The Shocking Truth about Why Most Financial Planners Fail Miserably at Helping Their Clients


You’re smart, motivated, and hard working. So you figure you have everything it takes to help people. Right?

Well, not quite.

To explain why, let’s do a little quiz. Let’s see how you do:

  1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world
  2. Name the last five winners of the Miss Universe contest
  3. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize
  4. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actresses

The point: These are not second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. Still, none of us remember these statistics. Why? Because the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:

  1. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time
  2. Name three people who have taught you something worthwhile
  3. Think of three people who have made you feel appreciated and special
  4. Think of three people you enjoy spending time with

Much easier, right?

Here’s the lesson:

The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money or the most awards. They are the ones who care.

So, let me ask you this: “Do you care about your clients?”

You answered this question with “yes”, didn’t you?

So, if you care about your clients, how do you think you can help your clients most?

If you’re like most planners, you’ll say something like: “I help my clients most by making sure they are reaching their financial goals”.

The only problem?

You aren’t sure if that’s what your clients really care about.

Because while many expert planners preach the virtues of “goal-based-planning”, almost nobody tells you that 97% of your customers don’t even have financial goals.

As a result, many well-intentioned planners believe they are helping their clients by spending their precious time and money on what they think their clients care about.

In reality?

They fail miserably.

Why Most Financial Planners Are Terrible Helpers

First some good news: it’s not your fault.

Let me explain by telling you a little story about the human mind (and why you believe you are helping your clients)

Because conventional wisdom says that our brain has two independent systems at work at all times. Plato said that in our heads we have a rational charioteer who has to rein in an unruly horse that “barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined.”

Freud wrote about the selfish id and the conscientious superego. More recently, behavioral economists dubbed the two systems the Planner and the Doer.

And I, Ronald Sier, financial planner (and not even an amateur-psychologist), likes to call it left- and right brain. The left-brain is the rational, reflective, conscious side. It’s the part that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future. While the right-brain is instinctive and emotional, always looking for instant-gratification.

However, the best analogy that captures our left-and right-brain, is laid out in Dan and Chip Heath’s bestseller Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:

“Imagine an Elephant. And on top of the Elephant sits a Rider. The Rider and the Elephant are like the human mind. Our rational left-brain is the Rider and our emotional right-brain is the Elephant. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.

However, the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.

Most of us are all too familiar in which our own Elephants overpower our Rider. You’ve experienced it if you’ve ever slept in, overeaten, dialed up your ex at midnight, procrastinated, tried to quit smoking and failed, or skipped the gym.

You’ve also experienced it with your clients. You’ve experienced it when they didn’t follow up on your advice, procrastinated, wanted to buy stocks when prices are high, not saving for retirement and so on.

In those situations it’s the weakness of the Elephant that overpowers the Rider. It’s the emotional and instinctive side that takes control and ignores the Rider.”


Still, financial planners like to think, that when it comes to helping people, our job is to analyze, to plan for the future, to be rational. In other words, we believe our job is to appeal to people’s Rider.

And then we leave it at that (which is terrible for truly helping people).

But what about the Elephant?

Because the truth is that the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination.

In other words: the financial planner simply can’t keep his client engaged long enough to help reach their financial goals. Because the Elephant’s hunger for instant gratification outweighs the Rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term, to plan, to analyze.

But here’s a surprise: although the Elephant’s hunger for instant gratification is a problem, the Elephant also has enormous strengths.

The Elephant isn’t always the bad guy. Emotion is the Elephant’s turf – love and compassion. Sympathy and loyalty. That fierce instinct you have to protect your kids against harm – that’s the Elephant.

While the Rider tends to overanalyze and overthink things, it’s the Elephant who gets things done. If you want to help people to make progress toward their financial goals, it requires the energy and drive of the Elephant. While you help your client’s Rider by giving them planning and direction, you also need to engage their Elephant to provide the energy.

If you really want to help people, you’ve got to appeal to the Rider AND the Elephant

If you reach your client’s Rider but not the Elephant, your clients will have understanding without motivation, compassion or emotion. If you reach their Elephants but not their Riders, they’ll have passion without direction.

And while you are very good at engaging with your client’s Rider, most planners still need to use their right-brain to engage with their client’s Elephant.

