1. Integrity
2. Relationship
3. Freedom
4. Accessibility

In many ways, financial planners today share kinship with the medical profession of the 1800s, as described by George Eliot in Middlemarch. Back then, many physicians acted as both healer and seller of medicines. Finally fed up with being lumped in with snake oil salesmen, a small group of physicians led a hard-fought battle to divorce the medical profession from direct drug sales.

The question for us as a profession is more complex than simply separating pharmacists from physicians. A CFP at a global conference recently said to me, "We all know that if we act as a fiduciary and are transparent about fees, a client will get the same results as they would from a fee-only advisor. But when I tell a client I'm not tied to products in any way, they breathe a huge sigh of relief and light up with an enthusiastic, 'At last!'"

We must consider the appearance of integrity important too. What will it take for us in this profession to receive that huge sigh of relief and vote of confidence from the consumer, the media and our peers? How rapidly can we get there?

Questions of integrity are of course much broader than simply issues of how we are compensated. As professionals, we must boldly address all questions and lead, not follow, the march to the highest ground.

Ask most financial planners if they have a good relationship with their clients and you are likely to get a resounding "yes." After all, we remember our clients' birthdays, hold their hands when the market is in turmoil, send them e-mails when their alma mater's sports team wins and generally provide good service. As our profession advances, however, will this be enough? After all, these relationships are ultimately about creating plans that deliver the lives our clients long to live.

As so much of financial planning becomes commoditized, the one element that cannot be replaced by a computer program or checklist is a deep, personal relationship. This relationship requires three important skill sets-effective listening, empathy and the ability to inspire. These skills need to be employed in each phase of the client interview process. Most CFP courses offer only an hour or two of training in these critical skills. Yet they are trainable. Those advisors who can create such relationships will be able to differentiate themselves.

As most developed countries emerged from the economic and social upheavals of the 1930s and the Second World War, financial freedom was usually envisioned in material terms: a home in a safe neighborhood, an automobile or two, an array of consumer products such as TVs and appliances, a pleasant annual vacation. Essentially, the notion that freedom is tied to material things became ingrained in us. Sixty years later, this sensibility still pervades our financial planning textbooks. Perhaps understandably so, given the deprivation of the war years.

But if we take a life planning approach to our clients, they discover that freedom is often much simpler, much deeper, much purer and, in many ways, much more easily accomplished than what they first imagine. Life planners find that the most enduring client goals almost always center on meaningful relationships with family and friends, creativity, service to others, spiritual pursuits and harmony with one's environment, not simply bigger cars or more lavish vacations.

By applying life planning techniques, one is better able to set the right objectives for clients from the start. After that, the technical planning work can begin on education, retirement, home purchases and the like, and these things are then rooted in the proper context and our expertise has an enormous impact, not only for our clients but for our own career satisfaction. When we assist clients in finding their true goals, give them permission to pursue them, support their endeavors and use traditional financial planning skills to deliver on their dreams, we produce extraordinary freedom for the client and forge a nigh unbreakable bond of trust.