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When meeting with clients, the first item on our agenda is to ask if there are any pressing issues, concerns, needs or major changes they have experienced since the last time we met.

These questions often lead to discussions that relate to some other part of the agenda or take us on an entirely different tangent.  It is not uncommon for clients to apologize for getting us off topic or pulling us away from what we had planned to discuss.

We always insist that no apologies are necessary, but that’s an incomplete response.  There’s more to it than that.

We welcome going out of order.  The question is designed to pull us off track.

A meeting agenda, in the case of our financial planning or investment review meetings, serves several fairly predictable purposes.  There may be certain areas advisors don’t want to forget to cover, some administrative task or, absent any pressing needs or changes, helps walk us through the process of discussing a client’s portfolio, reviewing their financial goal plan and touching on estate planning, insurance, college planning or any other areas that need to be revisited or are part of ongoing discussions.

Above all, the most important part of any meeting is the advisor listening.  Hearing what’s foremost on our clients’ minds when it comes to their finances, personal and professional lives and what other changes have occurred really allows us to do our best work.

Despite not always seeing a direct connection, the reality is there is very little in life that doesn’t relate to how we obtain, save, invest and utilize money and other resources to meet goals.  Part of our job is to listen to what’s going on and make connections between those changes and opportunities for increased efficiency, changes in investment strategy, and tweaks to goals that all impact a long term financial plan.

In our business, scale is very difficult and, in our opinion, not desirable in many cases.  Each client relationship is different and everything we know today may not be the same tomorrow.  Career change, illness, death, marriage, divorce, growing families, buying homes, selling businesses and countless other events occur in life all the time.  Like portfolio returns, we don’t always get to choose the order in which they come.

Agendas are a tool to make sure we cover what’s important, but are far from being etched in stone.  We encourage clients to go out of order or throw the whole thing out in favor of sharing stories that may have a bigger impact to their plan than anything on our list.

We do our best work when we listen.