How important is it for an advisor to understand the storyline of his clients' lives when entrusted with the duty of managing their wealth? Is it enough to know their numbers, their occupation and their retirement goal? According to former literary agent turned wealth manager Joanne B. Jarvi, there are stark similarities between what she did in her former career and what she does in her current capacity working in the Kansas City area.

As a literary agent, she had to sift through all manner of submissions and decide which books were worth her time and efforts to sell to a publishing house. Authors submit query letters where they are required to answer (in short order) the following questions:

What's the story?
Who are the characters?
What are the plotlines?

"I like to read and I love people, and so I became an agent-a literary agent. I like working with money, and I love people, so this business feels very much the same to me," Jarvi says, and declares that the first job of advisors is to "go out and learn what touches them."

After introducing herself as a literary agent turned wealth manager, Jarvi tells her prospects and clients that her job is kind of like writing a money memoir. "I'm going to be your editor and hopefully can help you make the story better and end the way you want it. In my other career, I could edit the story but not really influence how the story ended; but in this career, I feel I really can bring the impact necessary to affect how the story ends."

Jarvi has found that using the analogy of memoir and editor removes conversational barriers and allows the story to come out. She is asking her clients what their story is and how it developed up until this point. She is inquiring about the key characters in their story-helping to uncover who and what is motivating the clients-and then learning about the key plots that are influencing their situations at this moment in their lives.

What a perfect analogy for what the discovery process in financial life planning should be. We are facilitators of valuable assets, which are destined to support each client's key characters and plotlines. Once you strip away all the technical information and strategic approaches, the story is what this business is all about.

Too often advisors take a much-too-literal approach when they should be adopting a literary approach to understanding their clients. This approach-knowing their numbers, facts about them and strategies they like-doesn't come anywhere near the understanding of what drives them, what formed them and what their most cherished hopes might be.

Regarding the literal discovery of clients, Jarvi says, "You can learn facts about prospects and clients through the Internet. To me, it's then interesting to see what facts THEY cover when they tell their story to you." By integrating facts about themselves into their stories, clients are telling you what they want you to know about them.
It's about finding out what is important to your clients. Questions that Jarvi starts her discovery process with include the following:

"If we were going to write your life story, how would you like it to end?"
"What have been the most important parts of your life?"
"When do you remember money starting to become more important to you?"