as listen. And frankly, our biggest fear around doing it through technology rather than recording locally is that the audio quality, we're very protective of that.

We want to make sure the audio quality is good. So hopefully when we get to other end of this, we'll have a high-quality video production as well as a high-quality audio-only production. So I'm doing well. I think it's a fun time of year.

We have been on your whiteboard. John said, “No changes in 2024.” So we're having a little bit of debate internally on what constitutes a change versus an improvement, or what's a change versus an enhancement. So for me, a change is like switching from software A to software B, but adding a new software—that's an enhancement—so that doesn't count.

Ben Raikes: Uh-huh. Yeah, yeah, John.

Tommy Blackburn: So this is like a lawyer. Oh man, honestly, what it makes me think of, when we first started debating this, ‘cause this really is happening here, like what's a change? It made me think about my initial study and learning of the Tax Code. And they start off with “everything is income,” and that's specifically excluded.

But then the question is, “Well, what's income?” We say “everything.” And it's that's exactly what's happening here. What's the change? What's excluded? What counts? What doesn't count? So we're going through our own version of the Tax Code here internally. I was thinking, for our topic today, Ben, you kind of spurred this thought where you said we're hitting the pavement here at the beginning of the year.

Maybe it's a good to start before we get into the agenda because I think it'll lead naturally into it is kind of the cadence of the year. Granted this year we've got kind of the finale or the beginning of the end of a huge project that we've been working on, and so that's coming to a culmination here.

So that's throwing a little bit of a wrench in the system. But outside of that, they're just a typical cadence that does keep us really busy throughout the year, particularly these first six months of the year.

John Mason: Well, maybe Ben, if it's okay with you, the title of the episode today is going to be something along the lines of how we demonstrate value through a strategic planning meeting, which other financial planners call Annual Reviews.

So we do need to distinguish a little bit from what does it mean to onboard or start a relationship with an advisor or with a client, and then how do you serve that client in an ongoing manner? Most financial planning firms have the onboarding down pretty well. And the reason they have the onboarding down well then is because that's how they get paid initially, right?

Whether it's a sales process or a charming type process on how we get clients interested and to be able to sign on the dotted line or via DocuSign to onboard, we're very, very excited about that as advisors because we want new assets, we want new clients, we want more revenue, and frankly, we like adding value to new people as well, so it's very addictive. But a lot of firms tend to fall off and start to provide more of like second or third-rate services in that ongoing relationship.

Ben Raikes: I think you hit it really hard and it's not just financial advisors that tend to fall off after that process. When you are talking about this, I think about any technology vendor we've ever used in the past or anyone who's ever sold us something to enhance their business. The sales guy will always get back to you within an hour.

He'll give you a call. He'll give you his cell phone number and say, “You can talk to me at any time.” As soon as you sign on that dotted line and you go into maintenance mode, it's, “Well, actually, if you need help with that, you're going to need to just go ahead and submit a ticket and they'll get back to you within 48 hours.”

So it's kind of contagious, not just throughout our industry, but through everything. But I think at Mason & Associates, we have a really good process. And John, I'll just talk about onboarding now. Onboarding is typically clients will schedule an intro call through our website. During that call, they give us some information about their first and last name. Are they married? Where do they work? How are they referred to us?

And then some people put in notes that'll be a couple paragraphs long. Some people just say, “Need to chat about market,” which is always interesting when we have those calls. When we take that call, if it goes really well, normally that's when we'll introduce them to another member of our team.

John, it'll usually be either you or Tommy. And then we'll have a real detailed conversation about more of their plan, more of their goals, more of their desires. They'll send us their docents before that meeting and we'll come through their tax returns and say, “Hey, what about that rental that you didn't tell us about?” Or, “I noticed you give a ton of money to charity. What's the best way to do that?”

Assuming we continue to move forward after that step, we'll present them a financial plan. And then after that initial meeting, if everyone's still on the same page, normally we begin onboarding and that's where we'll manage assets for our clients. So that's kind of like year one of becoming a client. But what this will really be focused on is you said, John, we need to separate these things—onboarding versus existing clients—and those processes are actually somewhat similar in some areas and somewhat different.

