Click Here To Listen To The Retirement Tax Services Podcast


What You'll Learn In Today's Episode
  • The ways we say we provide value can drift from how it’s actually done, day-to-day. For your clients’ (and your integrity’s) sake, take some time to compare the two. Are you delivering on all your promises?
  • Financial planning can still be difficult for some clients to conceptualize. It’s so different from, say, walking into a grocery store and leaving with the food you wanted.
  • Clients—and prospects—need to know exactly what you’re offering and what you deliver. Make time for them to ask questions and to explain precisely how you provide value. If you don’t, you aren’t (completely).
  • It’s a good idea to practice explanations around the practice before addressing them with clients. Try not to over-rehearse until you and your team are sick of it, but run through them enough to catch mistakes.

Executive Summary:

Welcome to the Retirement Tax Services Podcast! Steven’s guest Monday was Penny Phillips, President (and co-founder) of Journey Strategic Wealth. Penny mentioned financial advisors’ need to clearly articulate what they are responsible for. This resonated with Steven: If you currently (or may eventually) provide tax-related services, do your clients really understand what that means? Do you clarify taxes for them?

Establish Expectations

Think about it. When you tell people you provide tax planning, what exactly are you taking responsibility for?

Be really honest. Are you delivering on that (regularly)? Clearly articulating what your tax planning is going to mean for them is essential. Clarify taxes. Do this to ensure that everyone shares the same expectations.

Imagine a prospect coming into your brick-and-mortar office. They have visited your website, which offers tax planning: What are they walking in expecting?

What someone gets from financial planning—and even more, tax planning—is a mystery to most consumers. Realize that both of these are vastly different from the typical consumer experience.

Look at buying products. The difference is obvious. You go to a physical store or dealership, you purchase an item, and when you leave, you have it.

Expectations of quality, service, price, and experience are factors. Regardless, you know what the seller is there to provide. Even with a lot of professional services, there are baseline results expected.

Tax preparation is a great example. Some consumers have higher expectations, but typically, you go in expecting your taxes to be filed. You also hope for a refund and cross your fingers to never hear from the IRS.

Clarify Taxes: Explain Away Confusion

Think about how this differs from tax planning: You tell a prospect, “You should work with us here at XYZ Financial because we help you plan for retirement using a tax-efficient approach. For our team, tax planning is an integral part of the process.”

These are nice-sounding words. However, does the client/prospect have any idea what they mean for them over the next month, year or decade? It’s not as clear-cut as driving a car home from a dealership.

Take the time to articulate what you’re committing to (internally first, and then externally). Next, make sure that prospects and clients understand it.

Clarify taxes. The goal isn’t to set a new industry definition for “tax planning.” This can (and should) mean different things in different practices for different advisors.

In fact, it can be as simple as saying, “As your financial advisor, I’m going to review the tax implications of any strategies I recommend—and give you the information you need to take to your tax preparer so they can help you stay compliant each year.”

That may be the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what’s possible. But, you have to start somewhere. Make sure that your client understands what you are offering. Next, make sure you deliver on that.

However you deliver those expectations, you are going to be more consistent with practice. Articulate them clearly for yourself and your team before sharing them with prospects or clients.

Your Action Items

  • Write down specifically what you offer clients in terms of tax planning. If you already have this written out, when the last time you verified that you’re delivering 100% of it? Take some time to update your list, too.
  • Make sure getting and reviewing clients’ tax returns annually is on the list above. No matter where you are on the tax services spectrum, this is critical. The same goes for prospects. You can’t provide your best without this information.
  • Decide now what you’ll do for clients when the next tax law change happens. How are you going to deliver value by taking advantage of it? “Massive value” does mean tangible tax savings. However, it also means peace of mind, confidence, and reduced anxiety/confusion for clients.

Steven has more on increasing value every time you clarify taxes in this episode of the Retirement Tax Services Podcast. You can reach Steven at

Thank you for listening.


