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Phil Wickenden: Financial planning is about more than what you know

Phil WickendenAs legislators and regulators across Europe – Brexit bit between their teeth – are poised for all sorts of eventualities, advisers can at least rest assured change is the constant on which they can depend.

But in the midst of seemingly constant flux, it can become easy to bow to what is insisted upon and lose sight of what is needed which, in turn, can be to the detriment of the very people said change set out to serve.

Take the new tests to reassess whether advisers with the Level 4 Diploma in Financial Planning still have sufficient knowledge: the Regulated Retail Investment Adviser Re-Evaluation assessment.

No one would challenge that having a good level of knowledge forms a non-negotiable part of the foundation to giving sound financial advice. Yet it is just a part. Greater accuracy alone may not add even a modicum of meaning. And without meaning, well there is not much. 

Pursuit of factual excellence while ignoring the story (of clients’ lives) in which these facts are played out will not lead to better outcomes for anyone.

In order to connect powerfully and meaningfully, we must insist on more than cold, hard facts, creating a story that clients cannot only understand but also experience.

The poet and journalist George Sylvester Viereck charmed an interview out of an initially reluctant superstar physicist. He asked: “How do you account for your discoveries? Through intuition or inspiration?”

Albert Einstein replied: “Both. I sometimes feel I am right but do not know it. When two expeditions of scientists went to test my theory, I was convinced they would confirm my theory. I wasn’t surprised when the results confirmed my intuition, but I would have been surprised had I been wrong.  I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Throughout our development as a species, we have relied on a blend of imagination and knowledge. Both are valuable. The Oxford English Dictionary states that imagination involves “forming a mental concept of what is not actually present to the senses”. This is imperative in the intangible world of financial services.

Phil Wickenden is managing director of Cicero Research

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