John Mason: Well, you know, if you Google what questions to ask a financial planner, Tommy, there are things like, “Are you a fiduciary or what's your fee schedule? Or do you like Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey?”

Like whatever the questions are that pop up when you Google “Top 10 Questions to Ask a Financial Planner,” I don't think one of the questions is “Give me an awesome explanation on how you're going to add value to me and my family in year three, four and five. Describe to me what that ongoing relationship looks like in year three, four and five.”

When I wake up in year five, what are we doing? What does that look like? Because ultimately it's really easy to deliver value when it's a first, second, or third appointment, and these folks have never worked with a financial planner before. It's a lot different in years three, four, and five.

Tommy Blackburn: One thing I would discern there is I think maybe I shouldn't pounce on other advisors out there too much. But I would say it's pretty easy to deliver value when folks have worked with another advisor as well in the beginning when they work with us. But maybe that's just my own hubris there as we usually find areas to add value, even in the beginning. Yeah, those questions, it really should just be, “Tell me about your process.”

I mean, it is fun when we always get them right. It's like, “Tell me, are you fiduciary? How do you charge this? And who do you custody with? What's your investment philosophy?” And usually, we say, “Okay, Mr./Ms. Prospect, I can dive through these questions very quickly. Let's just get them out of the way. Let me answer. You're going to be happy with all the answers.

I know what these questions are and that's a good way to do business, just being able to answer those on the surface. But now let's get down to what's really important. How can we help you? What's on your mind? And let's start talking about our services and what our process looks like.”

I wanted to go back to two things. Ben mentioned you can book the intro call on the website, which is 100% true and how most people do it. We do have a team here. We do have humans answering the phone. So many folks will opt as well to just call our office and get scheduled for that intro call as well. So I just want to make sure folks know you don't have to go through the website. That's probably the preferred method, but you can absolutely call our office and they'll take care of you in that process as well.

The other thing we talked about the onboarding process—and now we want to get into the ongoing process. The onboarding process is truthfully in my mind, not only been designed for success for a new relationship, but it's really been designed too around that ongoing process.

So we want to make sure we onboard you so that you fit well into our ongoing process. And we also want to make sure that you're onboarding—no offense—you're very important as a prospect. We do want new clients, but we put our existing clients ahead of prospects. So we will not allow that onboarding process to interfere with the ongoing process.

And we'd like that because how many times have you been frustrated when you see the commercial that says, “Hey, you want to switch to Verizon? If you're a new customer, you get this deal. But if you're existing, you can get in the back of the line.”

We take a different approach here. Ongoing clients get priority. We want new clients as well, and we want it to be a wonderful experience for you. And hopefully everybody can take comfort in knowing that once you're that ongoing client, you're front of the line. That's who we put first.

John Mason: So our process for success for our audience is—the onboarding, beginning a new client, that's one thing. Then we move into maintenance phase or that ongoing relationship. And it's really like three or four touchpoints almost every year. And some clients, to get our full service, you have to have engagement and buy-in as well.

So for example, in quarter one, January through March, that's when we have clients send us tax returns. That's when we're able to review things before they're e-filed or communicate with the CPA. So January through March—very tax-heavy. This is also the time where we bring on new client relationships. Then we move into quarter two, April, May, June. That's a dedicated time where we meet with all of our clients for a strategic planning meeting, which the goal of that is to generate more work for both us and for our clients. Forward-looking strategy action meeting.

Then quarter three is implementation from those actions. And then quarter four, we typically wrap up with end-of-year tax planning. So that ongoing relationship doesn't really look the same for everybody, but the ones who are super engaged typically have those three or four touchpoints throughout the year.

We also have some clients who, frankly, one meeting is enough and they don't want to see us more than that or talk to us more than that. And that's okay too. I think we tend to probably like two to three touchpoints throughout the year, but that process for success does a couple of things. One, it gets all of our clients on the same service calendar. And then two, like Tommy was saying, is it protects our clients because we really only bring on new relationships in the first quarter to middle to end of third quarter—is when we're bringing on new folks because we're focused on end-of-year tax planning and strategic planning meetings on the other times.

