Thirty-two years ago I decided to re-establish my skills as a computer programmer. As a result of my training as a programmer in the 60s, I preferred to write very tight, very fast code. Elegant. Back then you had no choice.
That can be quite time consuming and it seems there is always a better way that you find a bit too late.
My friend Max Doutre pointed out that it was a waste of time and energy. “Just buy a faster processor and more memory.”
I never felt comfortable with that idea. Efficiency is a good target. But, I did buy a faster computer with more memory and eventually stopped trying to write programs.
I have recently come upon a thought from computer scientist and entrepreneur, Paul Graham. I think it explains why I quit.
When you’re forced to be simple, you’re forced to face the real problem. When you can’t deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance.
Financial plans are the same. Substance or ornament?
In the financial plan form, substance provides many things to the client and costs their professional planning assistant very little. Keep it simple and address the real problems.
Curiously, clients understand. They know less about the ornamented bloviation found in many plans.
Clients usually want help with the tools. What’s available? What is specific to their situation? Which ones fit inside the budget? What do they give up to get those?
As discussed earlier, mathematical proofs are great proofs when they use simple tools and provide insight into why the proof must be so. As it is in programming and mathematics, ornamentation detracts from the message. Try to avoid that flaw.
When you begin to address substance you will find that you can save a great deal of time and trouble if you deal with people who have some skill in the subject matter. You could assume that a particular tool is efficient and useful and simple, but if the client has no concept of net present value or taxation or reasonable yield, it will tend to become a black box that receives capital on one side and spits out benefits on the other.
That sort of tool cannot be productively reviewed and maintained.
Simplicity, despite its front end cost of acquiring skilled clients, or time educating less skilled ones, pays handsomely. Knowledgeable clients anticipate and co-operate. They appreciate new information. They ask questions. They accept some responsibility for actions that fall short of the intended target. All in, they are easier to help.
Your practice should follow the same rules as financial plans. Use simple tools and see how it all fits together. Avoid ornamentation. You should be able to explain the meaning of what you do.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.
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