*Funny note: As a finished up writing this, an article called How “Lifestyle Advisors” Can Succeed popped into my email. I can’t make this stuff up!
“Working in the financial industry, I’ve noticed that professional titles that should have distinct meanings get tossed around, intermingled, and used interchangeably. As a result, they’re often misunderstood,” says Joe Allaria of NerdWallet.
As a simple engineering matrix, let’s set two rules. First word must be financial, investment, money, or wealth. Second word must be advisor, planner, consultant, manager, counselor, or coach. (Feel free to bypass the list at your point of annoyance)
Obnoxious, but still manageable. Maybe. Now, let’s add one simple wrinkle. We can add “life” in between as one possible filler word. (Again, please bypass the list at your point of annoyance)
Financial life advisor
Financial life planner
Financial life consultant
Financial life manager
Financial life counselor
Financial life coach
Investment life advisor
Investment life planner
Investment life consultant
Investment life manager
Investment life counselor
Investment life coach
Money life advisor
Money life planner
Money life consultant
Money life manager
Money life counselor
Money life coach
Wealth life advisor
Wealth life planner
Wealth life consultant
Wealth life manager
Wealth life counselor
Wealth life coach
As we see, this creates a whole new slew of naming titles. Maybe some of these are ridiculous. Maybe we’ve missed a few too. You get the point. It’s confusing. Where does it end? How do we make sense of our marketplace options? To invoke the late great coach Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out here?”
MATCHING SKILLS TO SERVICE
We look for options to match our service needs with a professional skillset. All things being equal, the more options, the better. Right? For the most part, yes. In this on-demand economy, the professional appears to be one click away from a meeting. On the one hand, we have many options. On the other hand, too many options can cause us hesitation and inaction. This is referred to as “paralysis by analysis.” We must strike a balance.
It’s not easy. As mentioned, this profession suffers from complexity in this area. In other professions, simplicity reigns. You may struggle to find even a few variations. A dentist is a dentist (maybe an orthodontist or DDS). A doctor is a doctor (maybe a physician or an MD). An engineer is an engineer (yours truly is a recovering one of those!). A nurse is a nurse. You get the point. There isn’t much of a naming variety challenge.
Think about what not to select. This can serve to narrow it down, like “process of elimination” on a multiple choice exam. Certain terms (planner, counselor, coach) may have a much broader appeal and service implication. If you seek solely an investment manager, these may not be a fit. On the flip side, hiring one of these and trying to strip it down to a bare bones investment service is a mismatch of philosophy.
MARKETING AND BRANDING
In the early stages, this confusion is natural as organization and individuals make these determinations. We operate in a time where internet searches, keywords, google analytics, and SEO (search engine optimization) rule. We must represent truth and put our own stakes in the ground. Where do we stand? Who are we representing? In this process, we must avoid the temptation to shift terminology based on popularity or what optimizes our search results. This leads to further confusion and lack of trust.
The link between oversight, organizations, and naming continues to be a work in progress. The FPA (Financial Planning Association) as well as others struggle to find common ground and uniform standards. It’s tough to set expectations. At it’s best, consumers have options. At it’s worst, manipulation of titles is overtly used to confuse. At it’s most entertaining, we can have fun with those awkward elevator speeches. You pop in the elevator:
You: “Oh, hi. So, what do you do?
Them: “Well, I’m a financial life wealth counselor. That means I sit down with clients and listen to their life wealth goals. I, then help them to realize that potential with encouragement, proper action steps, and ongoing monitoring. What do you do?”
You: “I’m an attorney.”
CLOSING THE GAP
There is a shortage of qualified professionals, based on current and projected demand for services. If you don’t believe this, do a search for “shortage of financial planners/advisors.” This profession has tried and is trying to close this gap. The largest gap is among the younger generations, often termed millennials. It takes time to gain experience, education, and credentials to become a qualified professional. The majority of millennials haven’t really had that time yet.
In the end, it’s the work, the service, and the value that matters. The titling confusion can allow some marketing tricks to be played. It can be a shortcut. We have to be on guard for that. Think of the way achievements on a resume can be exaggerated or inflated. The trash man becomes the waste management engineer. It’s funny, but scary when your money is on the line. It can lead to a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” scenario. Imagine, someone is delivering pizzas one month. He/she looks the part, speaks well, and gets recruited by a “financial services” company. After a month or two of corporate sales training, you find yourself in the office of this well-dressed and very personable “wealth advisor.” Is that an equal playing field? Are you aware of this possibility? Does it seem an unlikely scenario? We want to know that positions are qualified, screened, and earned.
There are many titles to the personal finance professional. Perhaps, too many. For now, we can see this as a negative or a positive. Regardless, it is reality. The challenge is to get beyond the title and into the work, the value, and the service. In this, we match our needs and get what we seek over time. The philosophy is what counts. The title can leave clues. The title is a piece of the pie for us to take into account.
It’s our job to analyze these details. If we’re seeking services for the first time, maybe got a referral, these details can confirm the beginning of our trust. If we’re seeking options, these details can paint a picture for the inevitable comparison shopping.
- There are many “job titles” for us to match up a professional with our desired service.
- The supply of personal finance service professionals is increasing, closing the gap on the public’s demand for those services.
- Every profession has a marketing element surrounding titles, especially in the early stages.
- These titles are confusing. Similarities? Differences? Uniform standards?
- The job title is not as important as the work, service, and value delivered.
- The process becomes difficult to narrow down and comparison shop.
- Misuse or manipulation of titles to gain false trust.
- Titles should be earned and meaningful, not handed out. Is this professional a fiduciary?
- Mass confusion and those dreaded “elevator speeches.”