Why meaningful conversations are worth more than money

Financial planning

Learn why a strong financial plan needs data and discussion to establish your top priorities.

What thoughts about your wealth—past, present, and future—have you kept private? What personal experiences—joyful or sorrowful, challenging or motivating—influence your financial decision-making? And if you shared these thoughts and stories with your advisors, do you think it would improve your ability to achieve your goals?

Working with a wealth team helps you to create the future you envision—one that encompasses dollars and cents as well as meaningful experiences and relationships with the people you care about. To do that, a wealth team is looking for honest conversations about many topics. While numbers are central to your wealth plan, it’s your personal values that shape your priorities and give meaning to the financial calculations.

“To build the financial plan that truly gets into your underlying purpose, I have to get true answers from you,” says Mike Frost, an advice and planning strategist with Truist Wealth. “When I understand the deeper meaning behind what you want to accomplish with your money, then I can help you build the right financial plan. The only way that happens is if you trust me with your thoughts, dreams, and fears.”

The why behind these conversations

How do you want to spend your time? What causes and issues matter to you? How do you want to approach caring for the people who are important to you? It’s your beliefs on topics like these that can help your advisor assemble a plan—and a team—to accomplish those goals.

Valerie Vander Molen, a senior Truist Wealth advisor, says it’s important for clients to understand why advisors bring up these topics. The more information advisors have, the better the advice they can give you, she says. That means digging deeper than tax returns, financial statements, and asset allocations.

“If we don’t really understand how you think about these things, what we’re recommending could be totally inappropriate,” Vander Molen says. “For example, if our recommendations save you tax dollars but cause an untenable situation, then the advice is shortsighted.

“I want to get a complete picture of who you are, what you’re trying to achieve, and how your family operates in addition to your financial data. That gives me the best foundation to provide comprehensive advice so that you can feel confident making financial decisions.”

Truist Wealth’s hands-on approach to listening

You may not know where you want the conversation to begin or which topics to prioritize. To help, Truist developed an experience advisors can use with their clients: a deck of 14 “listening cards.” Each card covers a specific topic that may interest you. With the cards laid out in front of you, you organize them based on what’s important to you.

The experience puts you in control of the conversation. And it allows you to share your perspective on a broad topic. For example, what the “Dreams and visions” card means to you may be entirely different from what it means to somebody else, even your partner. By hearing this information, your advisory team learns the context behind your priorities.

“The listening cards focus the conversation—and deepen it,” says Rob Miles, head of national sales for Truist Wealth. “We want you to think about all your interests so we can help you factor them into your decision making.”

Brooke Tiller, a Truist Wealth advisor, says, “We want to understand where you’re coming from, where you are today, and where you want to go. The cards allow us to open the door to these important conversations.”

Keeping the conversation going

These searching conversations will evolve over time. You may need to build toward them, or even acknowledge that you haven’t fully considered the topic.

“If the answer is, ‘I don’t know,’ that’s okay,” says Karen Cole, a Truist Wealth Advisor in the Legal Specialty Group. “That tells me we need to discuss it further. Perhaps we make a note to discuss it again at a future meeting when you have had more time to discuss it as a family.”

This deeper dive isn’t a one-and-done experience. It’s a journey, where priorities can—and will—change.

“Every time we meet, you’re going to tell us something different that has happened or may happen,” Cole says. “It’s important for us to be aware of those life changes so we can plan for them.”

Sparking conversations for a financial plan

Truist Wealth advisors share real examples of how deeper conversations began.

Beyond the business

When one client met with Tiller and Chris Johnson, a senior trust advisor with Truist Wealth, he prioritized his listening cards like an umbrella, with “Dreams and visions” at the top. They knew he had a successful business. But the card led him to tell Tiller and Johnson about his deeper story, which included a significant challenge. “He said, ‘What I’ve been able to create and achieve in the last few years is beyond my wildest dreams,’” Tiller recalls. “‘Everything that I envisioned is now being realized. From this dream and vision, I can now do anything for friends and family that I need to.’

