Years ago, I stumbled upon a beautiful poem from the 19th century by an English poet, John Oxenham entitled “The Way”. Eloquent and transcendent, the poem echoes through time—and it certainly echoes with the way financial planning should be done.
To every man there openeth
A Way, and Ways, and a Way
And the High Soul climbs the High Way,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between, on the misty flats,
To rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A High Way, and a Low
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go
We are free to choose any which path to take: the High Road, or the more difficult moral path; or the low road, aka the shortcut, or the wrong path. Yet we live somewhere in between and we have to decide which path to take.
I mention this because there are two ways to go about financial planning and it’s the same as the one describes: There’s a High Way and the low.
Let me describe the low with an example.
To be able to justify insurance, fear was a prominent time-tested marketing ploy. It was a symbol of aspiration and faith. Agents subtly emboldened you to get protection following a series of distressing statements, warning you of the inevitability of crises. If you already understand the risks that can come to you, your agent will expound on the topic and point the imagery in fine details—so you would know how it feels and how heavy it pounds your heart. In this old industry, people who talk to insurance agents and financial advisors become willing victims. They allowed dread into their lives and dread, more or less, do come. They purchase their insurance policy because it has become their salvation.
Once, an old insurance agent swings by in our neighborhood and into our home. He pitches an insurance product and works his dark magic. He talks about fears and opportunities for my parents. He has them in nearly a spellbound trance—starting with a pleasant exchange of equanimities. Gradually, the talk of distress rises, barely noticeably at first but then the pressure becomes heated, and the heat turns to smoke, and the smoke turns into fire. It was quite suffocating. The agent's vigorous rationale of fear presses my parents hard, and they do get sufficient insurance as a result.
Fear-selling doesn’t stop there. In fact, it can be distributed in larger quantities through financial seminars. The old insurance system understands that mass hysteria is a force to behold. Willing victims are invited to listen for free and they are suddenly thrust to hear and bear witness to nightmarish scenarios that may or may not happen to them, and if you know to apply what you’ve learned here, you can dodge these crises by some tiny margin. I have sat-in on many of these listening sessions about insurance. Within twenty minutes, I am struggling to manage my claustrophobia from within. I extricate myself from the panic situations only by some lucky ice-breaker and an occasional funny quip—I suppose, as do others in the audience. We meet our confusion with patience and grit.
It had come to this for many reasons. It came as a result of insurance companies adopting the open recruitment process and retain the “cream-of-the-crop”. This is good for the business, but not so for the agents who will have to continuously sell and recruit. Though agents are trained and worked-up by management and their colleagues, they essentially go out and compete with everyone else.
The business of insurance selling is a tough profession to get into. To survive, agents have to apply the tricks of the trade, and the easiest route—the low way—involves fear-selling. “Buy now or regret later”. “What would happen to your family, Mr. Prospect if, God forbid, you should pass away prematurely?”
The use of fear as a selling strategy is as old as the sales profession itself. Yet it is, by all accounts, the low way.
If fear is your proposition, it will fester to the point that every solution will be inadequate. A conversation of fear develops into a habit of worry and anxiety and into a fixation on cynicism. Soon, the mind suffers constantly because of self-induced harm. When you sow fear onto the ground, you will only reap yourself dark images of tomorrow. The mind never recovers from such a state because you mistake vigilance as a cure. Remember, never has peace of mind been achieved by focusing on problems. Never has been your thoughts been clear when it digests and entertains worry as a habit.
The mind is indeed a sponge, absorbing unfiltered information, sinking deep into our subconscious. If you focus on the things you worry about, your mind acquiesces, and then coalesces, enables, and forms your reality based on a fear-based blueprint. Such people become so enamored by their fears they become poor little creatures all the same. They focus on what they don’t have. They compare. They compete. They toil and they bicker. And they see the world as one made of scraps and leftovers.
I count myself with financial planners who have opted to become independent and separate themselves from insurance agents and financial advisors that have become all too common. I did so out of principle.. I don’t want to employ fear as a sales pitch. I just won’t.
There has to be a better way, I said. And I found it with financial therapy and gamification.
Financial therapy is counseling people and help them change the way they think and feel about money, while Gamification is the application of game elements to non-game contexts. It is purely about using the fun aspects of a game and apply them to something else—such as to increase motivation and satisfaction. In this respect, I am utilizing gamification principles to excite people to do their financial planning right now.
What these financial therapy and gamification do is that they empower individuals from within. Therapy enables them to examine their emotions about money; gamification provides a framework from which they feel a sample of the experience. In turn, these processes help the person accomplish a win.
The philosophy behind this came from successful entrepreneurs and financial prosperity teachers who knew too well the importance of thinking/believing like a winner—like the world is your oyster.
These teachers were in fact sharing ancient truths that are essential to happiness and peace of mind: that good thoughts lead to a good life. That having fun is a positive feedback loop. That enjoying what you do erases the feeling of defeat, anxiety, and stress.
Because what you think now is a compact manifestation of everything you have placed in your mind. So in effect, your thoughts lead to the creation of what you see and experience—and what you see right now is a compact arena of everything you believed and thought before.
Though make no mistake about it, the High Way is no easy feat. People don’t change overnight. But it is a nobler duty to enliven the soul with hope and faith than inject it with fear.
As we try to change our approach to financial planning by adding a little bit of therapy and a dose of fun and play, it gave a spring to my step, it led to a livelier discussion with clients with what can be. Therapy and games also strengthened their creative capacities—and to be able to talk about possibilities. Creating brighter and more elegant scenes as part of one’s financial solutions has now become part of doing business.
By doing this, I am traversing the long winding road of positive conversation and meaningful engagements. This could result in fewer clients, but in many respects, it could lead to more profound relationships. It’s just the right thing to do.
Indeed, as John Ohenham writes, as we drift to and fro on the misty flats, we shall decide where our souls shall go. We choose financial therapy and gamification over fear-based selling.
I choose the High Way.