So as we think about that, guys, I went to the gym the other day and we did a social media post on this, and it's January 11th now. I think I went to the gym five days ago. It was a Saturday and I went to two gyms—Onelife—locally. And of course, it's New Year's resolution. And the entire parking lot is full. Not one parking spot. I have a big truck. Maybe there was one spot, but it was for like a smart car, right? So I was like, “I'm not doing that.”

And so then I went to gym number two. Same thing, completely full. And I was like, “I'm just going home.” And I did a stationary bike. And what occurred to me as I was doing that social media post the following day was all of these people who are doing their New Year's resolution, the majority of them are going to fail.

And what I mean by fail is it's really easy to get started. It's really easy to sign up for $39.99. It's really easy to go one time. But then it gets pretty overwhelming. Because one, it's crowded. Two, there's a lot of gym equipment. Three, we're sore. Four, we don't really know what we're doing. And after a little bit, after we've onboarded with the gym, it's pretty hard to stay in maintenance phase, isn't it, Ben?

Ben Raikes: It's hard. It's one of those things that everyone seems to have on their checklist. And then they kind of check it off, and then they forget about it. To all the things that you mentioned, I'm sore, maybe it cost too much money, there's too many people there now, there's a ton of reasons to not stick with that plan.

But again, if, we're comparing that process of signing up to the gym to what we do, that is completely different. Not only because we're going to have touchpoints of you two, three, four times a year, but part of what we do is forward-looking. So we're not just reviewing what your investments did last year. We're not just looking at your tax return and recording everything that happened last year. We're doing tax planning, we're seeing what is going to happen throughout the rest of this year that we can plan for now to make that tax burden easier. We're looking at your entire financial plan and saying, “Hey, here's the thoughts and ideas that we have of things that we can accomplish to make things easier.”

If you would compare it, it's versus—I think, John, the point you made when you made that post is if you just go to the gym by yourself each and every single day, the chance of success you have of continuing to do that is very low. But if you hire a personal trainer and that person is calling you at 5:30 in the morning and saying, “Hey man, here's your goals. Get your butt up, let's go,” and you're also paying that person to do that for you, your success chance is going to be so much higher because someone's holding you accountable.

And that's really kind of what our meeting schedule does at Mason & Associates. And that's what we do when we have those forward-looking recommendations in your plan rather than just saying, “Hey, here's what your investments have done last year.”

John Mason: It was just so eyeopening to me as I thought about it, Ben, because it's like, I've been going to the gym once to three times a week for about two years now. And it's frustrating to me because I don't have a plan. It's frustrating to me because I do the same exercises every time. It's frustrating to me because when I'm bench pressing or squatting or do whatever I'm doing, I don't know if I'm uneven. I don't know if I'm hurting myself.

I'm doing the best I can, but I really don't have anybody actively supervising me. I don't have any goals. I don't have a plan. I'm not changing up the routine. I feel like generally speaking, other than the endorphins, I don't know how much benefit I'm actually getting from going.

And I imagine that's why a lot of people fail on their exercise plan. And I think the analogy to a financial plan is it's really easy to transfer assets. It's really easy to onboard with a new financial planner, but like, “What are your goals? Where are we? What are we planning for?”

If your financial planning meetings are, “Did we beat or lose the S&P 500 last year?” That's not a plan. That's like jumping on the elliptical and having no idea what you're doing, right? And we need to be forward-looking. We need to have a fundamental understanding of goals so that we can coach, mentor, and be there for clients so we can actually achieve something. And I think so many New Year's resolutions go by the wayside because we don't know what we're planning for.

And Tommy, this is a classic example of investment rate of return. “What rate of return do we need in an investment portfolio?” Well, we need a rate of return that accomplishes your goals. We don't need 10. We don't need 4. We don't need 20. We need whatever number actually accomplishes the goals, which is you not running out of money before you pass away.

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah, let's put a plan in place and let's understand what it is we're trying to accomplish here, and that dictates everything, which a classic example there is we get folks who—we talked about this process. Sometimes you have to be on a waiting list until the window opens up for us to begin the process, the new client process, with you. And sometimes folks will say, “What should I do with this investment?”

