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The Game-Changing Difference That Intention Makes In Financial Planning

Akiva ben Yosef was an influential first century rabbi, living in Roman territory, who inspired many followers. He has a lesson to teach us that is just as pertinent today as it was 2,000 years ago, and especially applicable within the context of financial life planning. 

As legend would have it, Rabbi Akiva was journeying homeward to Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilee, enrapt in his study of a particular passage of Scripture as he journeyed. In perhaps the first recorded instance of the multitasking fallacy, he made a wrong turn—a very wrong turn that led him to the front of a Roman fortress, where he was startled by a guard at the front gate who demanded answers to two questions:

“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Shaken from his meditation, Rabbi Akiva asked the Roman guard to repeat himself.

“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

But upon reflection, the answer from Rabbi Akiva was delivered in the form of a question:

“How much are you paid weekly to ask those two questions?”

Now it was the guard who was taken aback, but he mustered the response, “Two drachmas.”

“Very well, then,” Rabbi Akiva responded, “I’ll pay you twice that much if you would join my employ and ask me those two questions every morning.”

I believe these are two questions that don’t get asked enough, yes in matters of life that might seem to fall into the realm of the philosophical or spiritual, but also in more seemingly quantitative and practical pursuits, like financial planning. And it’s a shame, because I believe that it is answers to questions like these that really give financial planning meaning and purpose and the necessary traction for idea to become action.

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The missing ingredient in most financial planning is intention, the catalyst and driver of plans that are not only successful, by the measure of having been completed, but more importantly, meaningful.

Who, What, How

There is a personal and executive coaching model that is as simple as it is effective, called the Who, What, How method. Step one is understanding who you are (or with whom you are working). Interestingly, most of us answer the question, “Who are you?”, what we do for a living, what we have, and how we spend our time. But the who question is really more about what makes you uniquely you—your vision, your worldview, your values.

Please note, then, that “What are you doing?” is a different question than “What are you doing here?” I think both are useful—the first gives you a lens through which to confirm that whatyou are doing is in alignment with who you are as a person. (There is often a surprising amount of dissonance between the two.) But the latter speaks more to your purpose, the goals or “big rocks,” the activating force behind your vision.

With clarity around Who and What, How, while not necessarily easy, can become surprisingly simple. How is process, strategy, tactics, and to-dos that bring your goals grounded in your vision to life.

Intention-Powered Financial Planning

The missing ingredient in most financial planning—and likely the reason that most financial plans fail—is intention. Too many of us are pursuing other people’s Whats because we haven’t sufficiently explored our Whos. For example, you might read an article in a reputable financial publication that suggests you need $2.5 million dollars to retire comfortably, so you set yourself to doing so. But why?

Having $2.5 million dollars isn’t an intention. “Downsizing in a lower cost-of-living area that is equidistant between our two adult children and five grandkids”—now that is an intention, powered by a vision that values generational legacy. That’s an empowered plan around which a host of Hows can be crafted. Maybe it’ll take $2.5 million; maybe it’ll take less; maybe it’ll take more.

Similarly, financial advisors tend to focus too much on the Hows without sufficient exploration of Whos and Whats. Too many have mastered the financial strategies and tactics to meet goals that, too often, are of their own making or that of their company’s, or worse yet, driven by their compensation structures or the financial products with which they are most familiar.  

The best part about all of this is that intention isn’t particularly hard to explore or articulate. It just requires, well, intention. In addition to the Who, What, How method, there are many other coaching methodologies that can be ably applied by financial planners with the appropriate training. Furthermore, there are thought leaders who’ve dedicated their Whos, Whats, and Hows to teaching financial advisors how to help clients identify their intentions, like the Kinder Institute and Money Quotient, and there are also a growing number of advisory firms who specialize in the work of intention uncovering. 

The addition of intention exploration and articulation is a game changer. It brings planning to life and meaning to money while increasing the engagement of both clients and advisors. Oh, and it’s a lot more fun, too.

“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” William A. Foster

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