We’ve all got one – a “Crazy Uncle Charlie.” 

He’s the family member who’s just a little bit odd, the black sheep who tends to break from the family and might disappear for years at a time.

After they’re gone we shake our heads sadly believing that “Charlie” (insert the name of your crazy relative here) has wasted his or her life. But sometimes we’re surprised to discover that Charlie experienced more success, created more change and influenced more people than we ever thought possible. 

We within the financial planning community had just such a “Charlie” in our family.  His name was Thomas Leonard.

Leonard was a financial planner who in the 1980’s realized that many of his most successful clients needed something more from him than just financial guidance and investment recommendations.  They needed help translating their financial success into personal satisfaction and fulfillment.  As such Leonard began to “coach” his clients in what he originally called life planning.  Over time, as he saw the impact his coaching was having on his client’s lives, he began to train others on the techniques he was using. 

By the early 1990’s Leonard’s career had gradually shifted away from financial planning to full-time coach training, which he dubbed Coach University.  Coach U as it is now called, was the first - and is now considered one of the premier - life coach training organizations in the world.  Leonard was also instrumental in the formation of the International Coach Federation, the leading self-regulatory organization that oversees the coaching industry.  Today Leonard, a former financial planner, is considered by many to be the father of the modern Life Coaching industry.

While many of us tend to dismiss “life coaching” as something less than a legitimate profession, the parallels to our own financial planning industry are intriguing.  First, the value proposition of both industries are remarkably similar – to help clients achieve their goals.  Second, both industries continue to struggle to define who they are and what they do.  Each offers a variety of sometimes competing credentials that often end up confusing consumers.  In that respect the life coaching industry is likely 25 years behind the financial planning industry, but I need do no more than mention the word ‘fiduciary’ to make the point. 

Finally - and forgive me for expressing this one – the quality of practitioners varies widely.  Many of us tend to believe these “coaches” are hardly qualified to deliver on the promise they present. I have been fortunate enough over the last few years to meet several coaches who come from backgrounds in psychology, counseling or other fields who are truly skilled in the coaching process and in helping clients overcome perceived obstacles to achieve their personal goals.  At the same time I have also encountered a number of financial advisors over the years who - how shall I say it - failed to inspire a great deal of confidence.

So why should we care?  Because the life coach industry is exploding and many of these coaches are directly competing for the role of “trusted advisor” that you want to play in your client’s lives 

The ICF has over 18,000 members with an estimated four times that many non-member individuals practicing some form of life, career, retirement or other coaching specialty.  With the well-known baby boom retirement wave now cresting, several coach training programs are specifically teaching emerging coaches how to address non-financial retirement issues.  Certainly they cannot compete in the financial arena, but as Leonard discovered and the continual redefinition of retirement today clearly demonstrates, our clients are seeking more than just financial guidance.  If they don’t receive that guidance from you, they will seek it elsewhere, thereby cracking the door just enough for someone else to supplant you as your client’s most influential advisor.

So what can you do?

Like any service you can either outsource the service to a qualified partner (i.e. create a referral relationship with a coach to send your clients to) or develop the skills in-house.  Recognizing that the entire coaching industry was born out of the kinds of conversations we have with clients every day, integrating some of these coaching techniques into your client conversations is actually quite easy. In fact, there is much the life coaching industry can teach us about asking the right questions and deepening our client relationships.  Does that mean you have to turn into a life coach?  Not at all.  What it does mean is that you move from being the client’s trusted financial advisor to being the client’s trusted personal advisor – a role with exponentially more value.  In coming blogs I’ll share with you some techniques from the coaching industry you can use to engage your clients in conversations that move you beyond just being a financial advisor, to becoming your client’s trusted personal advisor.

Keith J. Weber, CFP®, CPRC, is a speaker, author and founder of Weber Consulting Group, LLC, a financial advisor training, coaching and practice management consulting firm focused on providing life planning skills to advisors.  Through the website Retirement2020.com, Keith provides tools to advisors and clients to help build stronger client relationships.  Keith maintains the CFP® designation and is also a Certified Professional Retirement Coach.  His latest book, Rethinking Retirement, was released in July, 2010.  For more information visit www.kjweber.com, www.Retirement2020.com or follow Keith on LinkedIn at Keith J Weber or on Twitter @KeithJWeber.