We'll try to walk a fine line usually in giving you some thought around, “Let's not do damage until we get together” is usually the answer. Like, “What's a conservative approach here until we can really dive into it?” But ultimately, we can't give you advice until we've put a plan in place and the plan is not just “What are my goals?” and as simple as what rate of return was, “What am I comfortable with and what's my tax plan here?”

Because ultimately that impacts all of these rate of return assumptions. So we got to get away from just like planning in a vacuum or just one subject. It's we got to zoom out, have an entire holistic plan here, which I guess is similar to the working out analogy we've been using here And I thought I've heard a podcast the other day where they were talking about health stuff and there was science. We have that at Mason & Associates where, “What is the math? What is the research? What does our own experience tell us?”

So we rely on all that. Also, is it something we're going to follow through with? Because if we don't enjoy it, it's not a winner. I think that's the same thing with working hours. It's like, “Man, don't go do CrossFit if you're going to hate it because science says it works, but if it's not for you, it's never going to work.” So the planning process needs to be designed with all of these things ultimately being about you and what's going to work for you.

Ben Raikes: And I think it's, it's our job too as advisors. I think John, again, going back to the workout scenario, “I'm getting on the elliptical. Am I doing the right thing? I'm squatting, but am I actually hurting myself when I'm doing it?”

I'm trying to think of the statistic now that essentially says—I'm going to make it up—if you write your goals down, you're something like 50% more likely to accomplish them than if you just have a goal floating on the top of your mind.

And so that's a big part of that initial meeting process that we have with our clients is here's a fact finder that's six pages long, and it's going to ask you 20 questions about “What are your goals? What are your wants? What are your desires? What's a high priority for you? What's a mid-level? What's a low?” And here's a whole note section where you can tell us more about your lives.

That process. with that fact finder in place ahead of time is so much more valuable, not necessarily because it helps us, but because it helps our clients to not come into a meeting cold and we say, “Well, what would you like to accomplish? And they say, “Well, let me think about it. I know I want to retire in five years.”

It's really setting the stage for them to be thoughtful and intentional about us and to help us jointly have a good conversation. But it's as important for them as it is for us to have that information.

John Mason: I agree. And I think we will actually get to the topic.

Tommy Blackburn: I was going to say we’re supposed to get to the agenda.

John Mason: Yeah. So I really do think we'll talk about the three times that you can add value around a financial planning meeting. But we just have to continue to go down this analogy of the workout because, Tommy, you spurred something in my mind, which is like, the financial plan has to be actionable and relatable, right?

If it's not something like the best diet in the world that you can't live by is a useless diet, a financial plan that tells you, you need to do all of these things that we can't stomach, the risk profiler. We can’t do those Roth conversions, or we don't have the capacity because we're taking care of a grandparent and a child at the same time.

If it's not actionable and relatable, it's a useless financial plan, just like a diet or an exercise program that you can't stick to. And then further, this is crazy. So one-time financial plans are generally worthless. Maybe it gives you a little bit of an endorphin kick or a direction. Maybe it gives you a direction.

Yeah. So it gives you that endorphin kick or that direction to say, “Okay, things aren't as bad as what I thought they were.” But a one-time financial plan is similar to me going to find a personal trainer who doesn't ask me anything about my goals. Let me take that back.

I tell a personal trainer, “I want to get here.” And he says, “Okay, that's great. Go bench 135 pounds today. And whenever you can get to it, you should probably bench 300.” That's going to take a long time. And if I'm only getting a one-time financial plan or a one-time workout plan, it's kind of similar to saying you can bench 135 today. If you do all these steps over 10 or 15 years, maybe you'll get here.

Well, it's much more actionable and relatable if I meet with a personal trainer or financial planner. And we take off a goal, like bench 155, bench 185, change up the workout, go high rep, go low rep. “What's my tax plan?” So it's much more relatable if you can tick things off along the way. And my fear with these one-time plans or an advisor who doesn't demonstrate ongoing value Is you got this like beautiful sexy, you're going to look like He-Man at the end of the day, financial plan.