How to Motivate the Elephant


In the 1980s, a major study of corporate change efforts found that financial goals inspired successful change less effectively than more emotional goals did. One manager at a glass company suggested, “it’s hard to get excited about 15% return on equity”.

Yet, many financial planners believe that people are motivated by helping them to reach their financial goals. In looking for a goal that reaches the Elephant – that hits your clients in the gut – you can’t bank on financial goals.

It’s like climbing Mount Everest. Most mountain climbers’ goal is to reaching the top. But what really satisfies them is the enjoyment and the challenge.

That’s why you need to remember this:

Financial goals presume the emotion; they don’t generate it

And I hear you think: “What does?”

In “the Heart of Change” John Kotter and Dan Cohen say that most people think change happens in this order: ANALYZE – THINK – CHANGE. And I believe most financial planners think it works this way too.

Financial planners analyze –  your clients think  – and then they change.

And this works pretty well when parameters are known, and the future is not fuzzy.

But most of our clients’ situations don’t look like that, especially not with entrepreneurs. In most of their situations their future is quite fuzzy.

And because of that uncertainty, the Elephant is reluctant to move, and analytical arguments will not overcome that reluctance. (If someone is unsure about whether to marry her significant other, you’re not going to tip her by talking up tax advantages and rent savings).

Kotter and Cohen observed that, to motivate people, the sequence is not ANALYZE – THINK – CHANGE, but rather SEE – FEEL – CHANGE.

You have to present your clients with some evidence that makes them feel something. It might be a disturbing look at the problem, or a hopeful glimpse of the solution. It has to be something that hits them at the emotional level. It has to be something that speaks to the Elephant.

But which feeling?

Here’s the answer: A positive feeling.

Something like hope, happiness, enthusiasm, pride, love, joy.

Why? Because it turns out that – while negative emotions tend to have a “narrowing” effect on our thougts, positive emotions are designed to broaden and build people’s repertoire of thoughts and actions. Joy, for example, makes people want to play. Play doesn’t have a script, it broadens the kinds of things we consider doing. And because joy encourages us to play, we are building resources and skills.

In other words, people will be open to new ideas.

Think about it. The positive emotion of pride for example, experienced when we achieve a personal goal, broadens the kinds of tasks we contemplate for the future, encouraging us to pursue even bigger goals.

So, why don’t you start motivating your clients to reach their financial goals?

Wouldn’t that be the ultimate satisfaction as a helpful financial planner?

There are several options. You might want to experiment by asking different kind of questions to each and every client. But that can take a lot of time to figure out.

But if you want to use a proven worksheet that – regardless of the type of clients your serve – works to motivate them to reach their goals and to follow up on your advice, I have something for you. And it’s FREE.

If you truly want to help your clients, the only thing you have to do is to answer the following question:

What motivates YOU to be a financial planner?

Please, answer this question by leaving your comment – here below – and you’ll receive a free PDF with The Cheat Sheet to Motivate People to Follow Up on Your Advice Right Now.

Thank you for your comment.

Let’s make financial planning matter.

Ronald Sier


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  1. To better myself by helping clients to better themselves (& their associated financial well-being).

  2. Daryl Standish says:

    Certainly the motivating factor on being a financial planner is to help people realize their financial goals. But to really understand what resonates with your clients is the challenge. Asking those personal questions and truly listening to the answer will set you apart from the competition. Never predetermine what someone finds important as the higher net worth people will always surprise you on what is important to them. (and it is rarely about just the money)

  3. Please watch the video on the front of my website. It last for about three minutes and explains why I am a financial planner.

  4. Being the person that helps others identify, create and maintain a better life for themselves and the people they care about the most.

  5. What motivates me is the belief that I am improving my and my client’s life, my community and the world by helping them use their financial resources to fund what matters to them most.

  6. I am motivated to improve peoples lives. We seek to remove the burden of family wealth management for successful families by helping them manage the complexity of managing family wealth in today’s increasingly complex world.

    In this, we hope to improve the quality of financial products and services they receive while significantly reducing the amount of time and money they spend managing family wealth so they can spend more time growing or managing their business or enjoying their success.

