Advisors: Role Expansion to Coaching

Family/marital issues, health issues, grief, religion: just a few of the non-financial topics that advisors work through with their clients. A few years ago, a large-scale study of advisors yielded a wealth of information on the evolving role of financial advisors as coaches (Dubofsky & Sussman, 2009). The research, which included approximately 1,400 advisors associated with either the FPA or CFP board, highlighted the topics, challenges, and critical incidents faced by advisors related to non-financial issues. Nearly 90% of advisors reported engaging in non-financial coaching/counseling, and 25% of the advisors’ contact with clients consisted of non-financial issues. Three-quarters of those surveyed estimated that time has increased in the past five years. Some of the non-financial issues discussed included:

Personal life goals (64%)
Physical health (52%)
Career-related issues (50%)

Death of family member/friend, conflicts/disagreements with children, and marital problems were also listed as top areas discussed. In terms of amount of time spent, advisors reported that personal life goals, a client’s career/job, and physical health took up the most time.

The transition of financial services professionals, from transactional to transformational relationships with clients, from sales-based advisement to holistic practice, is also challenging the distinctions between financial coaches, counselors, and advisors (see, for example, Collins & O’Rourke’s (2012) definitions of each) often used by academics and practitioners today. These blurred lines give advisors who are focused on the well-being of their clients the opportunity to build expertise in this area, and also communicate that offering to potential clients. In the 2009 study, only 17% of advisors promoted/marketed coaching/life planning as a service.

The authors conclude with this:

Divorce, family strife, suicide, drugs, mental health, religion and spirituality, illness, and death – this reads like a list of issues that would and should be managed by a member of the clergy, social worker, psychologist, or physician. Our research reveals that financial planners often face these issues. Knowledge about investments and insurance will not solve these problems. Possessing advanced degrees in accounting, taxation, finance, or investments will serve planners well, but will not be sufficient. To the extent that financial planning is designed to help a client meet personal life goals, coaching and life planning skills will become requisite skills for financial planners.

Algorithms and technology will be hard-pressed to replace the personal relationships required to navigate through the complex topics above. Building competence in relationship management and coaching is critical, and a follow up article (Sussman & Dubofsky, 2009) gives excellent recommendations/prescriptions for advisors looking to implement coaching in their own practice.


Collins, J. M., & O’Rourke, C. M. (2012). The application of coaching techniques to financial issues. Journal of Financial Therapy, (2), 3.

Dubofsky, D., & Sussman, L. (2009). The changing role of the financial planner part 1: From financial analytics to coaching and life planning. Journal of Financial Planning, 22 (8), 48-57.

Sussman, L., & Dubofsky, D. (2009). The changing role of the financial planner part 2: Prescriptions for coaching and life planning. Journal of Financial Planning, 22 (9), 50-56.

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