But if we're not actually engaging in real talk every single year and continuing to move the needle, the chance of you having a great financial plan or having the physical attributes that you hope to have through your workout program just aren't going to happen.

Tommy Blackburn: It's all about personalization and a financial plan. That probability of success of being able to evolve and be flexible, that is a good, solid plan when we know this doesn't have to be perfect in this moment in time. We're going to come in and make adjustments. Maybe the goals change just like you and you're working out. Those could change.

It's like, I said I wanted to bench 300, but really I just want to be in pretty good shape and live to a hundred now. And so maybe all of a sudden, like what I need to be doing is different or that exercise is not working. So that's an ongoing personal relationship. And I think about recent examples of, we have a lot with clients and I know we want to get to the meeting agenda process. Hopefully we'll get there.

One is that permission to spend money. We've all had it when a client's like, “I want to go buy this expensive RV or this vacation home. I know it's a bad financial decision, Mason & Associates. Can your plan support this?”

Usually, it can. That's what's important—maximizing financial resources at the end of the day. Just to die with the most money is not the goal here. So we need to take a step back. Another one, I am historically a big fan of keeping a mortgage, particularly for the background of many of our clients who have strong, guaranteed income. That's coming from a world where we had 3% rates, 2.5% mortgage rates.

And I had a client reach out recently who said, “I know I have a 2.5% mortgage rate and I know that mathematically. I should hold on to this thing, but I really think I'd like to come up with a strategy to pay it off because that would just give me a bigger peace of mind.”

I said, “That's great. There's nothing wrong with paying that mortgage off.” That is not a bad answer. Sure, in theory, mathematically, we'd be better off keeping the mortgage. We've talked about it. You're informed. This is what you want to do. My wheels are spinning. Here's how we're going to take distributions. Here's how we're going to manage the taxes to get that mortgage paid off. And that to me has to be something that you want. If I just said, “Nope, you're never going to pay that mortgage off. Cause I don't believe you should,” well, this relationship's not going to work.

John Mason: Well, I think what sticks out to me, Tommy, is what do I need to do today to be able to do this in the future? Whether that's pay off the mortgage in a certain amount of time, or as your goals change in a financial plan, from maybe beating the S&P 500 to just having a comfortable retirement lifestyle. Your goals change over time.

And yes, I'm on a health kick right now. And one of the things I've been reading about is the 100-year-old decathlon. And it's like, “Well, at 100 years old, what are the 10 things that I want to be able to do? Get myself up off the floor, be able to go up a flight of stairs, pick up my great-grandchild. So like, what do I need to be able to do at 35, 45, 55, 65, to be able to do all the things that I want to do in the future?

And that's the same thing that we're doing with our clients. What are the actions that we need to do today so we can be able to do all this tomorrow? And then the opposite of that is sometimes people are so good that we can actually stop making those deposits today.

Maybe we only need to go to the gym three days a week instead of five because we're that far ahead of the game and we're already on track to hit all those goals. So let's, pivot to the three times that we can add value around a strategic planning meeting, which is our big engagement with all of our clients throughout the year.

The summary here is you can add value three times the beginning, the middle, and the end. So there are three times where you can add value. Ben, why don't you share with our audience how we can add value before a strategic planning or financial planning meeting?

Ben Raikes: I think it goes kind of back to what we had talked about before, where it's making sure that we have a process where we're sending an agenda back and forth. And when we send that agenda to you, we are going to ask you questions. “What is important to you this year?” I know we talked about last year, preparing to send your kids to college, or I know Tommy, maybe we talked about the pros and cons of paying off your mortgage. Is that still something that you want to do?

We also hit on your investments. I'll be prepared to have a full report ready to go, if you would like to discuss this. I think it's kind of getting those gears churning, getting the wheels turning and making sure that we're prepared to have the most successful conversation possible rather than, again, showing up and saying, “Hey guys, what's going on? It's good to see you again.”

And so I think certainly that agenda process in advance of the meeting is where we add a ton of value before, again, cause we're making sure that we're staying on the top of your mind and that you are staying on top of your goals by just reaching out in advance and really try to figure those things out.