Steven Jarvis:

Steven Jarvis On Taxing Planning Vis-à-vis An Advisor’s Responsibility(ies)[00:32]

Hello everyone. And welcome to the next episode of the Retirement Tax Services Podcast, Financial Professionals Edition. I’m your host, Steven Jarvis, CPA and in this show, I teach financial advisors how to deliver massive value to their clients through retirement tax planning. On Monday’s episode this week, I interviewed Penny Phillips, the president and co-founder of Journey Strategic Wealth. Penny and I had a great conversation about practice management, which she has consulted on extensively throughout her career. We covered several topics but one thing in particular stuck out to me. She mentioned clearly communicating to the client what you, as the advisor, are responsible for.

Now, we touched on what that meant as far as what an advisor might be responsible for related to taxes. But I wanted to come back to that for today’s episode, for any advisors listening, who currently provide tax planning services, or are considering adding them, do your clients clearly understand what that means? What is it that you are committing to taking responsibility for when you tell them that you provide tax planning? I am not trying to set a new industry definition for the phrase tax planning, similar to words like comprehensive and holistic. Advisors can and often will argue with each other all day about what the definition of certain industry words really is, but that’s not what is important. What is important and what we’re talking about today is what your client expects from you as an individual and whether or not you are delivering on that. The only way to make sure you can deliver is to clearly communicate to your clients and prospects what tax planning means to them if they work with you. So everyone is working from the same expectations you should, of course, be setting clear expectations for all the different services areas you offer. But we’ll keep our focus on taxes for this podcast today.

So a prospect comes to you, maybe in part, because of your website, listing tax planning, or tax efficient investing or something like not leaving the IRS a tip as one of your services – what do they walk in expecting? What a person gets from financial planning and to an even greater degree tax planning is a mystery to most consumers – financial planning and tax planning are just very different from the typical consumer experiences. The difference is obvious if we look at selling products or buying products, I go to a store or dealership wanting to purchase an item and when I leave, I have that item. My expectations of the service, quality, price and experience will certainly impact how I feel about my purchase when I leave but there is little ambiguity about what the seller is there to do for me.

Even with a lot of professional services, there is a baseline result people expect – tax preparation is a great example. Some consumers are going to have higher expectations, but in general, you go in expecting your taxes to be filed, hoping for a refund and crossing your fingers you never hear from the IRS. There is a clear point in time, when the service has been performed – there is no question in the consumer’s mind, if a tax preparer did what they said they were going to do once the return is filed. Now think about tax planning and how that might be different. You tell a prospect, “you should work with us here at XYZ financial, because we help you plan for retirement using a tax efficient approach, for our team tax planning is an integral part of the process.” Now, those are all nice sounding words, but does the client or prospect really have any idea what that means for them over the next month — 12 months, or the next 10 years? It’s not as clear cut as driving a car home from the dealership, or even having your taxes filed by a tax preparer. You need to take the time to articulate, internally first, what it is you’re committing to, and then make sure your clients understand that as well. Like I said before, my goal is not to set a new industry definition for tax planning. This can and should mean different things in different practices for different advisors. It could be as simple as – “As your financial advisor, I’m going to review the tax implications of any strategies I recommend and give you the information you need to take to your tax repairs, to stay compliant each year.” That would really just be the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible, but you have to start somewhere and that might be where you’re at.

My guest next week on the show actually started as tax preparers and then integrated wealth management into their practice. And so when they talk to clients about tax services, they are definitely at the other end of the spectrum and are providing an incredible array of potential tax planning and preparation opportunities for their clients. Most advisors are going to be somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. But again, what is important is that your client understands what you are offering and that you deliver on that. So does tax planning for you, mean that you are reviewing their tax return every year? Does it mean you are going to provide them educational materials or updates on upcoming or recent tax law changes? Does it mean that they can call you with complex technical questions? Have you set expectations with your client on how you approach disagreements with other professionals they work with? What about expectations for what they should do in the unlikely scenario that they get a notice that they don’t understand from the IRS?