  7. To make a difference and help people believe more in themselves and their abilities , then use discussions around our financial and advisory solutions to help them be better sorted, emotionally and financially,
    their a few things more rewarding than seeing a persons physiology change and notice how they are feeling and having improved strength and self belief as a result of what they thought was going to be a meeting with some insurance adviser that only wants to sell them something they dont want.

  8. Seeing the impact both of poor and great advice and how it can change a clients confidence financially in this world.

  9. I’m a financial adviser and everything I do is to help people protect and provide for those they love. That’s why they call me the ‘protect and provide guy’ and that’s why I only work with people who have that as their key goal.

  10. Mine is simple.
    I do it to take away my clients worries. (I am a risk advisor predominantly). I take away worries about how their families will survive financially, or how they will afford medical treatment, or indeed how the mortgage gets paid.

  11. Assisting people to have peace of mind over their financial circumstances. Getting clients to the point where they truly believe they have the right to achieve what they want.

  12. I’m a planner because I want to be able to provide my clients with planning advice that allows them to feel secure with their future so that they can concentrate on the things that are truly important to them.

  13. This may sound a bit selfish, but I love the “buzz” I get when one of my clients achieves their goals, or “just gets it” when discovering how financial planning can help reduce their worry, push them to achieve, etc.

  14. I am a financial planner because I want to improve the everyday lives of people through my practice of financial planning

  15. To allow clients to live without worry and fear. In essence, with confidence that all that matters to them is attainable.

  16. Hi Ron, great article. What motivates me? Like one of the answers above from Nicholas (wow amazing video wow), you can hear this on my video on the front page of my website. In a sentence – to lighten the load for my clients.

  17. My goal as a financial planner is to assist clients to end up in a better financial position than they otherwise would have been – through education and strategies to protect and grow wealth.

  18. Helping people to choose the life that is most useful, and habit will make them more pleasant.

  19. Howard Sharman says:

    My main motivator using the Motivational Maps analysis is “Searcher” (see for further explanation). I want to see my work as important and significant, to make a difference and I believe the role of a Financial Planner does exactly that.

  20. To meet and help people with actual issues – work with them and not in the confines of a corporate structure.

  21. The joy of influencing peoples life’s in a positive way.

  22. Witnessing change in my client’s lifestyles!

  23. To learn how different people make progress in different ways – financially and personally

  24. George Kinder calls it ‘lighting the torch’, creating an emotional vision of the future our clients are motivated to live into, to live a fulfilled life. By becoming so motivated the inevitable obstacles are easier to deal with. The financial plans become a tool to achieve the vision.

  25. Anil Gaur says:

    I want to be seen as a catalyst for change thus commanding respect.

  26. Mike Davis says:

    The saying goes, “The purpose of life is a life with purpose.” Contributing to families, through giving them the support and guidance they need on the issues that matter to them, achieves the goal every financial planner should have.

  27. I became a Financial Planner in order to help people in their journey of life. To help rearrange their finances to enable them to get them where they want to be.

  28. I’m motivated by a desire to help people. I like finding out what makes a person tick and then establishing how we can help them to make their lives better; be it health worries, work worries, looking after their families, saving for the future or how to make their savings last. It’s a great job 🙂

  29. I am a financial planner because I know that when you’re set up well financially, you feel more free, more powerful, more positive and more able to live a life filled with joy. You have less worry and more peace. I want my clients to feel that way, too.

  30. i’m a new financial planner and was moved by Nicholas’s video
    i knew i wanted to help people but this has changed my outlook completely. Thanks

  31. To help people have their money work for them rather than working for their money – which provides the emotional empowerment to focus on living their real values.

  32. I never wanted to be a financial planner, my first love is food, preparing, cooking and sharing it with friends and family.
    when I look at my Financial planning business, I find the same motivation is overlaid on the way I deal with clients. its all about sharing and growing with my clients (many of whom have become friends)
    My life in this business started as a traditional Life Insurance agent 32 years ago, times have changed, BT delivering a life altering cheque to a bereaved family reminds me how important my role actually is

  33. To walk with my clients & guide them on their financial life needs.

  34. I enjoy financial matters and get personal satisfaction and financial reward from helping people clarify their issues and lifestyle goals (the dream) and then take some actions to have a good shot at achieving the dream.

