To those who are looking for ‘the distinctive business strategies of leading financial planners,' a handy reference can be Mary Rowland's ‘In Search of the Perfect Model' ( ). Though not a new book, it introduces you to the world of advisers who continually raise the bar, to ‘some of the most creative minds in the industry.'

The author traces how, in the mid-1980s, the slug tracks of unscrupulous salespeople eager to collect commissions for selling risky limited partnerships, bad life insurance policies, and expensive, poor-performing mutual funds crisscrossed the financial planning industry. “It was a consumer's nightmare… To outsiders, financial advisers were indistinguishable from insurance agents and stockbrokers; all ranked near the bottom of the list of desirable occupations, right along with used-car salesmen.”

Respectable profession

During the past about two decades, however, what the author finds is that financial planning has evolved into a respectable profession, ‘thanks to the dedication and hard work of a group of advisers who revised the examination for certified financial planners and pumped some prestige into the certified financial planner designation, built networks to share each other's knowledge, and imported the technology and tools. ' Importantly, the opening chapter highlights the need for being selective about clients to make the profession rewarding. Effective financial advisers, one learns, do not take the clients they do not like. She cites, as example, Mary Merrill, a financial planner in Madison, Wisconsin, who refuses to work with people who have substance-abuse problems or those who are negative or whiners, preferring instead to work with those who are upbeat and want to accomplish something with their lives.

It is also essential that the advisers must have a claim to fame — something special to offer, such as family-office services, or rarefied estate planning or charitable-giving expertise — underlines Rowland. And, expertise must go hand in hand with business savvy, she reminds. That demands a long-term view, a vision; and a mission reduced to ‘a thirty-second elevator speech that describes which clients you're serving and why, what you're providing, and what makes you unique.'

Core competence

Advises Rowland that firms need to look at their capabilities, at what they can do in-house and what they would have to outsource in order to build that particular business. “Look around. A whole new vista has opened up in planning; investing is not necessarily the horse that pulls the wagon anymore. The options available are limited only by the imagination,” she urges. An example mentioned in the book is of Mark Spangler in Seattle who has made venture capital investing the core of his practice, turning a group of techies who retired in middle age on stock options into something of a business incubator for start-ups

An insight of great value to financial planners can be found in the intro chapter — on how to define your practice. The main job of a life is not planning for college for the kids or for retirement, observes Rowland. It is to become an individual, ‘a single one,' as the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard says, she adds. “Ultimately, it's about looking within to find the inside story.”

For a contemplative read, to help you plan to plan.