The Power of a Checklist
The next time you board a flight, take a moment to consider something we all take for granted – the miracle of the U.S. commercial aviation industry.
Year after year, the airline industry delivers millions of passengers around the world, miles above the ground, and at speeds of over 500 miles per hour. This feat is accomplished with an almost-perfect safety record.
Two things have contributed to this amazing record of safety, and both concern superior engineering. Decades of experience have led to highly effective manufacturing processes for aircrafts and their engines. The other engineering development: the development of preflight and in-flight checklists that have virtually eliminated human error.
The commitment to checklists in aviation has been so valuable that medical professionals are taking advantage of similar standardizations to reduce human error. According to a 2016 Johns Hopkins study, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in America, so hospitals across the country are reengineering their processes to address this persistent issue of technical failure.
What has made aviation so safe, and what is making medicine far safer, is the presence of standard procedures based on research and the use of checklists to interrupt the human tendency to forget things. In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande describes how, when followed consistently by medical professionals inserting IV lines, a simple five-part preparation checklist has dramatically decreased the number of deaths by infection and has saved
thousands of lives each year.
What does this have to do with planning and managing your family’s wealth? A lot more than you might think.
The actions you take when managing your wealth are potentially as impactful as those of surgeons or pilots. Your family’s wealth is every bit as important to your future well-being, and that of your children and grandchildren.
The Complexity Of Significant Wealth
Research shows that the top 10 percent of the U.S. population has achieved the status of uniquely successful and has accumulated significant wealth of at least $1 million in assets. If an investor crosses into this situation, the risks and opportunities they face are very different than that of the average investor. Importantly, most financial advisors do not work in this space, and as a result, they don’t understand the risks and opportunities that are present there.
For many people, a growing base of wealth is desirable because it implies a greater level of comfort and freedom and a lower degree of stress. However, there is a direct and positive relationship between wealth and complexity. Simply put, as your wealth grows, so does the complexity involved with the proper management and decisions of that wealth. For uniquely successful investors, there comes a point at which complexity begins to accelerate, along with anxiety.
Again, because most financial advisors work with average clients, it may be difficult to obtain qualified advice to help deal with these complexities and discern where there may be gaps.
“As we know, there are KNOWN KNOWNS; there are things we know we know. We also know there are KNOWN UNKNOWNS; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
– Donald Rumsfeld
Former Secretary of Defense
For uniquely successful families, this can lead to a high degree of anxiety, because complexity means that they don’t know what they might be missing. Importantly, they don’t know what they might be missing that could hurt them or benefit them, possibly in large measure. As wealth increases, risks and opportunities increase dramatically, but the knowledge about these risks and opportunities does not automatically accompany the complexity.
We think of the complexities of wealth as Donald Rumsfeld described the “Unknown Unknowns” in the quote above. There are problems, risks, and opportunities that cause wealthy families to fear the question, “What are we missing?” Such families are constantly chasing after the knowledge and capabilities they need to manage these complexities. But, they may have difficulty finding the necessary insights because most financial advisors do not have the required level of sophistication to understand these issues either.
The Wealth Planning Standard Of Care
In order to deal with this higher degree of complexity and the unknown risks and opportunities present, a more refined advisory approach is required to address this complexity in a systematic and consistent fashion.
Borrowing insights from aviation and medicine, our team at Concentus Wealth Advisors has developed a client service model based on the Standard of Care for holistic wealth management. We follow the concept of medical treatment standards, such as when a doctor says your child is due for a vaccination, or when you turn 50 and are told you need a colonoscopy. Such standards are based on research and experience across many patients, rather than the opinion of a single doctor.
Standard of Care
The level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled professional, with a similar background and in the same industry, would provide under the same circumstances.
Unlike in medicine, there is no industry-wide Standard of Care for investment advice or holistic wealth management, which is a shortcoming for many advisory firms – even those with the expertise to work with wealthier families. However, over many years and working with hundreds of families, our firm has developed an experienced professional point of view about many wealth management topics, which we have formed into our own Standard of Care.