  35. Hi Ronald
    What motivates me? To provide clients with clarity of mind, empower them to walk their walk and live without worry and fear.

  36. To see excitement and confidence in clients faces where there used to be confusion, fear, and uncertainty.

  37. A genuine desire to help people live life on their terms.

  38. Money? ha-ha…

    I like good people and not everyone I meet I feel is good. I end up not taking as clients many people I see. I pick and choose who is best for me, and who is best for me, I am best for them. We pick each other. I like the process of ferreting out those genuine sincere people and building a relationship.

  39. Ronald – as always a very good article. I read the book “Switch…” by myself and it is great.

    My Motivation?`To help people through the fog ,generated by the financial industry, to get a clear vision of ther needs.


  40. To bring to people a better way to invest.

  41. When people say, you make is sound so simple, I finally understand.

  42. My motivation is help clients better engage with their financial life to make better decisions in their personal life

  43. Muslim Mohamad says:

    Since financial literacy is extremely low amongst general public, it would be satisfying to see friends and clients to enjoy life than facing financial misery.

  44. Sukanya Rao says:

    To facilitate women and families to become financially self-reliant and have a carefree and contented life

  45. The challenge to help each client, with their varying views and goals, rediscover what and who is important to them. Then to see them take steps to protect themselves and these individuals so that they can spend the majority of their time and energy on things other than finance.

  46. Phillip N. Alexander says:

    Western government needs financial planning to work, otherwise governments will go broke i.e. Greece. The opportunity is huge those who are effective communicators. Ultimately it is about making the world a better place for the masses.

  47. Rebecca says:

    What motivates me everyday as a financial planner is the zeal to help my clients become financially secure through directing them to the path that can make them achieve that security . Naturally people become happier and more motivated when the future can be predicted rather than following it blindly with no clear cut goals to achieve.

  48. To help people and their families identify dreams and then work with them financially, ticking them off along the way.

  49. To not only put a solid, sound financial plan together for clients but help those clients stick with the plan. As Warren Buffett noted once, it’s sticking with the plan that most clients have difficulty with.

  50. Rod magill says:

    I have one mouth and two ears I use them in that proportion I listen twice as much as i speak

  51. Matthew Daniells says:

    To relieve the financial stress in people’s lives and provide them with alternative pathways to achieving their financial goals. I believe our profession allows us to contribute to society by improving the financial literacy and well-being of our clients and empowers them to live more accomplished lives. MD

  52. To help people improve their life and let them focus on what is important to them by helping them manage their finances.

  53. Being the person that helps others identify, create and maintain a better life for themselves and the people they care about the most.

  54. I’m motivated by a desire to help people. I’m a planner because I want to be able to provide my clients with holistic advice that allows them to feel more positive about their future and not have to worry about running out of money.

  55. To help people find clarity and peace about the role of money in their lives, and helping them develop their plan to achieve their dreams.

    Thanks for a great article.

  56. I am motivated by my clients’ emotional responses to the work I do. Yes, I want to see every one of them have the financial freedom to choose what they want in life. But I am fundamentally motivated by their responses to me and my work, like asking what they would do without me when we navigate through a problem, or showing their joy when they realize that they really CAN retire early or stop working so hard next year. It’s their joy, gratitude, empowerment, excitement and confidence that gets me up every morning.

  57. By providing my services so that my clients feel safe and cared for, I feel that I am making a real positive, and meaningful difference in their lives, which is truly rewarding.

  58. I believe we have all been placed on this earth to impact people’s lives, and I love the fact that financial planning is a route for me to do such a thing. It leaves me such great satisfaction when I can do what you described in this article!

  59. I’m motivated to help people achieve what they thought wasn’t possible.

  60. What motivates me is help my clients to realise what can and can’t be achieved with their money and to empower them to make the most of their lives (& those closest to them) and ideally live on purpose.

  61. Very interesting!

  62. Robert Wander says:

    two things: One is to provide for my own family’s needs; secondly, to reduce the amount of time that clients worry about money so they can enjoy their lives

  63. Kenneth Fox says:

    I’m still fine tuning what motivates me. I know that most things in life are connected to money, generally people don’t have a handle on their money, so it prevents them from forming or reaching goals and living out their values. I love to get people thinking about their life and what they want it to be like and help form a path for them to move that direction.