John Mason: Other things that we do before a client meeting is, one, we have this interactive agenda process that kicks off roughly 14 days in advance of a client meeting—we have like a hundred and ten point checklist that we do internally. So we actually prepare for client meetings so that when we sit down with a client, either in person or virtual, we actually know who they are as people.

We actually know what their goals are and what they're trying. We're not coming in blind or cold to this. We are prepared and we've gone through an internal checklist to prepare for each meeting. Clients don't need to see that, but we do it internally.

And the other thing that we do, Tommy—requesting docents from clients is not a sales pitch. It's how you add value. So when we onboard a new client, we have a variety of documents that we request from them. And every year we make them go through the same hassle of uploading new stuff, don't we?

Tommy Blackburn: We do. To the extent we don't already have ready access to that information. And it's all part of this prep on the beginning as you both are saying so that we can be the experts. We're going back to our notes. We're going back through what's important. Give me the most updated information. I'm making analysis and I'm relating it back to what did we all say we wanted to accomplish here. And just based on my experience and my expertise and where we are in life and these goals, I know now. Here are the things that we need to talk about whether I'm noticing things in those documents. We need to address if there's life events coming up something based around those goals. We need to talk about. Distill it down.

So we're trying to make it efficient. Unfortunately, we don't have access to everything, so we do have to request certain information and clients are pretty good about getting that to us efficiently. We're gonna do that expert, that efficiency—distill it down. Here's the four or five things coming into this meeting that I can see based on everything I knew and everything I just digested I think we should probably talk about.

Here's five other bullet points for you to tell me if you have other things you think we need to talk about. Your five are going to rise to the top. Usually what we find is we're pretty aligned once we put those out there and, yeah, this is probably what we need to talk about.

So it's allowed us to do our analysis in the beginning. We show up to the meeting and we're ready to talk about these things and deliver value on those objects, but because we're already prepared in the meeting, we're ready to segue bob and weave with whatever else comes because we've already covered our bases on those. So if life has happened, we're now able to really give it our full attention with whatever kind of curve ball comes out of that meeting.

John Mason: For our audience, I think we can safely say if you're vetting a financial planning firm to determine “are they going to be able to provide ongoing value, or do they just want to manage my money or charge a fee?” is the quality of the documents that they're asking for, as well as their ability and demonstrating that they actually review them.

So we ask for these documents every year. We asked for a lot more than just investment statements. We asked for trust. We asked for mortgage statements, bank account balances, insurance policies, and we actually review them. And then we asked for updated stuff because, let's face it, you can only do so much the first year you've engaged with a client.

So maybe we forgot to ask an important question in year one. Maybe we forgot to ask an important question in year five. So I wrote down not only do we continue asking for these documents, we continue asking questions because as the relationship evolves, we get more comfortable with our clients, which means they're more likely to divulge information that they weren't in years one, two, and three. So we have to continue to ask good questions. We have to continue to be prepared. We have to continue to review, one, because we're not perfect, but two, maybe we didn't ever get all of the information to begin with.

Tommy Blackburn: I realized we were kind of going down different rabbit holes, but I think it's the same. It's applying this thought process and how we approach our clients to what we experience quite frequently in our personal lives. And particularly as we run Mason & Associates, I'm thinking about some interactions we've had with vendors of ours, where it couldn't be further from the truth what the process is.

We show up to the meeting because they want to have the annual meeting. It's like, you've done no prep work when I show up to this meeting. You don't remember what we talked about last time. You don't seem to remember what it is I want to accomplish. And we're just winging this entire meeting and it's not valuable. And it's probably easier for us to identify because we run our client meetings so differently. It's very apparent when somebody has not prepared for a meeting.

John Mason: Well, that takes us right into the next time that you can add value during a financial planning meeting is during the meeting, right? So you can add value before the meeting by doing the agenda and being prepared. And then Ben, when we show up to the meeting, we're ready to deliver the boom, which is a world class client experience.

Ben Raikes: I think it's all about delivering that boom and, again, it's hard because it's part of the entire process, and the middle process when we meet together is all about us taking the agenda that we've developed together.