By defining our professional point of view on a variety of planning topics and organizing it into a checklist, we can help our clients navigate their wealth planning challenges and opportunities, like an airline pilot navigates a cross-country flight, ensuring they receive the highest Standard of Care available to live their one life the best way they can.
The Maturing Stage Of Life
Here’s the basic math about modern lives. Let’s assume that an American is now likely to live well into their 80s. This person’s life can be divided into four segments, averaging approximately 8,000 days, or 22 years, each.
- Your first 22 years of life are spent Learning, primarily attending school.
- Right around age 22, you enter a period when you are Growing. Perhaps you get married, take on a first job, buy your first home, and start raising young children.
- Then, right around the time you hit 44, you reach a period we traditionally call “Middle Age,” when you are Maturing. Your kids are getting older, and probably heading off to college. Your professional capabilities are really growing, as are your financial responsibilities.
- Finally, right around age 66 comes a time we traditionally call “Retirement,” which we refer to as the Exploring stage.
Each of these phases of life present their own unique challenges and opportunities. While the challenges and opportunities faced in the first half of life revolve more around becoming educated, finding a partner, and raising children, in the second half of life, effective financial management becomes an integral part of our success.
One of our Standard of Care models is the Midlife Financial Preparedness Checklist. We use this model to help families navigate a wide variety of issues that are highly relevant to those in the later stages of life.
Some clients achieve a unique level of success and face increasing financial complexity long before they approach midlife. Often, this is the result of receiving an inheritance or selling a business. However, observations of large groups of investors have revealed that most people don’t achieve meaningful wealth until they approach or enter their 50s. This usually occurs through a regular increase in assets, coupled with accelerating career success. Because the wealth accumulates gradually, there’s not usually one single event that triggers a wake-up call to address financial plans.
For many, turning 50 represents a significant moment of self-awareness. Children have grown and left home or are in the process of leaving. Family life is being redefined, and careers are reaching their most productive period. Real estate values and portfolios are also accelerating over time.
Couples approaching 50 may arrive at the conclusion: “I’m entering a new stage of life; I need to take my personal financial life more seriously.” This realization often becomes a catalyst in deciding that because of this new stage of life, they need a new advisor to help deal with the increasing complexity.
The WealthTrak NavigatorSM
The good news? This is a predictable scenario in many clients’ lives that our team is adept at handling. By using our proprietary checklist, called The WealthTrak NavigatorSM, we are able to help tackle this complexity in an organized and systematic approach.
The checklist defines and elevates the quality of care that we provide to clients, which goes beyond other advisors who seem to deliver advice spontaneously. In most cases, wealth advisors simplify the task of managing each relationship by addressing only a narrow range of issues. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence is that clients often think that they have addressed all the financial issues of their life when, in fact, there are often many important challenges and opportunities that are neglected.
We will create a customized checklist for your family that shows whether you are currently on standard. Being on standard represents a powerful confirmation that nothing is missing from your plan. For families who aren’t on standard, the checklist provides triggers for us to engage a conversation on the new issues to address and resolve. Your personal checklist becomes a shared vocabulary between our team and your family, and a way to understand the necessary next steps.
The WealthTrak NavigatorSM is an effective tool to ensure that your family is addressing all the variables needed for a thorough and effective financial plan, and that key opportunities or challenges are not being missed. This checklist ensures that you know the exact status of every key issue impacting your wealth, including those things that may still be missing from a complete plan.
Download a sample Checklist
Each day, airlines, healthcare systems, and numerous other industries leverage the power of checklists to virtually eliminate human error. Why isn’t the same thing common in wealth management? It should be!
That’s why we launched the WealthTrak NavigatorSM. The Navigator has the potential to be the most powerful financial tool you’ll ever use. This checklist ensures that you know the exact status of every key issue impacting your wealth, including those things that may still be missing from a complete plan. Better yet? It’s fully customized to your current stage of life.
Interested to see how the Navigator aligns with our meeting schedule? Download the Milestones Review ProgramSM Meeting Protocol.
To learn more, and to schedule a no-obligation, 30-minute briefing to answer your questions about the WealthTrak NavigatorSM, contact us at 610-994-9190 or start a conversation here.