  64. Being at the centre of people’s lives, helping them make the best decisions for them, not just financial ones either and giving them the confidence to follow through with it is an honour and privilege. Having them truly appreciate it is one of the best ‘dividends’ you can ever be paid.

  65. Christina Stephenson says:

    What motivates me is the opportunity to provide my clients options because I believe options lead to financial security and freedom.

  66. Thank you for the article. A good read indeed.

    As for your question: I have always wanted to help people and this is a way of protecting individuals / their family in times of strife.

  67. Because helping people achieve success is immensely gratifying!

  68. Early in my career I was motivated by some ego and perhaps even a little greed. But as the years have passed, things have changed and experience has mounted, I like to think I have evolved into something much more benevolent to clients and prospects, alike. I believe most planners have an altruistic gene that prompts them to do what they do – namely to help others. We all want to see our clients have success – both in terms of wealth and life events such as marriages, children, grandchildren, etc. But in today’s rapidly changing world with its social media, 24/7 infotainment, regulatory changes and uncertainties, etc. I see my motivation as more of a sheepdog. Essentially, I am trying my best to protect my clients from the perils that can lay before them. Some of those perils are self-imposed like poor spending habits, lack of financial discipline or unrealistic market fears. But, honestly I’m talking more about protecting them from the worst peril of all – unqualified financial advisors. You know the ones…the outstanding salesmen with limited knowledge or qualifications that will prey upon unsuspecting clients’ emotional side (the elephant) simply for their own immediate financial gain. To continue with your analogy – the hunter who is simply looking to score the ivory tusks and leave the rest of elephant to rot. My motivation is to keep the elephant safe from those who would do him harm.

  69. To help clients navigate their financial lives and fulfill their goals. And especially helping them in their greatest hour of need, that is the most fulfilling.
    Great article. Thanks!

  70. My mission is to help clients achieve wealth beyond possessions.

  71. To change lives!

  72. Helping people attain their goals and avoid being their own worst enemy.

  73. Cern Basher says:

    Helping our clients live their ideal life by ensuring they have the necessary financial resources.

  74. Dick Havican, CFP says:

    Helping clients achieve everything that is important to them, financial and emotional.

  75. To help people achieve more and live better

  76. I am motivated to be a financial planner because I feel like I am in a position to feel confident and competent in my level of knowledge. It is a position where I can feel immediate self-value when I can reduces another person’s pain and discomfort. I know that sounds a little self-serving but I do like the feeling of helping others.

  77. To make a positive impact on people’s lives.

  78. For me it’s joy from possibility to be with interesting people and hepling them to be rich.

  79. What motivates me to be a financial planner? I’m currently a bank teller (customer service rep), and I care for every adult and child that comes into our bank. I know that they all have needs, wishes, hopes, and dreams in their lives. I want them to share with me, so that I can help them take steps to fulfill what is meaningful and needed. I am a teacher, and a bit of a councillor…and now I realize that financial wealth is holistic (right brain & left brain.) I start my financial services rep training next week. Hooray!

  80. To help people achieve their dreams.

  81. Hi Ronald, my motivation is to challenge people to see the real value of their money. Why do they have their financial goals, in stead of what are their financial goals.

  82. My motivation is to help my clients understand that they have a financial future, how to take steps to achieve their financial futures and to actively know where we are working to get them.

  83. Stephanie Lauritsen says:

    My motivation is to provide financial education and understanding to my clients, then help them work towards making their financial and retirement goals a reality.

  84. To be a trusted adviser and helping clients feel secure and peace about their money – to create a better life.

  85. To be a guide for our clients. To help motivate and protect them. To allow them to use our collective knowledge for their benefit and help reduce the behavioral mistakes they are prone to making.

  86. Make a difference in people’s lives!

  87. To help people slay their financial fire-breathing dragon fears, and find a real deep-breath kind of peace about their finances – finally put those back-of-the-head voices to rest, so they can sleep well at night and focus on the things that truly give their lives purpose.

  88. helping clients allows me relative freedom and flexability

  89. Obviously yes!

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