Most advisors ignore clients' debts and cash flow until they become major problems.
That's a poor policy. You should be including debt and cash-flow in your process with all clients, until you conclude there's no need in a specific client scenario.
Consider what your peers are doing:
Better than nothing
What I see from many advisors:
- Asking for raw data: Clients might fill out a thorough data form that includes liabilities so the advisor can grasp their net worths. In some cases, this is not a requirement to take on clients or sell them financial products.
- Little bit on cash flow: If there is a discussion about cash flow early on in the relationship, it is rarely revisited unless there is a problem. If advice is offered, nothing beyond a few comments.
- Reactive debt referrals: Clients who express concerns about their mortgages, or who let their advisors know they've got mortgages renewals coming up, may be referred to a lender with whom the advisor has a working relationship.
What I see from some advisors:
- Asking for raw data and validating: Clients must fill out a thorough data form as a required part of the advisors' new client review process, and it includes questions on debt. The advisor follows up to clarify any data.
- Data collection of cash flow: This is done based on a form the client fills out, or through a review of bank statements.
- Some form of budgeting: The advisor provides a worksheet on reducing costs. Sometimes advice is offered on reducing fixed expenses like cable bills, grouping of general insurance policies or replacing multiple creditor insurance policies with term.
- Possible proactive debt referrals: Debt is examined for wasted cash flow and inefficiencies. No actual debt repayment plan is created and no significant changes to spending implemented.
What I rarely see, unless the advisors have been trained in debt and cash flow:
- Requiring data before an appointment: Prospects fill out a thorough data form, including both debt and cash flow information, which they must send to the advisor before she'll see them for an appointment. Advisors focus all their client-facing time on clarifying data, and getting to the heart of what the client really wants.
- A written cash-flow plan: A written, specific plan is given to the client that focuses on not only the math behind the numbers, but also behavioural changes to ensure clients can easily follow the plan and stay on track.
- Proactive debt referrals with repayment plan: Most clients' debt structures are inefficient, so debt advice doesn't stop with the referral of a lender. The advisor provides a written projection of where the client's debt should be over the years, and both client and advisor know that is feasible because of the cash-flow plan.
- Debt and cash-flow reviews: Reviewing the client's debt and spending is part of the advisor's automatic review process.
You wouldn't only talk to some clients about insurance or investments, so don't leave two of the biggest influences on how much a client can put toward those options – debt and spending — out of your regular discussion.
Follow a process with every client and don't use a one-off, reactive approach to debt and cash flow. Process plus proactivity means profit for both you and your clients.