Meg Bartelt, CFP®, MSFP is the founder of Flow Financial Planning and one of our newly minted RightCapital Brand Ambassadors. She is a fee-only, virtual financial planner dedicated to helping women in tech cultivate financial strength and connect to a larger professional support network. She recently shared some insights as to how she runs her practice and here's what she had to say.
What planning services do you provide?
I provide the whole shebang: comprehensive financial planning services including investment management and advice.
The most common financial planning topics I help my clients with are:
Understanding and creating a strategy for their stock compensation
Understanding their cash flow and aligning it better with their values and financial goals
I also talk through tax planning, insurance planning, and estate planning (you know, the usual) with my clients, though I direct them to other professionals for more-detailed analysis and implementation.
One of my primary roles is to explain how all the different pieces work together, what the entire picture looks like. My clients are smart. (I’m sure yours are, too.) They can Google with the best of them. They know 1,000 different things they should be doing with their finances, but they often don’t know how all those 1,000 different things work together and influence each other. It’s my job to show them the integrated whole.
Who is your target audience/what types of clients do you like to work with?
I work with women in their early-to-mid careers in the tech industry. That tends to define not only a certain set of financial considerations (stock compensation, high cost of living, high tax brackets), but also a certain set of cultural traits (an emphasis on food and travel, a desire to give to causes they care about) and personal traits (a casual, irreverent style) that I love to be around.
I like to work with these women because they’re smart, and I can learn from them as they’re learning from me. I can learn about their careers, trends in the tech industry (which I used to work in myself), and an unpredictable hodge-podge of random facts from their interests and activities.
I am extremely (!!) motivated by the idea that money gives women choice. And the tech industry gives them the opportunity to build that financial strength. I want to make sure they don’t squander those opportunities.
What does your typical client walk-through look like?
Every client starts with my Initial Planning process. This consists of four meetings:
Money Perspectives and Stories
To better understand their attitude towards money, and to get a handle on upcoming transitions that could affect their finances.
The "Why?" of their financial choices. What’s of core importance to the client? I use a version of George Kinder’s famous three questions.
Exploration: This meeting takes place mostly in RightCapital.
First I confirm the data we have (so no “garbage in, garbage out”), which always leads to some sort of deeper conversation about...something, be it spending, or a goal, or savings habits.
We review their net worth. Many of clients have never thought of their money in terms of net worth. They either don’t think of their money in any particular way or they think of it in terms of income and expenses on a monthly basis. So, again, conversation starter!
This all leads up to using RightCapital to illustrate various paths their lives could take. I start by showing some scenarios of my choice, and encourage them to tell me what other scenarios they’d like to see. As I became more competent in RightCapital, it became simple to illustrate whatever the client wanted to see, on the fly. This helps us all see what changes they need to make to support a particular future. Or what future they’ll have if they make certain choices now. It’s play time. Clients really get into it. They often comment that, for the first time, they really grasp how all the bits and pieces work together.
For this meeting, my team drafts a written financial plan, focused on goals, the high-level strategies to achieve those goals, and next steps. In the meeting, the client and I walk through it, editing and rearranging as we go, depending on what resonates with the client and what has changed, even since the last meeting. We end up with a plan that the client can feel invested in (pardon the pun), and motivated to follow, because they helped create it.
After that initial planning process, we schedule two or three meetings with the client for the remainder of the year, during which we will work on some of the major topics we just discussed. We also have an annual renewal meeting. And I encourage clients to reach out to me—for an email, phone call, or meeting—whenever questions or decisions arise. Some clients do this a little, and some clients really take advantage of it. Which I love. It makes the relationship and the results of our work so much stronger.
How does technology help your practice?
There’s the obvious benefit of saving time (and therefore money). Using a scheduling tool instead of the endless email back-and-forth, for example.
It provides a better, tailored client experience. Especially working with people in the tech industry, I simply could not send them physical paperwork, even if I wanted. It’d be a cultural misfire. Good examples of this are Docusign and Google Forms.
It enables us to do things we simply couldn’t do without technology. Using RightCapital to illustrate a variety of scenarios, on the fly, in the meeting with a client is a great example.
Are there any tools or exercises that your clients find most useful?
In addition to the “let’s explore different scenarios” exercise mentioned above, I find a spending review to be really useful. Not a budgeting exercise. Not a “let’s reduce your spending” exercise (although it might come to that). But simply a review of what the client spends in a month, and how that compares to the values and lifestyle I know are important to them. It’s often their first opportunity to see that, “Hey! Why am I spending so much money on that, when I don’t actually care about it that much?” Or “Could I spend less on this so that I’d be less stressed out about this other thing I’m trying to do?”
As I hope has been obvious, all of these exercises, meetings, and techniques are most helpful because they inspire thought and conversation, where historically the client has rarely (if ever) thought about these things, and certainly not said the words out loud. Often clients make their own decisions thanks “only” to the fact that they’ve finally had the opportunity to hash it all out with someone they can trust to be knowledgeable and caring.
In terms of tools I find most useful:
My scheduling tool not only prevents the email back-and-forth, but it also helps me filter out prospective clients who aren’t a good fit, which helps save time in yet another way. I use ScheduleOnce because it gives me ultimate control over my calendar.
I use an online mindmapping tool (mindmeister) to guide conversations in the first two upfront meetings. Clients seem to like seeing the “outline” of the conversation we’re having. We also use it to record and organize all the nitty gritty of the client’s financial life.
We live by our CRM (though I’m not attached to our particular tool, so I shan’t mention it). Especially now that I have an employee and a contractor, it’s essential. But even before hiring, it was essential to standardizing my process and not letting anything fall through the cracks.
TextExpander! I started using TextExpander simply to avoid having to retype or copy-and-paste emails I send 1000 times. The unexpected benefit, but a benefit that ended up being way bigger than the obvious one, was that using TextExpander forced me to think more systematically about my process. How could I standardize my process, my communication so that I could use TextExpander? We share the “snippets” among the team, too, which helps standardize across team members.
What is the best way for someone to contact you if they are interested in learning more about your practice?
They can visit my website flowfp.com.