Planning. What’s it good for?

 In Financial Planning

Event Date:

The one meeting that I will always remember, long after Covid-19 has been eradicated, happened before the real Covid storm broke in the UK, on a memorable date in itself, the 14th February.

We had a first meeting at our Nottingham office with a couple, let’s call them David and Jane. Both in their early forties with two children.

David had gone bankrupt in his twenties with his first business venture but was now proud of having built a successful company that was beginning to repay all his hard work. He had begun to delegate some of his responsibilities and was even managing to take the occasional Friday off. The couple had a nice home, travelled several times a year with the children and could even afford David’s indulgence of a car that Jane thought “didn’t make sense”.

Despite their recent success, Jane was the one who still worried about money and David was keen to share with her more of his understanding of the firm, its future and their finances to provide her with the reassurance that they were going to be all right.

A plan to provide security and comfort 

David was no longer interested in chasing material possessions, he wanted to create a Financial Life Plan that would create a path for them to see far into the future and help them to really enjoy the rest of their lives. For them, their Plan needed to be all about the security of knowing that they had “enough” so that they could stop worrying about money.

What made the meeting so poignant for me was that, in the course of 2 hours together, David made a single offhand remark that, just prior to our meeting, he had received a text mentioning the possible cancellation of an exhibition in Europe. David’s firm operates in the exhibition business. Unbeknown to any of us, he had just received the first warning that he was in the eye of a gathering storm and was about to be one of the industries to be hardest hit by the pandemic at that very moment arriving from China via the ski slopes of northern Italy.

We haven’t spoken to David again since that meeting. His firm is currently closed, I don’t think the exhibition business, already battling against online competition prior to Covid, will ever be the same again.

It’s not often that Shakespeare and Mike Tyson appear in the same sentence, but I think they both have something to say at this point:

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.”

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

In retrospect, I do feel a little foolish that we were talking to David and Jane about a plan providing security and comfort whilst at the same time being totally ignorant of some very dark clouds that were gathering right behind us. What seemed so important then is now largely irrelevant.

Does the fact that the future can be so unpredictable mean that we should not even try and plan for it?

I think we just have to accept that there will always be “black swan” events which like earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, have the power to overwhelm anything we have worked hard to construct. That doesn’t mean that once they have passed we should not try and build again, taller and stronger.

Live life by choice, not by chance

Many people will have had their plans, financial and otherwise, severely altered or entirely obliterated by recent events. The discipline of planning teaches us however that we can live life by choice and not by chance. We might get punched in the mouth every so often but we accept the punishment, get back up again and adjust our plan accordingly. It is the discipline and process of planning that offers the real benefit rather than just the plan itself.

I hope that one day we will be able talk to David and Jane again about a Financial Life Plan. We will all be older and wiser and the conversation will probably be very different, but it will be an important milestone in rebuilding their future.

If you think that this crisis has left you or someone in your family unsure about the future, then let’s talk about how to start rebuilding and get you back on track for what you want to achieve with your money and your life.

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Simon Phippen
Simon is the founder of Riverfall Financial and author of the now famous Riverfall poem that sets out the founding values of the firm. He created the ‘Financial Life Planning’ philosophy that we use with all our clients, ensuring that we are always talking about their lives and not just their money. Simon trained as a Management Accountant, has an MBA from ESCP in Paris and worked with a number of world class organisations prior to starting Riverfall. What the Riverfall team say: “Riverfall’s Swiss Army Knife! Accountant, poet, financial life planner and leader”.