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WHO’s ON FIRST

Financial planning is an everchanging game with many different players, positions, and rules. After a few hours of sorting out which player does what, it’s apparent going for a hotdog and coke would have been a more satisfying choice. The financial playbook is a tough read with tough and complex plays to grasps. It requires qualified professionals at many different levels, backgrounds, and experience. A financial plan is not a practice run. It cannot be. There is no time to learn from mistakes. Financial planning starts with the “Big Game”. There are no playoffs. Failing means losing, losing big.

Planners are everywhere with different credentials, certifications, licenses, and designations. Recruiting a qualified player for the right position is daunting. Roosters seem to be disappearing from planner’s websites in the financial advertising industry with no way of identifying players, quality of players or the name of a firm. 

Today, it is not unusual to have a player come with an already pre-recruited team rather than an individual recruit. Once more, frustrations are increased when you cannot locate where the team is from or where they play. Rather, general resumes of team accomplishments are posted without individual or team batting averages, wins or losses. Positions seem blurred and foul lines missing. The game is blindly played. 

Let’s look at a typical game.

Client A needs college, retirement, long term care, estate and specials needs financial planning. Client A is married to Client B (Clients) with a child C who needs special care. They both have 401(k)’s, outside brokerage accounts including an IRA, life insurance and medical insurance.

Firm X markets to Clients through an advertisement offering comprehensive planning. Firm X has a team made up of 2 insurance agents (Agent A and B), Agent A refers to himself as a “Financial and Retirement Planner” while Agent B refers to himself as a “Tax Planner”. The team also includes an IAR, CPA and Estate attorney, all collectively called “The Team”. The CPA and attorney are crossed licensed with securities. The IAR is also crossed licensed with an insurance. The insurance agent and tax planner are life insurance licensed only.

The relationship begins with Agent A, first baseman, who refers to himself as a “Financial and Retirement Planner” and the Clients. Agent A gathers facts and details surrounding Clients’ assets and goals. Shortly thereafter, Agent A recommends an indexed annuity to protect future income for the 401k’s. This recommendation has not been presented to Clients for the reason of the Team process requiring each member participate in planning. Next the second baseman, the CPA, performs a tax analysis identifying negative tax implications from the 401k’s and Ira. He recommends tax conversions. Then the third baseman, the IAR, enters the game to review the brokerage accounts. She recommends an Asset’s Under Management (AUM) portfolio including leveraging the 401k’s which Agent A had already recommended an index annuity. The plan is presented by the insurance agents to the Clients. The estate attorney, the catcher, has no part in the financial plays but is asked to review all the Clients’ assets for the reason of spousal income and legacy planning concerning the special needs child. This piece is presented by the attorney.

Each player makes their play recommendations leaving the batter, Clients, to make decisions for the win. 

Question: Who is the Coach?

Plans are presented time and time again to clients without acknowledgement of who is coaching. Clients often have an underlying trust built from reputation, yet no real affirmation of who is leading the team. It is obvious legal and tax advice can only be provided by an attorney or CPA who already carry fiduciary duties by possessing their earned degree. (Yes, degrees carry duties). But they are not the coaches.

The financial industry is filled with professionals holding various licenses, certifications, and designations. Titles are governed individually by different laws, regulations, agencies, and organizations which seem to change yearly if not daily. Any change requires revisions for any financial plan. Financial decisions include many intertwined areas of financial considerations regardless of who the advisor or planner is.

In the above scenario, Agent A and B, are insurance licensed only. Please note Agents A and B have self-acknowledged titles as “Financial and Retirement Planner” and “Tax Planner” as often happens in this industry. (We will touch on this in Part 3.) The CPA prepares and reviews taxes. He uses his securities license to properly analyze taxes for the security accounts keeping in line with his tax preparer position. He has no part in creating a plan. Next, the IAR advises on all the Clients’ assets focusing on an Asset Under Management portfolio (AUM). It is common for Investment Advisors to build AUM portfolio’s excluding insurance product. Sometimes the reason is due to not holding an insurance license, and other times it’s because removing money from a portfolio value causes lower compensation for the Advisor. Lastly, the attorney, the Catcher, provides legal advice for estate planning carefully not giving cross advice with financial planning without disclosures.

You get where I am going with this?

Who is coaching?

You might not like the answer.

Here it is: YOU ARE AND MUST BE THE COACH! Say it again for the people in the back. You cannot be a spectator.

As a coach, you must recruit players for your team and qualify each one individually. Otherwise, you have no accountability for any given part of a plan for the reason of blurred lines. More importantly, your best interest could be comprised for personal gains. 

As confusing as all this is, I have created a “coach’s playbook” for financial planning. The book is made up of 3 parts which will be covered individually. Part 1 is “Recruiting: Questions You Should Ask Yourself”; Part 2 “Interviewing: Questions to Ask Your Qualifiers” and Part 3 “Regulations and Laws for Accountability” 

Of course, recruiting is overwhelming when you do not know how to begin qualifying a licensed professional. First, focus on who the player is not how you heard or know of them. Next, acknowledge and confirm what each player’s role is. Third, confidently, qualify their credentials with the following questions.

  1. What is the title?
  2. Where did the title come from?
  3. What are the requirements to hold title?
  4. Education
  5. Exam
  6. Experience
  7. What duty is owed?
  8. What responsibilities does a title carry?
  9. Are CE courses required to maintain title?
  10. How can check status of title?


Financial professionals can possess multiple degrees, licenses, certifications, and designations. Many do, but do not confuse licenses, certifications, and designations for formal education degrees. Formal education cannot be substituted for any title. For example, possessing a CFP designation is considered one of the highest certifications in financial planning, but it is not equivalent to a Doctorate or other post graduate degrees.

Below is a quick reference cheat sheet to help point you in the direction to dig deeper. Keep in mind many of the agencies and organizations will provide status confirmation along with information on any complaints.

As a coach you need to understand the positions for each player and how they make the play happen. Remember coaches do not make the plays, the players do. The coach sets the goals for achievement and recruits the players to do just that, achieve. Don’t be afraid to interview your players and ask questions to find the right balance of educational credentials, professional experience, certifications, licenses, and designations along with responsibilities that follow.

 "Who’s on First” written by-  Dr. Carolee Dasher

"Who’s on First” written by- Dr. Carolee Dasher

She attended Wayne State University earning a BSW and Ohio Northern University Pettie College of Law earning a Doctor of Jurisprudence. (Latin term meaning law.)

She has over 15 years of experience in the financial industry.