The term “financial planning” is fatally imprecise for purposes of describing the profession that works with people, their money and their choices. It implies a predictability that does not and cannot exist within the variables and uncertainties characterizing our respective relationships with money. The term can accurately describe decision-making processes for the short term, such as the purchase of financial products. However, it is woefully inadequate when it comes to longer terms—like lifetimes.

With money and money-based issues continuing to dominate First World cultures, “financial planning” needs considerable expansion to include things currently outside of the limitations of testable 1969 subject matters and predictable, product-based personal financial issues.

Finally, it misses the intrinsic importance of emotions and psychology in our personal relationships with money. As Rick Kahler recently observed in his August 17, 2015, blog, “Quality financial advice requires understanding of an individual’s relationship with money. Helping people work their way out of poverty isn’t just about money. It requires addressing the beliefs and culture around money that may be keeping people stuck both financially and emotionally.”

“Ironically,” he added, “the need to look beyond the money in order to build financial health is one important thing the poor and the wealthy have in common.”
Yet CFP training does nothing to help us address individual relationships with money.

Personally, I believe that the mission and purpose of the “financial planning” profession is to work with individuals and families and their relationships with money and the fearsome forces that it generates. I am also convinced that modern “First World” societies are so completely built upon financial foundations of money that money interlaces intimately with virtually every aspect of modern life. Accordingly, simply functioning in this world requires an understanding of money that is profound, far-reaching and lifelong. This means that we need to be developing a profession that addresses money and our relationships with it at all levels and densities.

In other words, the work of “financial planners” is fundamentally thoughtful, reflective and intense. In other words, it is absurd to reduce the mission and purpose of “financial planning” merely to sales and the distribution of financial products.

The ideal would be to segregate the financial services industries altogether from the provision of personal financial advice, effectively separating the manufacturing, sales and advisory functions, something the late CFP Harold Gourges suggested so many years ago. Unfortunately, that train seems to have left the station.

In any event, I suspect Industry’s stranglehold on the term “financial planning” is nearly complete. Accordingly, it is infeasible to consider any strategy that requires wresting the term from Industry. Yet we cannot limit fiduciary advice simply to the business of selecting manufactured products from rather limited menus. Instead, it is time to recognize the implicit promises we make, to grasp the full range of society’s needs for the work that we do and to seek paths that would allow independent fiduciary professionals to stand on their own and push beyond Industry’s domination. It is time for us to understand money and its various roles with respect to individuals and families within the fabric of modern society.

We know what some of this looks like. It probably means the emergence of a new vocabulary, including new words to describe us. We must also look at money in more than its simplest dimensions—as a simple medium of exchange, as a tool of accounting or as a storehouse of value. We must also see that money serves as the lifeblood of the body social, for living life at various levels, serving power, family, ambition, creativity, mutuality and generosity. It is the essence of “class” distinctions and articulates the relationships among cohorts.

We know that money can address some of the major social issues facing the world and contribute immensely to peace, love and harmony. Who knows what might be unearthed if we actually explored these relationships with the same energy we’ve brought to bear on investment techniques?

Our skill sets would also need to change to reflect these expanded notions. And there are allied professions who could greatly help. Take, for example, the Purposeful Planning Institute, which addresses estate planning and welcomes practitioners from some 17 different primary occupations, including lawyers, mental health professionals, social workers and historians. PPI recognizes that some issues pull folks in from wide-ranging fields, and some of that viewpoint should translate easily into “financial planning.” Our existing categories are arbitrary and limited, but they don’t have to be.

I suggest that even calling this work “financial planning” has actually limited its evolution. In an incredibly wide range of subject matter issues, we have ignored important things about personal financial relationships. Some time ago, I suggested that “financial planning” was the ultimate liberal arts profession. I have also suggested that advisors could engage with clients everywhere and anywhere financial issues emerge. Accordingly, an evolving profession should have access to knowledge and wisdom grounded in the liberal arts. This would take what we are now calling “financial planning” way past the limitations of financial products to the stature of a legitimate and learned profession.

Since we have built modern society on the back of money, it behooves fiduciary advisors to see beyond the limitations of money’s traditional functions. Similarly, it behooves academia to explore money’s implications (say, the possible use of complementary currencies for addressing social issues).

“Financial planning” is amazing. It has the appropriate elements for becoming an authentic, learned profession. As remarkable as its first 45 years have been, the next 45 should be yielding even more exciting progress as it escapes the gravity of its original base and continues to serve individuals and families.

Can it evolve? Of course it can. It is up to us to make it do so.

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