It's taking everything that we know about you from working for years together, and it's not just describing it so that it sounds good to us. It's relaying these advice and the recommendations and the plan that we give you so that it makes sense to you and that you understand it.

Us three can talk about RMDs, QCDs, we can talk about Tax Code, Secure Act 1.0 and 2.0, and the CARES Act, and we can internally talk at a very detailed level about all these things. But the client doesn't care about the specific provision in Secure Act 2.0 that's going to change their RMD. They don't care about the CARES Act and the Advanced Child Tax Credit that's coming up this year.

What they want to know is that we know about it and how does that impact your plan, plus all the things that are specific to them that we've already identified at this meeting. I really, really like John and Tommy that we call these Strategic Planning Meetings rather than Annual Reviews. Annual review just sounds to me like, “Hey, here's what we did last year. Here's how your investments did. We were a little bit below or behind the S&P 500.”

You can see that by looking at your own statement. You need to go to an advisor that's well and ready and equipped for the meeting that's presenting you general information that applies to you as well as the details of everything that we've discussed in the past.

John Mason: There's no value if we're always looking backwards. There has to be some sort of metric to determine success. There has to be some sort of metric to make sure we're on progress, but we shouldn't be looking in the rearview mirror. We should be looking out the windshield going forward, figuring out where we're going to go next.

So because we add value before the meeting, we're more prepared. We've done our research. We come in hot instead of coming in cold, not meaning we come in too intense, but we come in ready, which allows us to listen, which allows us to be more prepared, which allows us to ask those hard questions, which allows us to pivot.

And most importantly, this is our client's time to have a great meeting with us. So we always tend to say something along the lines of “Mr. and Mrs. Jones, this is your time. And I know we have this agenda and we're prepared with value adds and we're prepared with ways to add value to your financial plan.”

But none of that matters. And if there's something hot on your mind that you want to make sure we talk about today. And that could be a parent just fell or a kid's about to go off to college or they had a bad day at work and now they want to retire faster. Like who knows what those events could be that just completely scraps the agenda and because we're prepared, we can pivot. If you're not prepared, Tommy to your point, you can't deliver the boom.

And if you are going to deliver the boom when you're not prepared, it's going to take you two, three, or four times longer because you're going to be preparing while you're meeting with them rather than being prepared in advance. So I think you can tell a lot about vendors and financial planners or anybody just based on their process for success.

And then lastly, where we get to add value as the post-meeting, which we, at the end of our client meeting, send a summary email. We take an hour meeting and we distill it down to bullet points of actionable advice. And it's client to do, advisor to do outstanding request. And we have this template of what we need to do when it's going to get done and who's responsible for it.

So you take an hour meeting that covers a lot, frankly, distill it into five to 10 bullet points of actionable advice to continue moving the needle. Remember, support, empower, educate, motivate not only our listeners, but our clients to make a change. It is not helpful to have an hour meeting that results in zero action. That is a useless meeting, other than maybe they feel good and maybe they continue paying us for another year.

But if we're not motivating change, if we're not taking action, then we are not—And maybe I'm being a little too harsh because sometimes not taking action is also an action, right? Like we don't want to panic because the market's going down.

But we should have actionable advice that come out of these meetings and we should be able to distill that down to our clients on what they need to do. And then very importantly, we are the implementers along with our clients to help them implement that good advice because a good idea that's not implemented is also pretty useless.

Tommy Blackburn: I think that's pretty well said, John. I don't know if I have a whole lot more to add on that summary process other than we distill it down. I think that's really a good part of our value is just distilling things down so that it's digestible. and actionable. That's what you'll get at the end of the meeting.

Sometimes some clients want to see the entire playbook for the next 30 years, and we've already got that. So we'll include that as an attachment if they want to take a look just because they like flipping to the end. But for most people, it's what needs to happen now. We're going to create tasks to ourselves for things we can either handle 100% ourselves. Or times to reach out to get these actions implemented.

As you said, sometimes we do hit points in life where the action is to just stick with the plan and there's not necessarily new changing actions that are going to come out of this, but let's continue to monitor.

