Baseball taking notes

Write it Down

Best Practices for Taking Good Notes

It looks like we’re actually going to have Major League Baseball this year. But check back tomorrow as things may yet change.

Back in March, the players and owners reached an agreement to suspend spring training to resume playing when conditions warranted.

Over the next three months, both sides publicly debated how best to proceed.  Strikingly, neither side could agree on what they agreed on in March. Didn’t anyone take notes?

For financial advisors and financial planners, taking the time to document client conversations and decisions pays dividends for you and for your clients.

Here are three reasons why good notes are so important:

  1. Clarify what was discussed and invites further discussion
  2. Provide a way to measure progress
  3. Ensure appropriate protection for compliance purposes

We recommend taking notes in three ways:

  • Personal notes taken during the meeting
  • Summary notes sent to the client after the meeting
  • Planning checklist used to measure progress

Taking Notes During Meetings

Most advisors take some form of notes during their meetings with clients.  Some use a notepad while others type notes into a computer or tablet.

One challenge with taking free-form notes is that they’re generally written chronologically. That means that if your conversation goes down a “rabbit trail,” getting back on track can be difficult and finding your notes on a specific topic can be even more of a challenge.

We’ve developed a series of notes forms to help advisors create a structure for their discovery and progress review meetings. The concept is simple, and you can adapt notes forms for your own practice.

Discovery Notes FormStart with a 2-column table. In the left column, place agenda items – one per row – including subpoints. The agenda column will enable you to stay on track, so you won’t miss an important area you wanted to cover.

Allow enough space for your notes in the right column. This column creates the structure you need to keep your notes organized by agenda topic, even if you have to skip around from time to time as your client takes you down a rabbit trail.

Here’s a screenshot of the first page of our Discovery notes form.

Summary Notes Sent to the Client

Once the meeting is over, send a letter or email to the client documenting what was discussed.  You may want to do this after your meetings with prospective clients as well to demonstrate how you work with clients.

Progress Review Summary Letter

This email can follow this format:

  • Recap any personal or financial updates the client shared with you.
  • Review your discussions on the market/economy, their portfolio, and their financial plan with a particular emphasis on key decisions that were made.
  • Summarize any educational or planning topics that you covered.
  • Identify key action items by specifying who will do what by when.

Make sure to invite any clarifications and corrections.  Additionally, you may want to confirm or set expectations for your next meeting.

Planning Checklist to Measure Progress

Wealth Planing Topics ChecklistIn addition to your summary notes, it can be helpful to provide clients with a sense of progress. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day activity and miss the progress that you and the client are making.

We’ve created a Wealth Planning Topics checklist to use with your clients (see image).  This cumulative report, updated after each review meeting, identifies the items you have discussed with them, the last review date, and any follow-up notes or action items.

Some of our client-advisors provide an updated version of their checklist to clients to keep in their financial organizer. This practice goes a long way toward reminding clients of the value you have provided and continue to provide year after year.

Need Help Getting Started?

We’ve created a special packet of all three notes forms.  If you’d like a copy that you can customize for your practice, click here to send an email to Adam.

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