QA with 'Life planner' Robin Young
When Windham financial professional Robin Young mentions terms like “visioning,” “passage” and “holistic,” you know that this is a very different kind of financial planner.
Young, owner and president of Windham-based Northstar Financial Planning, practices life planning, a method of wealth management that looks beyond retirement or college savings to include a person’s present situation and even the dreams of what she’d like her life to be.
The majority of Young’s clients are women facing significant transitions in their lives, such as the death of a spouse or a divorce.
Like many of her clients, Young went through a transition of her own, finding a way to keep the career she loved but “getting off the treadmill” to spend more time with her growing family and plan for her own future.
Q. What brought you to Northstar Financial Planning?
A. I was what you would call a traditional financial planner at a small boutique firm in Boston. I had a great career that I loved, but I lived in New Hampshire with my young family and realized I needed to make a change. I would talk a lot about this to clients, of getting off the treadmill.
Sam Hull founded Northstar in 1998. In 2004, we partnered together. He was looking for a transition himself because he was in his 70s and wanted to find a succession plan. Our values, our outlook on life, our investment philosophy really aligned well.
We went to a session on life planning and it really spoke to both of us, so we went through the Kinder Life Planning training.
In 2008, I bought out Sam and became principal.
Q. Explain what life planning is and how it is different from traditional financial planning.
A. I look at life planning as financial planning done well. In traditional financial planning, you look at numbers and the financial goals — education planning, retirement planning, all those things. Life planning also asks, “What are your personal goals?” It also looks at whether you are in alignment with how you are spending your resources and how can you do more of those things you love in your life today.
So we don’t just look at future goals, but also today and what changes can we make in how things are set up financially so that you can get more of what you want.
Life planning is a much more holistic approach. We do visioning work, we talk about obstacles and we’re with our clients in the moment to help them create their own solutions. We try to get them to see the different avenues to attain their goals.
I couldn’t imagine doing financial planning any other way than starting with someone’s personal goals first as opposed to just looking at the numbers.
Q. Most of Northstar’s clients are women undergoing significant life transitions — death of a spouse or a divorce, for example. Why do many of these women require a different approach than others?
A. Initially, women started to show up on my doorstep. I think women, especially women in transition, like to work with other women because our approach is more conversational, it’s more relationship-driven. It’s a safer environment, to some extent.
If you’re grieving or have gone through a divorce, you need someone who can sit and listen non-judgmentally and hold that emotional space for you. Not everyone can do that; not everybody has been trained to do that. In terms of our transition planning, we’ve really gone out and sought out those skills so we could do that with clients more effectively.
Women in transitions are often asked to make decisions about their money when they just lost their spouse. How would they possibly know what to do with their money? They’re not ready to make that decision yet. So if you can do that in a more staggered process, giving them the time and space, then they can more confidently make those decisions.
Q. Women in generations past did not often take a lead role in the family’s financial decisions. Do you find that even today women still aren’t getting the education they need to make long-term financial planning decisions?
A. I think women are making great strides and are taking more financial responsibility. On the investment side, though, I think it is still a deep, dark hole for some. They still don’t have the knowledge base to feel comfortable and empowered in making decisions in investments.
Women respond to the conversation of being included in the process of what the purpose is. Is it to protect your kids and ensure that they have a plan if you’re not here? College costs? The financial planning piece is really just how you do that.
Even women not in transition, helping them realize that investments are just the engine, that it doesn’t need to be so complicated. I think the news media makes it so complicated and scary.
Q. How much does fear play into some women’s reticence around financial planning?
A. I think the fear piece is huge. Our fears can get very overblown. We help them list what their top five fears are and how realistic are they. Is this really a possibility? If it is, what can you do about it and better protect yourself?
Once you help them sort all that out in their own minds, then you have actionable steps you can take to overcome some of those fears.
Because of that work that began as women showing up on my doorstep, I find it so rewarding to help them through that really difficult phase of their life and passage to that next stage. It’s really rewarding to help them gain confidence, to help them make decisions with clarity that support their financial future.
Q. You also counsel people who have a sudden change of fortune for the better. What are some of the most common pitfalls people encounter when they’ve suddenly come into significant wealth, and how can they avoid them?
A. One of the biggest things is that they make decisions too quickly. When you have a sudden windfall, your life as you know it has changed. You really don’t have a good understanding of what your new life will look like. We call it the passage — people just want to jump from their old life to their new life really quickly. So really getting clients in that space to slow down and recognize the emotional side of the windfall is very important.
There’s also social issues, friends and family. It’s really about setting expectations with people.
With the inheritance piece, there could be a lot of promises and expectations that have been already factored into the equation before they sit across the table.
It also helps to learn about the family’s money story, how they’ve dealt with financial decisions in the past, and why that’s making clients think like they do.
Q. What are some general tips for anyone about staying on top of his or her nest egg?
A. Choose your investment strategy and stick to it. There’s so much “gloom and doom” out there that it can be really easy to deviate and blow up your plan.
Having savings is another important one. But it’s not so much saving versus spending, but being really clear about your goals and what’s important to you and making sure your money’s in alignment with that.
It’s also important to find someone to help you. Emotions can help you, but if you’re undergoing some sort of transition, emotions can really wreck you. So having someone who can give a second opinion can really help.