The Coach Approach: 3 Things Every Financial Coach Knows

Journal of Financial Planning: September 2020


Words have power. When we use our words, being mindful of what power we wield can make a big difference in how we help or harm the folks in our realm of influence. Financial coaches know that there are some things that financial experts say or do that can have the opposite effect on what they intend. Let’s check out a few.

Cheerleading. You’ve seen it. The “just think positive” approach or the “I did it and you can too!” Saying it doesn’t make it so—the power of positive thinking is great for many aspects of life, but chanting “make more money” isn’t likely to result in an overflowing piggy bank.
Teaching. Financial education or literacy works, but only if you work it. Knowing better does not always mean doing better, so peddling information is great for those who are ready for action. For those of us who aren’t quite there, well, what else can you offer?
Motivating. Motivation is internal, and if folks don’t own their goals (notice I didn’t say “buy-in”) they are not likely to achieve them.
Even our best intentions can sometimes lead to a less-than-desirable impact. So, how do we use what coaches know to improve how we connect with and impact our clients? First, recognize that what you say has impact and consider the person’s “readiness” to take action, then align your approach with where they are. 

If teaching and cheerleading don’t work, what does? I’m glad you asked. Curiosity is actually one of the greatest tools in a coach’s toolbox. When we believe we already have the answers, we are often focused on what we can do to get the client to take the actions we think will be in their best interest. If we can remain curious during discovery and while building the initial plan, we may be more likely to gain insights into the client’s thinking about the situation, the goal, the opportunities, and the obstacles.

Consider a time when you approached something with curiosity. What did you learn? What might you have missed if you had taken the view of the expert?

One of my favorite quotes from writer Nancy Willard is, “Answers are closed rooms, and questions are open doors that invite us in.” She aptly describes the gift we give to ourselves and our clients when we remain curious and invite answers rather than being laser-focused on providing them. This is not to say that you shouldn’t provide your information or build the plan based on your expertise. It is an opportunity to make sure that your recommendations and guidance aligns with the client’s reality and readiness to implement the plan.

Ready to try it? OK, here are a few simple things you can do to build your curiosity muscle:

Listen with the intention of learning something new. Practice this with someone you know well and don’t tell them what you are working on (that’s stacking the deck).

When someone is talking to you about a topic that concerns them, ask three powerful little words: “And what else?”—the AWE question. Author Michael Bungay Stanier calls this the best coaching question ever, and I think he may just be right.

Pause before your advice mechanism kicks in. Yes, I know it is tough, but you can do it. You can start with something easy, maybe take a breath or count to three and consider if the AWE question might be the right approach.

Curiosity, or the “beginner’s mind” is actually a core tenet of coaching and, as is the case with most things, practice makes better

Saundra Davis, APFC®, FBS®, is a financial coach, educator, consultant, and motivational speaker. She is a past president of the Financial Therapy Association, founder and executive director of Sage Financial Solutions, and a U.S. Navy veteran.

This article appeared in the August issue of the FPA Next Generation Planner, for which Davis writes a regular coaching column. Email your coaching questions to Davis and she might answer them in her next column. Access the FPA Next Generation Planner via the FPA Publications app in the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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