Life-first Financial Planning: Helping Clients Look at the Big Picture

Helping people succeed financially isn’t about dollars and cents or numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s really about uncovering and understanding where clients are in life and how they’re feeling about it. Today’s guest runs a practice that helps his clients uncover their goals and find smarter ways to achieve them.

Mark Shimkovitz has been providing financial planning advice and managing investment portfolios for 25 years. He works together with his wife Robin, a life coach, to take a life-first approach to financial planning. This approach allows him to build personalized financial plans and investment strategies.

Listen to the episode to hear what life-first financial planning is, what it was like for Mark to start an independent practice after over twenty years working for banks and why he’s excited about giving back.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode: 

  • How Mark compares working for a bank to running an independent practice (5:10)
  • How Mark brings his philosophy into the conversation with clients (12:30)
  • Mark’s three-dimensional planning process (14:45)
  • How Mark and his team help clients create – and stick with – a budget (26:10)
  • Why investment management is just a small slice of the wealth management pie (31:15)
  • Mark’s focused approach to acquiring clients (37:40)
  • How giving back is – and isn’t – part of Mark’s business (49:25)

Links and Resources: 

Mark Shimkovitz

Living Richer Podcast

 Quotes by Mark Shimkovitz: 

“I’m very clear, in fact, in saying that you know when you’re hiring me, the investment management component is only one slice, and it’s not a very large slice.”

“We need to be able to articulate and demonstrate why we deserve to be paid more than, you know, 30 or 40 basis points that could perhaps be attributable to the investment management.”

“Let’s really look at the big picture. Let’s look at what’s really most important to you. Those should be your benchmarks for measuring success.”

With plenty of experience working for banks and now running his own financial practice, Mark has figured out a lot about what works in financial planning – and what doesn’t. He has a clear philosophy and strategy for his own business, so it makes sense that’s exactly what he helps his clients with in their own lives.

Below, we’re sharing three key ideas from this episode:

  • A three-dimensional planning process
  • How Mark and his team help clients create – and stick with – a budget
  • Why investment management is just a small slice of the wealth management pie

For the rest of the episode, find the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or hit the link above.

A three-dimensional planning process

Mark’s life-first approach means he has come up with a custom three-step planning process that he uses with clients. He calls it the 3D process: discover, design, and deploy.


Financial discovery is obviously a crucial part of providing good financial advice. And Mark goes deep into it with clients: where are they now? Where do they want to be? What financial obligations are likely to come up in their lives? When do they want to retire and what does that look like to them?

But for Mark, the financial side is the easy part of discovery. First, he needs to understand where clients are at emotionally. How do they feel about where they are today? What gets them up in the morning? What keeps them up at night?

He wants to understand their goals so that he can truly provide life-first advice. If he doesn’t know what they want out of life, it’s hard to know what financial strategies make sense for them.

Hint: This deep-dive into clients’ goals is a great way to separate yourself from what the big banks offer. For more on this topic, listen to Episode 23: How to Differentiate Your Independent Practice from the Big Banks with Chris Rawles and Spencer Tilley.


Next, Mark looks at what needs to be done to get clients from where they are to where they want to be. He looks at all aspects – the savings strategy, the estate planning, tax strategy and so on.

Of course, no one wants to be given a huge list of things they need to do. That’s why Mark also prioritizes the steps so that it’s clear where the focus needs to be. He shows clients what they need to do now and what they’ll want to address later on but don’t need to worry about just yet.


Deployment is pretty self-evident – it’s putting the plan into action. As assets start to come in, Mark begins working with clients on their investments and savings strategy. He also brings in his office’s internal experts to review wills and powers of attorney to make sure all their bases are covered.

How Mark and his team help clients create – and stick with – a budget

Have you ever seen clients balk when you bring up budgeting? It makes sense. Budgets are tough to build accurately, they can feel restrictive and they’re about as easy to stick with as a fad diet (so… not easy at all).

A lot of people think about budgeting as subtracting expenses from income to figure out what they should be saving – but does it ever really work that way?

Instead, Mark frames budgeting as “spending money with purpose.” Rather than mindlessly letting money go where it goes, he encourages clients to be intentional about the way they use it.

And yes, the first step is knowing how much money is coming in, followed by figuring out the non-negotiable expenses. But to Mark, one of those non-negotiable expenses is paying your future self.

This is part of his “pay yourself first” strategy. It means having a really strong “why” – a meaningful reason for putting the money away. As long as the goal is clear and stronger than in-the-moment impulses, budgeting works well.

The caveat

Often, people will get excited about a budget that they can see truly aligns with their most important goals. But after a while, they won’t necessarily stick to it.

That’s where Robin’s side of the business – the life coaching – comes in. She helps clients understand why they might have trouble sticking with a budget, why they might want to work on their behaviour and how they can do it.

Hint: You may not have a life coach working with you, but the takeaway here is that a budget isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal. It’s a recursive process that requires a lot of reinforcement to help clients remember what that budget is helping them accomplish.

Why investment management is just a small slice of the wealth management pie

Mark finds that people often conflate wealth management and investment management. But they’re not the same thing – the first is just one component of the latter.

For example, if a client is saving $1000 a month in their RRSP and Mark helps them find a way to save an extra $100 a month, he’s just helped their retirement savings grow by 10% – a huge gain. On the other hand, trying to shave four or five basis points on an ETF or negotiating down a small fee isn’t going to have nearly the same effect.

Wealth management to Mark means taking a step back to look at the whole picture and identify what’s really important to the client – and what’s going to have the biggest impact on getting them there.

To hear more advice from Mark, including a break-down of his investment strategy, what he suggests to new advisors and more, make sure you catch the full episode. You can find the show here on this page or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher so you don’t miss any episodes. 

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