Appreciation of the Past, Hope for the Future

Journal of Financial Planning: February 2020


Jonathan Guyton, CFP®, is ​principal of Cornerstone Wealth Advisors Inc., a holistic financial planning and wealth management firm in Edina, Minnesota. He is a researcher, mentor, author, and frequent national speaker on retirement planning and asset distribution strategies. He is a longtime columnist and contributor to the Journal.

A few months ago, I saw it in my to-be-perused-when-possible pile of print publications. On the cover’s lower left corner: “40 Years: Trusted Since 1979.”

Wow, I thought—the Journal of Financial Planning is 40 years old! This article describes my appreciation for its past and my hopes for its future. Why, you may ask. Because of how significant and invaluable the Journal has been in my professional development and practice management over the decades. And not just from its columns and articles, but also the conversations with colleagues about what we had read and learned (or not yet fully understood) in its pages.

Most often, my professional aha moments and confirmations came from the thoughtful, peer-reviewed contributions in these pages from the brightest (and bravest) of our colleagues. Collectively, they advanced my understanding of a fiduciary client care standard, increased self-confidence, helped avoid “bad advice,” and generated more practice growth and profitability than its past leaders will ever know.

In short, what we financial planners read here is essentially a journal of what financial planning “done well” probably looks like. What makes this a dynamic and evolving venture is the “probably.”

The Art and the Science

Because financial planning is a social science, doing it well lives between and amongst the worlds of both science and art. It’s a level of client advice and care which, in the words of former FPA President, Guy Cumbie, is somehow “more than the sum of its parts” … partly because, in the words of William Bruce Cameron and Albert Einstein (and frequently quoted by former FPA President, Elizabeth Jetton) “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Attempts to embrace these both have created some of the Journal’s most illuminating issues. It has also helped the profession course-correct when it moved too far in one direction to the exclusion of the other.

We easily forget that, not many decades ago, there was very little evidence-based knowledge about many of the matters on which financial planning clients seek advice. In its absence, practitioners relied on best practices, often with little justification for what actually made them “best.” And we ran projections for client after client because we had no empirical confidence about if the level of savings or spending were “safe.” Numerous Journal contributions later, those days went from “now” to “then.”

More often than not, as soon as something seemed pinned down empirically, thoughtful planners would wonder about its related consequences—beneficial or unintended—on the rest of a client’s comprehensive picture, often saying so in these pages. That’s because we practice in a field where the right, best, or optimal answer always requires input from both the right and left brains, as well as the head and the heart. It’s often easy to consult only one side since it can be inconveniently messy to consider the other.

At its best, through the writings and research of both practitioners and academics, the Journal has often been a place where our profession doesn’t get off quite so easily.

I could never come close to listing the specific columns, contributions, research, and writings that have led to my greatest professional growth. Not only would I embarrassingly omit countless key examples, but in many cases, one piece’s greatest value lay in combination with or opposition to another.

Any attempted list would span articles on cash flow techniques, uses/misuses of debt, key insights into the psychology and emotions of “money behavior,” objective investment history as well as asset allocation “hoaxes,” powerful income tax principles and guideposts, nuances surrounding retirement sustainability (both saving and spending), understanding how past research rendered unnecessary literally thousands of planning reprojections, and an appreciation for connecting end-of-life planning with the values and opportunities present in a client’s previous decades of life.

A Guidebook for the Career Journey

A recent conversation with an FPA Residency graduate may crystallize things best. This recent CFP® certificant asked, “What should I be looking for as I regularly wade through my professional reading?”

Initially, I said reading quality material is like drinking from a firehose; everything contains something you don’t know. This can be painful, but it’s the breaking down and rebuilding of professional muscles which, hopefully, never stops.

Next, you’ll notice patterns, repetitions, and an occasional sense of something that “just can’t be right.” Finally, years on, you’ll notice more and more often that topics and concepts presented as new merely serve to reinforce the evidence-based advice from which your clients have been benefiting for years and years.  

Such a career journey would be impossible without a worthy guidebook. The Journal of Financial Planning—more than any publication I know—has been responsible for presenting and cementing the steady advances in our profession’s knowledge and understanding. The professional landscape that has formed is indeed more significant than any individual landmarks.

The Future

Yet work is necessary to nurture this legacy for the future. Though the Journal’s impact is undoubtedly enhanced by contributions from financial planning academics, it is vital for its practitioner leaders to identify where research and rethinking could be especially beneficial to the practice of financial planning. They should call out instances where sponsored “white papers” claim as original those findings that first appeared here (many) years ago. Its peer reviewers must continue to demand that contributed submissions indeed be contributions that advance our knowledge. To make way for columns by thinkers having worthwhile things to say (and ask), it should gracefully retire columnists who no longer do. And, finally, we should all consider to what degree the future of so vital a professional resource should be dependent upon the support of advertisers rather than from some sort of endowment.

To the degree that we can engage in such work, the Journal of Financial Planning will remain the invaluable textbook and treasure that has guided well so many financial planning careers in the last 40 years. And like most of you, I will hope to continue learning and growing with it during its next 40.

Learn More

To commemorate the Journal’s 40th anniversary, the editorial team curated essential reading from the Journal archives into a special digital edition. This collection of inspiring thought leadership pieces and foundational research papers represent the Journal’s heritage and celebrate its unique place helping to shape—and advance—the financial planning profession.

Access the 40th anniversary digital edition HERE.​ 

General Financial Planning Principles