See that Morgan Stanley commercial with the three people sitting on a sand dune and one of the men is discussing how by simply shifting some things in a portfolio, he can make the couple's dream of building a home on this site become a reality? It makes a very good point: goals are vital to a financial planner's worth.

You've heard it often enough: There are financial planners and then there are financial planners. In my present position, I have met most of the elite financial planners in this country, whether through the AICPA or the Financial Planning Association. And, I have met many pretenders. The people "at the top," so to speak, know exactly what is involved in rendering such services; those who are not as clued-in tend to simply look at figures. "Tell me how much you have in income, what you've saved, and what your expenses are, and then I'll tell you how set or not set you are for retirement." Talk about missing the boat.

This all came to light when a well-respected financial institution offered to put together a financial plan for me, gratis. They sent me a 12-page booklet that required me to list every possible asset, debt, et al. It was simply a numbers game with nothing else attached. Yep, you get what you pay for.

Should there be more than just numbers? You're darn tooting!

Let me cite a recent example. I am holding in my hands what is known as "A Green Paper," which comes out of the University of Oxford (my graduate school) and deals with Oxford's Academic Strategy. It was completed last month. It is a 16-page document, single-spaced, two columns of 12-point type to a page, and no artwork. The way the Oxonians went about this deserves more than a second look, and probably would serve as a pretty good model for financial planners.

The paper is divided into three sections. The first lists Oxford's objectives. It sets them forth in very specific terms: what it wants to do, whether it is to make significant contributions to society and in what way, to attracting, developing, and retaining academic staff of the highest international caliber. It tells the reader exactly what is required to meet those objectives.

The second part deals with the current performance of the university, broken down into staff, students, facilities and services, research output, learning, external output, funding, organization, and external environment.

And finally, the third part, which deals with specific strategy proposals in research, teaching, size and shape, personnel, admissions services, finance, planning and management, and external relations.

The reader comes away with a complete and clear understanding of what Oxford is all about.

This is necessary in financial planning. You can ask me what my assets and debts are but do query me as to: What would I like to do? What are my goals? When do I want to pack it in? Where do I want to live? What kind of lifestyle?  The financial planner needs to get under the epidermis of the client to do the best job possible. It's not all numbers. Oxford recognizes this in its superb green paper. Perhaps financial planners might just learn a bit by seeing what a global superstar does. It wouldn't hurt.

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