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The 7 C's of effective checklists

Dave Faulkner, CFP

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Create a process for client interactions to transform your business.

In the past 10 years, I have created multiple checklists that have transformed the way I do business. They can make a difference in the way you do business too.

There are four types of checklists: process checklists, action checklists to provide instruction to the client or other advisor I’m dealing with, discovery questionnaires or checklists to gain a better understanding of the client’s situation, and advice checklists to provide guidance to the user.

Let’s look at the seven C’s of effective checklists:

Categorize. The very first checklist I created was too much. It was big. It was long. Now, most of my checklists fit on one page, sometimes a second page. Try to categorize long checklists. My financial insights checklist had too many questions. I decided to categorize the six elements of financial planning, and broke it into questions related to financial management and questions related to investment management, risk management or insurance, tax planning and retirement planning.

I also needed questions about estate planning, but because I deal with both individuals and businesses, I broke it into two more: estate planning for individuals and estate planning for business owners. If I’m going to meet with a client to do an insurance review or an investment review, or only talk about retirement
planning or estate planning, I can hand them one of these checklists in advance of the meeting.

I’ve had this checklist completed by hundreds of clients and, even though it’s seven pages, it takes no more than 15 minutes to complete. It’s multiple choice, and it’s yes and no. They don’t need to know exactly how much they have in an investment portfolio or anything else.

Conversation. Checklists are about better conversation. So when I’m working with the client on the investment management checklist, at the bottom I have a place for additional information. This isn’t for the client. This is for me.

The first question is, do you have an investment portfolio? “Yes.” Now I can ask them more questions. “Tell me about that portfolio. Where is it? Who is your advisor? Why are you invested?” Through conversation and another half hour, I can gain a high-level understanding of everything the client has, and their needs and attitudes toward different things.

I’ve discovered through the years that fact-finding is the biggest friction point in the financial planning process for me. And I’ve virtually eliminated that friction point.

Creative. Be creative. Checklists solve problems. One problem I had was engagement letters when working with other advisors. Most of them didn’t have one, or I wasn’t included in the engagement letter. So I created an engagement letter checklist. It’s sort of a hybrid. The first part is services to be provided. After talking to the client, I can check them all off, or I can only do a risk management or insurance review.

Also, I checklist compensation. Now, not only can I clearly explain to clients and partners how I get paid or the services that I’m going to provide, but I also get to talk to them about all the other ways of paying for service.

Combined. You can combine different styles. I like to help a client work through their goals and objectives. So I use a checklist where I’ve grouped similar goals together, and then I combined it with a worksheet to help them articulate the goals they want. We then set objectives for accomplishing the goals, and my recommendations tend to be their objectives.

Consistent. I’ve seen checklists where a yes is good and then a no is good and then a yes is bad and a no is bad, and it just gets confusing. Be consistent.

Change. Don’t be afraid of change. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve updated, modified and changed my checklist. For example, my retirement planning checklist originally had this question: What age is a reasonable estimate for your life expectancy? About 75% of the people who completed this checklist froze right here. They didn’t answer it. They didn’t know. I discovered all I had to do was change it to “What age do you estimate your life expectancy? Less than 85, or greater than or equal to age 85?”

All of a sudden, 100% of the people checked off one or the other. Then I could have a conversation about, “Why do you think you won’t live to age 85?” Or “Why do you feel you’re going to live beyond age 85?”

Convenient. Try as hard as you possibly can to make filling in these checklists as convenient and easy as possible. Provide lots of space. How many times have you completed a checklist where they ask you for your email address and they give you an inch to write it out? My handwriting is atrocious, and I need the full width of the paper to put down my email address because I write big and sloppy. And phone numbers as well. So anytime I’m forced to write in these tiny little spaces, that’s not convenient. Try to avoid that.

And finally, remember this: Good checklists are clear and precise. If your 10-year-old son or daughter cannot understand or answer the questions on your checklist, it’s time for some revisions. 

Dave Faulkner is a co-founder of two successful financial planning technology startups, FP Solutions and Razor Logic Systems. He spoke at the 2020 MDRT Annual Meeting and Global Conference Virtual Event. Watch his video in the Resource Zone at


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