The Questions We Ask
A financial plan is only as good as the questions being asked when creating it. At IMPACTfolio, we use what we call our 3 D’s. It involves the following three types of questions: data gathering, diagnosis, and discovery. Each of these serve a unique and distinct purpose.
Data gathering questions ensure that we have the proper information to do analysis and make recommendations. Diagnostic questions bring intentionality to planning by ensuring that clients are aware of the consequences of various aspects of their financial situation and decisions they have made thus far. Discovery questions infuse a plan with meaning by facilitating conversations about what's most important to the client and then anchoring the plan according to those values.
This 3D approach to client inquiry is what really brings a financial plan to life.
Data Gathering Questions
This is the most straight-forward type of inquiry. Data gathering is quantitative in nature and involves fact finding with respect to assets, liabilities, income, expenses, etc.
Financial planning requires figuring out where you are today as compared to where you want to be. And just like you can't give directions to someone if you don't know where they are coming from, we can't do proper planning without knowing all about your current financial situation. Effective data gathering is what provides the “GPS coordinates” needed to truly understand the location of your current position in order to guide you to where you need to be.
Diagnostic questions are concerned with identifying a particular problem. These are the types of questions you should be able to answer, but often cannot.
Diagnostic questioning provides peace of mind by helping you understand that we are anticipating issues that may arise and insulating you against these problems you may not be thinking about.
It's all centered around a simple question: What if?
Some of the contingencies are macro:
- What if legislation passes that changes the tax rates or alters health care laws?
- What if the inflation rate rises?
- What if the stock market has a major correction?
- What if a parent begins to experience diminished capacity?
- What if you live longer than planned?
- What if your spouse dies early?
- What if you lack sufficient liquidity to meet your spending needs?
Discovery questions are often conflated with data gathering, but they are different. If data-gathering questions are about "what you have," discovery questions are about "what you believe." Whereas data gathering questions might focus on the timing and spending needs in retirement, discovery questions are about understanding what a meaningful and successful retirement looks like to you. The goal is to discern what's most important to you.
A classic representation of comprehensive financial planning is a puzzle where all of the pieces need to fit together. All financial decisions are interrelated and contingent on one another. But all too often, something is missing from this analogy. We can forget that the single most important piece of the puzzle is the picture on the top of the box.
In order to build a puzzle, you need to first understand the scene you are trying to piece together. Likewise, before going about trying to put all the pieces together to build a financial plan, we first need to gain a really clear vision of what your ideal future looks like. True discovery paints this metaphorical picture on the top of the box.