Back in 2015, Carl Richards made a bit of a stir in the financial planning community when he published his book, “The One-Page Financial Plan”, which suggested that most important aspects of a full financial plan could (and should) be delivered to clients on a single page (effectively a form of executive summary). The appeal of this approach was offering a useful and easy-to-produce deliverable for clients (that could be updated on an ongoing basis to account for the fact that conditions and circumstances are in constant flux), and more generally was a way to reframe the concept of the ‘full’ financial plan by drilling down to just the most actionable points of advice (which is all the client really ‘needs’ to implement in the end anyway). Yet if advisors are really going to encapsulate their entire recommendations into a single-page financial plan, the question arises: can financial advisors really get away with eschewing a full financial plan, and if most clients never read the full plan after it’s presented anyway what is the real purpose of producing the financial plan in the first place?
In our 63rd episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss the origin story of the one-page financial plan, the key elements of a good one-page financial plan, and why it’s not meant to be a replacement for a full financial plan (which then exists as a form of “technical appendix” to provide in-depth support to validate the one-page summary), but instead, act as an executive summary of the full plan as well a reference-point that advisors and clients can use when making decisions.
As a starting point, it’s important to understand that the full financial plan is incredibly important. The breadth and depth of the work that financial planners do cannot fit on one page. But it’s equally important to acknowledge that the full financial plan becomes ‘outdated’ the instant that a client walks out of the presentation meeting, and in the end, most clients simply can’t absorb the full extent of numbers and details that are encapsulated in a comprehensive financial plan (which really functions more as support calculations to ‘prove’ that the recommendation itself is technically accurate).
Accordingly, one approach to address the full financial plans that some financial planners have adopted is to also include an executive summary, or, one-page financial plan, that is meant to provide not only a quick reference that advisors and clients to use as a guidepost, but as a living document that is easily updated as life happens and things evolve. Beyond which the entire remainder of the financial plan serves as a “technical appendix” for that executive summary.
While various planners have adapted these one-page plans to fit their needs, items that are commonly found on such a document include: a Statement Of Financial Purpose, which acts as a sort of guiding star, or overarching “Why”; a list of goals, which can be listed in such a way that prioritizes those goals which carry the least desirable outcome if not achieved; and finally, a list of the things that need to happen over the next 90 days. Put another way, the one-page plan summarizes the Why, What, and How of the larger plan, and is a tangible deliverable that advisors and clients can use as a yardstick against which financial decisions can be measured and that can (and should) be regularly updated as action items are completed and goals are achieved (or get shifted).
Which, again, isn’t to say that the full plan doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have a place in the planning conversation. Rather, the action items on the one-page plan are necessarily the result of a rigorous analysis of the client’s situation to demonstrate that it is technically accurate. And while a relatively low percentage of clients have an interest in digging in to examine the nitty-gritty of how final recommendations are calculated, for newer advisors (in particular) who are still establishing their credibility, the full plan can act as an audit trail of sorts to not only show where “that number” came from, but as a tool to boost an advisor’s own confidence levels.
Ultimately, the key point is that one-page summaries of the most meaningful and actionable information in a financial plan (i.e., the Why, What, and How) can be a powerful tool that financial advisors can use both as a living document that can be regularly updated as “life happens” and as a filter through which advisors can help their clients navigate important financial decisions as they arise. Which, at the end of the day, acts as an executive summary of the valuable analysis in the full plan and as a way to keep advisors and clients focused on what matters most.