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« Checklists for Professional Financial Advisors | Main | Checklists: A Critical Tool for the Investment Fiduciary »

For the financial advisor, checklists aren’t instructions

Lots of checklists I see are actually instructions.  There is an important difference -- a well crafted checklist for regular use in a financial advisor's practice is designed for the professional, a practitioner who may have decades of experience.  Users of these lists know how to do the task at hand; the purpose of the checklist is to confirm that nothing has been forgotten, no critical steps omitted.

I read a blog post recently praising checklists for financial advisors.  It said "If you can read, you can do it."  I can't see a professional sticking with a list like that for very long.

Can you imagine a checklist named "Prepare a retirement plan" designed for anyone who can read?  It would be pages long, with conditional tasks and branches.  A list for any complicated task like that would take way too long to complete or could actually be insulting to the professional. Either way, it would soon be dropped and forgotten, and that wouldn't accomplish any practice management objectives.

A checklist should be brief.  Brevity requires that it be written in the language of the financial advisor.  Also, there is no need to include items the professional would not likely forget.  A checklist for retirement planning, for example, would probably not include the projected or desired retirement age.  Retirement age is an important factor in the plan, but no advisor who has done planning for any length of time would forget to ask.

While compensating for the shortcomings of memory, the checklist will provide for a user to express their professional competencies.  This idea is in conflict with the "anyone who can read" standard.  Approached this way, a well designed checklist for investment management or financial planning may be incomprehensible to someone who is not an investment adviser.  "Review SAI" or "confirm Social Security inflation assumption" could be a useful memory jog for the financial advisor and incomprehensible to a non-professional.

When checklists designing for practice management, keep in mind that they should not slow the process down. They must focus on critical steps that are easy to forget, rather than all potential steps.  And they can be written in professional jargon and short hand.  Created with these principles, checklists are valuable tools an experienced financial advisor can appreciate and enjoy.

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