What is value?
How often is it that we, as advisers, sit down with a client who has little or no appreciation of how well they have managed their financial affairs in the past?
I recently saw a couple in their 50's. They called to make their appointment and, while knowing they needed help, stated that they did not wish to waste my time. Quite simply, they wanted to know if they could afford to retire in 10-15 years' time. How often we get asked this question!
Firstly, I needed to know their story.
This couple have two adult children, both now undertaking tertiary studies. Both parents have worked very hard, she as a cleaner, he in equipment sales. Their combined salaries over the years have not left anything over after meeting the family's living costs. They both have superannuation funds with relatively small amounts accumulated and have not been able to save anything for the future. They quite evidently felt they had failed in some way and apologised for wasting my time.
As I explored their story further I found that, on their small combined incomes, this couple had put both their sons through a good private school: they felt that this was an important goal to achieve as this would give the boys a good start for their chosen careers. I then discovered that they also owned their beautiful country property freehold and had no other debt.
Wow! I wanted to know how they had managed this. Of course, it came from denying themselves those little pleasures we all take for granted, such as holidays, eating out, new clothes, and by learning new skills so they could improve their property themselves. And much more.
I told them they should be very proud of their achievement and noted that in fact they had placed themselves in a pretty good position. Ten years out from retirement they have no debt, the work they have done on their property has ensured it has a very high value and now they have 10 years to budget for retirement. Downsizing alone will ensure they have a considerable sum to form the basis of their retirement income needs.
As we discussed these options, they looked at one another in astonishment: this was such a different outcome to what they had expected. They acknowledged to one another for the first time that the hard time they have had has been worth it, that the 'going without' and the wife's careful budgeting had contributed to success, not failure.
This couple came to see me feeling embarrassed about their story. They left feeling proud of their achievements and hungry to learn more and to put into practice what they will learn. I know they will do this so much better with a stronger belief in themselves.
This seems to be such a simple little story, but giving this couple the respect due to their achievements has had results that are so important. This couple now feels stronger about their ability to achieve what they set out to do, and they each have more respect for what their partner has done over the years. This leads of course to a belief that they can plan to succeed. Of course they can, they have done it before in spades!
If I have no other value to offer, I am happy to see that, because of an initial meeting in my office, clients go away saying "I did not expect that, I had no idea we would talk about those things, I feel so much better about myself."
One of the frequently stated reasons investors give for not seeking the advice of a professional is "I would feel embarrassed about my lack of knowledge or my lack of success financially" - how easily we could turn this belief around!