“It was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen,” Tiller says.

Later, the man’s wife met with Tiller and Johnson to prioritize the cards. And though she put “Money and family” at the top of her list, her context behind that priority was similar to her husband’s. They both wanted to stop actively participating in the family business. But they weren’t aligned on how to make that exit.

“She wanted to sell two or three of these franchises,” Tiller says. “He’s of the mind that their child who’s in the business wants to inherit it. His wife finally looked at him and said, ‘How do you know that?’”

The solution: The child plans to meet with Tiller and Johnson to prioritize the cards. “The parents don’t really know what her vision is, and they hope this exercise will help her align her goals,” Tiller says. “I love the fact that it’s going multigenerational without us asking.”

Balanced giving

Each of us has a relationship with money, one that began when we were young. When an advisor better understands your past experiences with money at earlier life stages, it gives them context to help you shape today’s perspective and tomorrow’s outlook.

“We have some clients who still have memories of living through the Depression,” says Christian Robinson, a Truist wealth advisor.  “They’ve seen tough times, and it gave them a deeper appreciation that shapes their view around how they transfer wealth to the next generation.”

Living through lean times led one client to not want to give too much wealth to their kids and grandkids. That led Robinson to discuss a charitable approach including donor-advised funds and a family foundation.

“These conversations help us understand the why to things we’re talking about,” Robinson says.

Answers, not assumptions

Topics may prompt the unexpected. While the “Protecting your family and you” card is meant to start conversations about insurance, one of Frost’s clients had a much different interpretation. He wanted to ensure the family protected his wealth and didn’t spend it in a way that he didn’t support.

“He looked at what many might interpret as a very specific product-based area and saw it as a values-based area,” Frost says. “When he fit that interpretation into that topic, I know it’s at the top of his mind.

“Part of my responsibility is to avoid having my bias drive the conversation. In order for the conversation to be successful and build the type of relationship we want to build, I’ve got to go in there with an open slate. ‘What is meaningful to you?’ Because the way I answer it is going to be different.”

Readying the next generation

Parents sometimes don’t share their complete financial picture with their children. Putting off  those discussions—with your family and with your advisor—can impact your estate plan. When Vander Molen discussed the family legacy topic with one couple during the listening card experience, they said that they weren’t sure their adult children would be good stewards of their wealth. That disclosure and the ensuing conversation made them recognize the urgency of a frank family talk.

“That opened up a whole conversation on how do we talk to our children about these trusts, about this money, what it means, how to make sure it’s sustained over time,” she says.

“They realized that they hadn’t had these conversations with their children. And they realized that the children were old enough to start doing that.”

Doug Leonzi, a financial advisor for Truist Wealth, had a similar experience with other clients. Discussions on family governance led to deeper thoughts about the specific personalities of their children.

“When you get deeper into the family structure, it’s a whole different layer of getting to know the client,” he says. “It helps us bring more value to the relationship. We’re not just interested in managing the assets, setting you up with insurance, and doing planning—we’re interested in the multigenerational components.”

Seizing the moment—with a budget

Cole helped a couple with a home equity line of credit. That relationship led to a discussion about their overall financial picture. The couple prioritized “Dreams and visions,” with increased retirement travel as their biggest goal. But they didn’t believe they were set up to pay for those future adventures.

“If you’ve never articulated what you really want to do—and never had anyone run those figures—how do you know whether you can accomplish that goal?” Cole says. “What happens then is you run the risk of skimping now and depriving yourself of current needs, wants, and wishes. ‘I can’t go out to dinner because I need to save for that trip in the future.’ Why would you deprive yourself of that now, when we can help solve for it?”

The conversation about the couple’s travel dreams uncovered their joint priority to have a better understanding of cash flow management; and for the first time they were excited about developing a budget together. “They were like, ‘Can we meet next week to go over the budget some more?’ Of course we can!” Cole responded.

“I’ve been meaning to do that”

If there are conversations you’ve been putting off , you’re not alone. Our podcast can help you start these discussions. Listen now at Truist.com/DoThat or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.