Richard Busillo, the CEO of RTD Financial Advisors, is a mentor at the annual FPA residency program for newly minted CFP certificants. At one of the training sessions, he described to his students the difference between data gathering and discovery. When he and I discussed this session, it got me to thinking about how so much of our training and procedures label what is actually “data gathering” as “discovery.” As financial life planners, however, we see them as completely separate processes and meetings. Of course, it is very important that we gather the data we need to plan properly. But I would argue that discovery is at least as important and perhaps even more essential to the planning process.

So how would we define each? Well, data gathering is just about 100% quantitative. The questions asked generally begin with a phrase such as, “How much?” How much do you have? How much do you make? How much do you spend? At what age do you plan to retire? How much will you spend in retirement? How much will you need to educate your children? How much? How much? How much?

Discovery, on the other hand, is learning about who your clients are, not how much they have. It’s about understanding their histories, attitudes, values, dreams of the future, visions of their lives, how they feel about philanthropy and other much more qualitative information. It is understanding what motivates them to make decisions about money—both good and bad. Unless they volunteer all of this information during data gathering (highly unlikely), how would you know? And ask yourself, how important is it that you do know?

How often do we encounter clients who, despite all the logic and numerical projections we can muster, refuse to implement recommendations or change behavior that may be destructive to their financial futures? They spend too much in spite of the fact that we show them running out of money at an early age. They refuse to allocate enough to equities even though they are shown that reaching their goals as they are currently allocated would be almost impossible. Projections show they need more life insurance, but they neglect to buy it. There are countless examples that we can enumerate, but we have all seen clients who continue to procrastinate.

And what do the quantitative planners do to change this behavior? They usually show more of the same data that did little to motivate their clients, and the results are usually identical—continuation of the same behavior. The fact is that these clients probably have issues that are contributing to them neglecting what you know to be good advice. We can call these qualitative or interior issues. But the fact is that you cannot solve interior problems with exterior solutions. And that’s what we do when we rely on hard data rather than true discovery.

Here are some of the differences between data gathering and discovery. Data gathering asks, “When do you want to retire?” Discovery asks, “How do you visualize your life in your 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond?” Data gathering—”How much is your business worth?” Discovery—”  Tell me about how you started your business and made it grow, and what are your plans for the future?” Data gathering may ask, “How much do you contribute to charity?” Discovery may ask, “What challenges in your community do you care about?” Data gathering—”Have you made any charitable bequests in your will?” Discovery—”If you could make a difference with a legacy that will last well beyond your lifetime, what would it be?”

Data gathering will ask, “Have you taken steps to reduce taxes at your death?” Discovery will ask, “How do you want to be remembered?” In the investment arena, data gathering may ask, “Do you consider yourself a conservative, moderate or aggressive investor?” Discovery on the other hand may ask, “What do you consider the greatest risk to accomplishing your goals?” Data gathering needs to know how much money is needed to educate children. Discovery may want to know what the clients’ goals are for their children.

In addition to the issues listed above, there is more to discovery. We need to understand our clients’ histories. For example, is it important for us to know what their parents instilled in them about money as they were growing up? Do we need to know the mistakes they may have made in the past that are contributing to inaction? Do we need to know when money has brought them pain or joy?

Understanding their history is one part of knowing why they act as they do. And the only way we know of discovering their histories is to ask questions about it. We all know that our histories in many ways define who we are. And since it has such a profound effect on money behavior, we feel that it’s imperative for us to understand our clients’ money histories. So we ask questions such as, “Was money discussed at the dinner table?” “What messages about money did you receive from your mother—or your father?” “What values of your parents continue to affect you today?” “What is your first memory about money?” “What was learned from that experience?” “What are some of the best decisions you have made about money—or the worst?”

And we know that history does in fact affect the decisions our clients make about money. That’s the way it was with Jim. He told us that he was leaving his previous advisor because he did not trust him. It seems that Jim had a history of firing advisors and we certainly did not want to become one more of those casualties. Before we began our discovery process, he asked many questions about how we do things. These questions went far beyond the normal and healthy inquiries that are a part of the educational process with most clients. It appeared to us that trust was a major issue for him.

When we began our discovery process, one of the questions I asked was, “What is your first memory of money?” Jim’s first memory was of his grandmother who, on her visits to his home, would sit him on her lap and produce a bag full of coins. He was quite young at the time and did not know the values of the various coins. She would pull a dime and a penny from the bag and ask, “Would you like the larger, shiny, orange coin or the small silver one?” Her voice inflection clearly communicated to him that the penny was more valuable and, of course, that is exactly what he would choose. It was not until later that he discovered that (in his words), “She was taking advantage of my naïveté and cheating me.” He also recounted a situation when he was ready to enter graduate school and his father, because of a disagreement they were having at the time, informed him that he would not be paying his tuition. Money was being used as a weapon!

As Jim related these stories about his life, you could see an understanding of his behavior becoming very clear to him. He told us that he always had difficulty trusting anyone when it came to money, but that he never associated his lack of trust with these events in his life. He acknowledged that his behavior was responsible for hurting his relationships with his financial advisors and asked us to be patient with him. Before he left that day, I jokingly asked him if, the next time he questioned our decisions, it would be OK to remind him, “I am not your grandmother.” He chuckled, and replied, “Of course.”

I believe that all of us would acknowledge that values, attitudes, history and other qualitative data play a large part in the decisions people make about money. If that is true, then how are we to provide meaningful advice to our clients if we ignore these issues? Data gathering, while vital to the work we do, may do just that if that is how we define discovery. True discovery completes the process by uncovering the interior issues that are the driving forces behind our clients’ behaviors.

Roy Diliberto is the chairman and founder of RTD Financial Advisors Inc. in Philadelphia.