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                    professional development
  Julia Chung has taken to ordering a book
in bulk and handing out copies to her clients, especially those approaching retirement.
“Read this,” the Vancouver-based financial planner tells them, “and we’ll talk.”
The book? Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Silicon Val- ley veterans Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
This manual for “design thinking” — which grew out of Burnett and Evans’ course at Stan- ford University — teaches regular folks how to take the mindsets and processes that design- ers use to create iPhones or Ferraris and apply them to the complex, open-ended problems of everyday life — including financial plans.
Chung is the CEO of Spring Planning, an advice-only firm that virtually serves clients across Canada. She and her colleagues have embraced design thinking, applying it to every aspect — cash flow, tax and investment strat- egies, retirement and estate planning — of their work with clients. Design thinking was the firm’s theme last year, with a monthly ser- ies of blog posts devoted to the framework.
It’s an approach that other advisors are con- sidering. Too often, says Anna Foat, a director in Sun Life’s digital transformation office, plan- ners and their clients treat financial planning as what Burnett and Evans might describe as an
“engineering problem,” with a correct answer that can be arrived at through algorithms and mathematical formulas.
Financial planning, she points out, has relied for decades on a so-called “age and stage” approach: clients start careers and pay for their education in their 20s; they get married, have kids and buy a house in their 30s; and they build careers in their 40s. Traditional planning has pre- scribed how much clients should be saving, as well as the right products for each phase.
“Those very static demographic personas aren’t really true anymore,” says Foat, who teaches a continuing education course in design thinking at Western University in London, Ont.
“People within the same age group might have radically different life experiences. As an industry, we need to think about how to meet people where they are, give them the right advice [and] provide them with access to the right products.”
Design thinking, she says, helps advisors build holistic and creative solutions.
How to think like a designer
“We ask lots of open-ended questions,” says Anish Chopra, a partner and managing
director at Portfolio Management Corporation in Toronto.
Too often, he says, planners get caught confirming beliefs rather than seeking out genuinely new, and possibly surprising, infor- mation. Being curious means moving beyond standard questions about goals and risk toler- ance to the more personal motivations, fears, values and dreams behind them.
Chung agrees. “We’re always asking ‘Why?’ We have to be three-year-olds about everything,” she says. “‘You want to retire
at age 65: Why then? What makes 65 the number? What will you do then? What does a typical day of retirement look like to you?’”
These personal questions fly in the face of financial planning as an engineering problem, and provide advisors with meaningful infor- mation, Chung says.
“That’s when the client says, ‘You know, I have a silly confession: I’ve always wanted to raise llamas in Peru.’ And we have to be genuinely curious about that and say, ‘OK, that sounds fun. How do we do that?’” she says. “Clients will use their financial plan if they can see themselves in it.”
Here’s how advisors can apply a design-thinking mindset to their clients’ problems.
FALL 2020
     by Susan Goldberg
   Too often, financial planning is viewed only as a math problem

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