Financial Planning Process Steps

The Power of a 4-Step Financial Planning Process

Published in Blog |

In a recent Bucket Plan podcast episode, Dave Alison and Jason L Smith sat down to discuss the power of having a well-documented and proven process for financial planning, as well as the ways they’ve experienced success with their own 4-step process for both their business and their clients.

Having a successful process starts with considering your own experiences and successes and then documenting them into a repeatable system that will help make your business run more efficiently. A documented process, with a name and clearly defined steps, not only differentiates your business from other advisors’ businesses, it also helps your clients understand their path and the progress they’re going to make as you take them through your financial planning process. Jason and Dave go on to discuss their own experiences arriving at what ultimately became the Bucket Plan process. They also offer practical advice around why you should document your process, what the infrastructure of a process looks like, and how the 4-step infrastructure has worked for them.

Monetizing Your Wisdom

It was about 14 years ago at Jason’s first Top of the Table conference that he joined Strategic Coach and was introduced to the idea of the unique process. Jason further explains this concept:

“So, you’re a rugged individualist, meaning that you’ve worked your way to a certain level of success, and what you’re doing is really successful. Now what you need to do, is you need to document it, you need to name it and you need to monetize your time to take people through the process by charging for the process, not just for the products or portfolios that you’re selling.”

For Jason, at the time, this was an epiphany, and he began building his own process based on his experiences. He recalled first starting out in the business, he was taught the one-meeting close – if someone didn’t buy on the spot, then you should just tear up that lead and call it a day. Through his progression in the industry, however, Jason came to realize that it’s actually better to start building the relationship in that first meeting, and then come back with a second meeting to make recommendations.

When Jason started doing this, he noticed his closing ratio begin to increase. As he continued to progress towards implementing a holistic approach to advising, his second meeting then evolved into a time for gathering all of the important information and data he could on the prospect – all their financial statements, their tax returns, beneficiaries, asset titling, etc. He started using that second meeting to just get all the assets and details on the table.

“I continued to build upon the relationship with that prospect in the second meeting. Then I would come back in the third meeting and make recommendations, and boom, all of a sudden, it removed many of the traditional “sales” obstacles. What I would hear through the process was my prospects asking, ‘What do I owe you for this? I have to pay you something, you can’t be providing all of this for free.’” With the proven repeatable process we have built today, we can confidently tell them exactly what the cost will be to go through the process and eliminate the feeling that I need to sell them something or they need to buy something in order to invest the time with each other.

The Importance of Infrastructure

The value of having a process is more commonly understood now than it was 14 years ago. However, while a lot of people claim to have a process, many are still missing the proper infrastructure. People may have a name for their process, and they may even have names the steps of their process, but they are still missing critical elements like scripts, checklists, letter templates, email templates, all prepackaged so that it is truly a system. Having the right formal infrastructure in place helps immensely. It is key not only to creating a self-managing business that can run with or without you, but also in preparing for unexpected situations like the virtual world in which we are currently doing business. It is much easier to transition your sales process from in-person to virtual if the entire system is already documented and organized.

For Jason, a proven process also made it easier to train advisors and staff, as well as to hire the right advisors to begin with. Everyone in the office understands and is running the same process, and all of it is tracked in the CRM. Everything is systematized so that everybody knows what step the client is in, who does what and what pre-appointment and post-appointment work needs to be completed. What ends up happening is that this system marries together your office’s frontstage – what the clients sees – with its backstage – everything that’s done to create the unique experience for the frontstage. All the back-office workflows are seamlessly feeding the frontend client experience, and every step supports the next step.

“So, the efficiency is incredible. I liken it to a Starbucks, right? It’s like a well-oiled machine. It doesn’t matter what franchise you go to, you’re going to get a little bit different attitude from the different people that are giving you your latte… but at the end of the day the quality of your product that you’re getting is going to be pretty similar. The overall experience is very similar. And that’s what we’ve seen in our advisors and our practice. It’s very systematized.”

The efficiency of the system has also given Jason the ability over the years to offload his C- and B-list clients to his other advisors – as well as even some of his A-list clients to his second chair advisor – because he knows the system will ensure the exact same experience. It’s added that same efficiency to his freedom of time, because he can confidently pass on the obligations to the other advisors that he’s brought on to mentor, so he can focus on more opportunities.

“You know, there’s really only two things we have to do as financial advisors in this industry, and its obligations and opportunities. And the key is systematizing everything. You can automate the obligations so you can free up your time to focus on the opportunities.”

Why Four Steps?

The simpler you can make your process, the easier it will be to follow and to sell. This is the 4-step process Jason and Dave use:

  1. Discover: discover where the client is now
  2. Design: design where the client wants to go
  3. Deliver: deliver the client’s holistic plan
  4. Dedicate: dedicated ongoing service and support

Further explained, step one is generally a complimentary consultation to learn all about the prospect, for them to learn about you, for you to identify what’s most important to the client – their concerns and priorities, their resources, what planning they’ve done – and to help them understand the services that your firm offers.

Step two, the design meeting, is where you start crunching the numbers. This is where you would analyze cash flow and taxes, income needs in retirement, income sources in retirement, and what gaps they’re going to have. Step two involves a lot of data and analytics, which will ultimately provide you all the info to build their plan for step 3.

In Step three, you deliver the customized bucket plan you’ve designed for your client, and you make sure they understand it, that they’re comfortable with it, and that you share the strategies, recommendations, and ultimately the path to implementation.

Step four, then, is the dedicated service and support model. Because you’re going to be with that client now every step of the way, as their life unfolds and their needs change. Step four is where you’re going behind the scenes, on your end, and continuing to provide proactive tax planning, investment management and income planning, and where you’ll be looking out in the future, getting ahead of changes and opportunities, to see how you can continue to better the client’s personal situation. It is really the annual review process, but fully built out to create a unique experience to deliver ongoing value to your client.

Perhaps the biggest reason clients don’t move forward with an advisor is uncertainty. With a simple, 4-step process, however, clients are able to understand and also see where they are and what is next through every step of their journey with you. It brings a lot of certainty, which makes it easier for them to say yes to moving forward.


Having a named process can be a huge differentiator for competing against other business and getting clients to move forward with you. When prospects are interviewing with multiple firms, they are going to hear a lot of advisors give them the same pitch – just the list of services they provide and planning areas they focus on. By having a process and having it properly systematized, you can stand out from these other advisors by describing your process.

This might sound something like, “Well over the last 14 years we’ve built and refined a process that helps bring complete certainty and all the pieces of a holistic financial planning puzzle together for our clients. We call it the Bucket Plan, and it’s our 4-step process for how we build a comprehensive plan for you.”

Think about the power of being able to provide your prospects with that level of clarity around your services, and being able to communicate and articulate that, whether it’s in a virtual seminar or eventually a live seminar, workshop or an introductory call.

To learn more about the power of a 4-step process, click here to listen to the podcast.