Most likely you will gradually set these expectations over time, as you build a relationship or take a prospect through the on-boarding process. This certainly does not have to be an hour long tutorial in their first meeting with you. However you deliver these expectations, though, they are going to be more consistent and easier for you to follow through on, if you have clearly articulated them for yourself and your team, before you ever share them with a client. Like other services you offer, tax planning should be something you are continually improving and refining Congress is kind enough to change tax laws on a regular basis, so you have a built-in forcing mechanism to stay current on what you’re doing around tax planning for your clients, but it is something that you should build into your process, regardless of how soon the next tax law change is coming.

Part of that improvement process should be learning from other advisors who are doing tax planning, so you can see what works and what areas you should be focused on. That’s why we put such an emphasis on this show of having guest advisors come on and talk about what works for them. Even though you hear similar themes, the greatest advisors I know are constantly telling me about big and small adjustments they make to their process because of how they heard another advisor explain something. Even advisors, who I’ve taken things from them and thought, “wow, that’s the best way I’ve ever heard that explained” – they’ll come back to me later and tell me how they’ve refined it even further because they heard it from someone else. This is also the motivation behind having an online forum for our members at Retirement Tax Services. It gives us a way to help our members get the technical answers they need along with the practical application from other advisors, doing this in the trenches, so that our members have the help they need to deliver even more value and not just technically correct answers.

What Does Steven Think About The Upcoming Tax Law Change? [07:11]

Now, not surprisingly, I am currently getting a lot of questions from advisors about insights on the upcoming tax law changes, and you can already find webinars and articles and all sorts of other things out there from people, opining on what may or may not be included in this round of changes and what everyone should or shouldn’t be doing about that. Part of the reason for this episode is actually to respond to that question of advisors, asking me for my insight on this potential upcoming tax law change. I follow tax law changes very closely, but until we know what the changes are going to be, I’m not going to spend my time guessing. So what I recommend to advisors is what I’ve been talking about today, get clear on what it is you’re providing to your clients around tax planning and make sure you are setting expectations with them, because what are you going to do when the tax law does get finalized? If you don’t know how to answer that question, that is what I would spend time on, not guessing whether the proposed capital gains tax increase will be retroactive or not. Are you going to tell your clients that they should just go ask their tax preparer? Are you going to wait until they come asking you about the tax law change? Are you going to just cover it in your next round of client meetings? And if so, do you think it would give your clients some peace of mind to know that is on the agenda already? Are you going to send out a summary of the changes with your opinion on what they mean or recommend an article, video or webinar they can go to on their own and digest more of the information, if they’re interested, there are a lot of different options available, but do your clients know what to expect from you? Even if you are sure that based on current proposed changes, 99% of your clients won’t be impacted, there are still continual headlines about taxes and I am 99% sure you have clients who are worried about whether they will be impacted and would appreciate knowing they have someone on their team keeping track of the situation for them. So reach out and let them know what it is you’re doing.

Steven’s Actionable Steps [08:55]

All right, I think that leads us quite nicely into action items for this episode. The first action item I’m going to recommend is to write down specifically what it is you are offering to your clients when it comes to tax planning, or however you label tax related services on your website. If you already have that written out somewhere, when was the last time you checked to make sure you’re delivering on everything on that list and when was the last time you updated that list? Take the time to do that. The next action item is to make sure that you’re getting and reviewing tax returns every year for all of your clients, is on that list that you wrote down or revised for the first action item, no matter where you are on the spectrum of offering tax related services, getting and reviewing tax returns is a critical part of doing that. Well, the last action item is to decide now, what you are going to do for your clients when the next tax law change happens, whether that’s the ones currently being talked about, or once a year or two or three or four years from now, how are you going to take that as an opportunity to deliver massive value to your clients? And just to reiterate, something that we talk about on this podcast is that while massive value can certainly mean tangible tax savings for your clients over their lifetime; it also means providing peace of mind and confidence and reducing confusion and anxiety for your clients. So with that, thanks for listening today, everybody good luck out there and remember to tip your server, not the IRS!


The information on this site is for education only and should not be considered tax advice. Retirement Tax Services is not affiliated with Shilanski & Associates, Jarvis Financial Services or any other financial services firms.

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