And another big value is we're here. Ken's got his story about NASA. When you go up to the moon, NASA's already done all of the work, the calculations, put everything together before that rocket ever takes off. But you don't abandon NASA and all your engineers once the rocket takes off, right? Because you know life is going to happen.

That's the other value of the relationship—is being able to bob and weave as laws change, as life changes, we're here, we know you, we've already got a plan in place that's able to go a hundred different directions if we need to. So that's really the value of all of that.

Ben Raikes: The best thing I like from that, John, is when you said “actionable advice.” And I think even more than that, it's specific actionable advice. So it's not just, “Hey, you need to increase your tax withholding.” It's “You need to increase your tax withholding by $250 per pay period. Here's how you go to OPM and do it.”

It's not just, you should consider donating more money to charity. It's, “Hey, here's how a donor-advised fund works. Let's schedule a meeting to open up that fund at Vanguard or Fidelity or whatever it may be. And here's how we're going to specifically fund that.” We don't just say, “Hey, that's a great meeting. We've got some general recommendations and you guys should really get to those over the next couple of months.”

I mean, we are truly taking the client's hand and walking them through. Here's how you do all of these things, which to me, I think it's got to be tremendously beneficial. So you've got to be prepared for the meeting. You've got to deliver it in a way that the client can understand and act on it. And then two, and then three, you've got to help them through that process. You don't just throw them to the wolves.

Tommy Blackburn: Well, you have to know how to do it, right? That really shows that you are the expert. Cause I've been thinking a lot about it recently. Sometimes we talk about fiduciaries around here and how folks really aren't fiduciaries cause they don't know what they're doing.

Sometimes, I think, a lot of times, to like tax planning stuff, it's like, “Man, there's so many advisors out there who claim to be tax planning experts, advisors, and like, they don't know the first thing about a tax form.” It's like, how can you give advice? You've never done a Roth conversion. How can you give advice? You've never managed capital gains.

You're just speaking. You're not implementing. You're not knowledgeable and truly executionable on these things. It’s knowing how to execute. John has his analogy. “I'll let him do if he hasn't done it already.” But it made me think about—we're educators.

And there's a quote, I don't remember who it was from, but it was, “The purpose of education is not knowledge, it's action.” And I think that's essentially everything. And sometimes that action is no action, but that is the purpose behind all of this.

John Mason: Well, guys, as we wrap up this episode of the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, there was a few big takeaways that I had here, which is, not only do we initiate actionable advice that fixes an immediate problem, we have actionable advice that fixes a future problem.

And then your withholding example I think was “change this now.” But then it's also like in December, change it to this because what we're recommending now is going to upset the applecart in 2025. So it's actually two, three, or four recommendations for every one recommendation sometimes. So some of the actions here for our audience would be like hire a coach, whether it's a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a financial planner.

If you're looking to improve some aspect of your life, hire a coach. Because all of these, they're not forever decisions. If you hire Mason & Associates, it's a day by day decision on whether or not you want to continue to hire us as your financial planner, just like that nutritionist, just as that personal trainer.

Demand excellence around everybody that you're paying. If you're paying a chef, the meals better be good. If you're paying a financial planner, they better show up prepared. So demand excellence. Understand what the process for success is in every aspect of your life. Again, all of these coaches should be able to show you the process for success and how they're going to help you achieve your goals.

And remember, financial planning is about being forward-looking, not looking in the rearview mirror. So, so many great actions. Tommy, Ben, thank you for another great episode of this podcast. Remember, things are what they seem at Mason & Associates. We're here to support, empower, educate, and motivate our listeners, our audience, our clients to make positive changes in our financial plans.

Thank you for being a part of this podcast. Thank you for continuing to listen. We love producing this. We're financial planners first. We do this second. We are Mason & Associates. . 757-223-9898. Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast. We'll see you on the next episode where we talk more specifically about strategic planning meetings. We'll see you next time.

The topics discussed on this podcast represent our best understanding of federal benefits and are for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as investment, financial planning, or other professional advice.

We encourage you to consult with the office of personnel management and one or more professional advisors before taking any action based on the information presented.