Practical Ways to Keep Improving your Skills as a Financial Planner

In theory, everyone wants to constantly be improving their financial planning skills, but what does it mean to put that into practice? Today’s guest is a relatively new financial planner who has already achieved more than many who have been in the industry much longer. He’s here to share his proven methods for improving his craft.

Zak Smith is the Senior Manager of Financial Planning and Wealth Strategies at Sagium, an independent wealth management firm in Calgary. He is a founding member of the newly formed Financial Planning Association of Canada and volunteers his time as a mentor for the Mount Royal University business department as well as with the CPA Financial Literacy Program. His recent successes include being named the 2019 winner of the PlanPlus Canada Financial Planning Awards, and 2nd runner up of the PlanPlus Global Awards program for the Americas region. 

Listen in to hear Zak talk about how feedback and competition make him a better financial planner, how he’s helping clients through the recent volatility in the markets, and what it’s like to serve clients as a team.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode: 

  • What made Zak switch from accounting to planning (3:20)
  • Zak’s typical process for clients (6:00)
  • How Zak prepared clients for volatility in the markets (11:30)
  • How feedback and competition make Zak a better financial planner (15:05)
  • The challenges Zak encounters in his practice (23:45)
  • How Zak’s team can provide a personal touch while working as a group (30:30)
  • How Zak applies different perspectives to his work (34:15)

Links and Resources:

Zak Smith


Why Financial Planning Software Doesn’t Make Advisors Faster

Quotes by Zak Smith:

“Whether volatility exists now or in the future, we know it’s going to happen.”

“I was always cognizant that hey, is there any metric to what we actually do in this industry as far as a standard for what we’re delivering to our clients?”

“Clarity became the utmost piece in developing our plan reports so that it just made the conversation a lot easier with the clients.” 

Zak is unique as a guest on this show: he’s only five years into his career as a financial planner, and he doesn’t run his own practice. And yet, he’s built into his career ways to constantly improve himself as a planner. So whether you’re just starting or have been doing this a long time, and whether you run your own firm or not, you can draw from his experience and find ways to build on your skills.

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

  • How Zak prepared clients for volatility in the markets
  • How feedback and competition make Zak a better financial planner
  • How Zak applies different perspectives to his work

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

How Zak prepared clients for the recent market volatility

Market volatility has been on all of our minds recently, and financial advisors are at the front lines of questions from clients about what they should do. Do they stay the course? Pull out as quickly as possible? Take advantage of low stock prices?

But Zak has seen fewer questions from clients than he would have expected, and he credits that to the stellar process his firm has when planning for clients. They engage clients in the process right from the beginning and make sure their clients understand that downturns and volatility are just part of the process.

Specifically, they use planning software to actually show clients what kind of volatility can exist in the markets and how it might affect their financial plans — so when clients see it happening in real life, a lot of the fear and confusion just doesn’t happen. Zak makes sure they know what the plan is and how they’ll be looked after no matter what’s happening in the market.

Of course, if clients do have questions, Zak’s team welcomes the conversation. But at no other time has the value of the process been more clear to Zak because he can see firsthand how much comfort their process has provided clients in uncertain times.

Hint: For another perspective to help you guide your clients through a difficult market, listen to How to Measure Client Progress Effectively (Even If Markets Decline) with David Christianson.

How feedback and competition make Zak a better financial planner

Anyone can learn from Zak’s (so far) short but successful career as a financial planner. In particular, he’s been very committed to improving himself as a planner, which has helped him achieve recognition in the field already. But more importantly, it’s made him able to provide a better service to clients.

External feedback

In 2019, Zak won the PlanPlus Canada Financial Planning Awards and was the second runner up in the Americas region for the global awards.

While the accolade is a major honour, Zak simply entered the competition because he wanted to see metrics and a standard for what he was delivering to clients. He had the sense that his team’s process was excellent, and his clients and colleagues seemed happy, but he wanted a panel of industry experts to look at what he was doing and give him feedback on what he could improve.

Before he entered the competition, he took a few years to evolve the process and plan reports with his team until he felt comfortable asking for that external feedback in the form of the competition.

Internal feedback

Zak’s passion for feedback doesn’t only come out in prestigious competitions, though.

It starts in his office, where he and his team do the planning for all of the firm’s clients, whether they’re looking for investments or insurance. Zak and his team do a lot of diverse financial plans, so they can’t always be in the room when those plans are presented to clients.

As a result, they rely on frequent discussions both among themselves and with the advisors at the firm to make sure their plans are working for clients. Zak’s door is always open to colleagues who have an idea to streamline the process, bring more clarity to plans, or improve the client experience.

More formally, they also meet at least once a month to debrief with the advisors and generate ideas for how they can improve the plans. This built-in opportunity to discuss and offer one another feedback is the foundation of Zak’s success as a planner.

How Zak applies different perspectives to his work

Since Zak is still new to the industry, he relies a lot on hearing others’ perspectives and learning from others’ experiences. Podcasts in particular have been a big source of learning from him, and he tries to keep an open mind to different ideas and points of view.

Some of his industry-specific favourites include:

  • Michael Kitces’ Financial Advisor Success Podcast — a well-known classic.
  • Jason Pereira’s Fintech Impact — a friend of the show who focuses on technology and how it impacts the industry.
  • XYPN Radio — a US-centric show. But since the US seems to be further ahead in terms of industry changes, Zak finds this one relevant in terms of learning how he can adapt and service the next generation of clients.

One additional step Zak recommends is reaching out to people after consuming their content. When he has questions or just really connects with what someone writes in an article or says in a podcast, he isn’t afraid to reach out to connect and learn more from them.

Hint: Zak emphasizes that the most important part of learning from others is having a good filter. Everyone has different needs and contexts, so make sure that when you apply others’ ideas, you filter out what doesn’t work and shape the rest to your situation.

To hear more from Zak, like how his accounting background has informed his planning career and why he’s obsessed with clarity, take in the full episode, which you can find right here on this page. Or better yet, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher so you don’t miss any episodes. 

To get new episodes directly to your inbox, you can also sign up for our mailing list below.