Doing well and being well: Financial advisors add fitness, diet and meditation to their toolbox

Ian Bloom, the 26-year-old proprietor of Open World Financial Life Planning in Raleigh, North Carolina, helps young, mostly technology-based professionals get their lives—and finances—on track.

He starts with himself, getting by on Soylent meal replacement shakes for breakfast and lunch, taking 15-minute meditation breaks between meetings and trying to get to the gym a few times a week to lift weights or play basketball. For clients, he tackles life planning holistically, from deciding how much to save for a house down payment to finding ways to work exercise into a holiday vacation. 

“My clients acknowledge that they need to do better from a health perspective and they want to, but they don’t know how to make small tweaks to start,” he says. “One of the things I try to help my clients is identifying areas in their life, even outside their financial areas, where they want to be better, and often health is part of that.” 

Bloom is part of growing movement among younger financial planners to incorporate wellness — including healthy diet, stress reduction, exercise and personal growth exercises — into his approach to serving clients. 

This holistic approach already attracts Millennials, and new research suggests it will be equally important in serving the emerging Generation Z, whose oldest members are just entering their 20s. A new study of more than 12,000 Gen Zers from the Student Affinity Network UNiDAYS found that these young people are unusually committed to health and wellness.  For instance: 

  • 72 percent say managing stress and mental health is their most important health and wellness concern.
  • 68 percent state that a well-balanced diet is critical.
  • 61 percent say exercise is a major concern.
  • 60 percent believe getting enough sleep is another area of importance.

The focus on wellness also reflects a shift in the financial services, from a model where advisors sold product to clients to one in which they seek solutions to clients’ life and money challenges. Advisors see how physical and financial wellness are intertwined—being sick is expensive—and look for ways to help with both.  Says Bloom, “We’re often agents of change in our clients’ lives. If they’re unhappy with some aspect of their lives, though you may not be an expert, you can nudge in the right direction.” 

Bringing wellness to entrepreneurs

Cady North, CFP and CEO at North Financial Advisors LLC in San Diego and Washington, DC, primarily advises women who own businesses or hope to start them. She had her “aha” moment about wellness when she started her own firm in 2015. 

 “I noticed my first year in business was that I was getting repetitive stress injuries in my wrists. I was sitting poorly. I was spending too much time in front of the computer. I wasn’t taking enough time for myself to get out and walk and be outdoors,” she remembers. She began scheduling lunches and meetings outside the office. She put exercise classes on her calendar. 

Breaking up the workday, she found, made her more, rather than less effective. “It made a huge difference in my productivity, but I also noticed a change in my overall well-being. It was way better. And I started to draw a lot of conclusions from that with my clients.”

As a result, North now spends a lot of time talking with clients about their values and how they can align their savings and investment with these core principles.  Just raising these issues—and creating accountability by reminding clients about their goals—can improve financial habits. 

“I have a client who works out with a personal trainer. She mentioned that she finds great worth in both me and her personal trainer, because we talk about things,” says North. “It’s not that she doesn’t know how to move her body or how to move money from a bank account to an investment account. It’s just the way we talk about it. It makes more sense. It serves as a motivational factor. It makes it more likely that she’s going to stick with this versus trying to do it on her own.”  

Dwight Detloff, founder of Lafayette, Colorado’s Winding Trail Financial Planning, also focuses on entrepreneurs and CPAs who may feel they don’t have time to tend their health while they’re growing their businesses. Detloff knows about the rat race. He was a CPA himself earlier in his career. But he’s made time now to train for a marathon, while still being a good dad to his four-month-old daughter. 

“For owners of closely-held businesses, it’s easy to get your whole life wrapped around whatever business you’re doing,” he says. “So you have to be willing to say, ‘Hey, you might be a good executive but what are you doing for self-care?’ With some clients, it’s super easy, easy conversation. They’ve already got it. With others, you have to talk about it, and make sure it’s on their radar, especially for financial planning. Let’s make sure this is part of the agenda. Let’s build in some budget for the gym or whatever.” 

Aligning financial and fitness goals

Rick Vazza, the founder of Driven Wealth Management, a fee-based fiduciary planning firm in San Diego, specializes in working with ambitious, younger professionals in their 30s and 40s. A fitness fan, he says he sees a lot of commonality between physical training and financial planning. 

“Good habits and a long-term focus are critical to both,” he explains. For instance, right now thousands of people are signing up for gym memberships in the wake of holiday excesses and New Year’s resolutions. By February, many of these individuals will have already quit. “We assume everything’s going to be an overnight success story, so slow progress can be frustrating and even intimidating to a certain extent,” says Vazza. “But in personal finance and fitness, if you’re really focused on developing small but good habits, those are going to compound over time, and it surprisingly won’t be too long if you’re willing to stick with it to where you are starting to feel better about yourself and more confident.” 

Finances and fitness are just two of the key pillars that Dan Andrews emphasizes at his Fort Collins, Colorado-based, fee-only planning firm, Well Rounded Success, which he launched in 2016. “My firm specializes in what I call ‘new adults.’ These are people who are looking for financial literacy, education and accountability as well as personal growth,” says Andrews. 

Andrews helps his clients set S.M.A.R.T. goals—that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound objectives in each of five areas: bedrock, community, career, relationships and soul. As a result he is as likely to be helping clients figure out ways to volunteer (community), reconnect with family members (relationships) or find meaning (soul), as to plot investment strategies. He, too, recognizes the link between finances and wellness, however, putting both under the category of “bedrock.” 

“Your actual health and your financial health are the foundation of your life. You can go out and do other things if you get those areas covered,” says Andrews. “So, making goals to make sure that people really are on top of their adult responsibilities with their finances is important, but so is making sure that they’re staying healthy. It helps make sure they don’t have unneeded medical bills because of their unhealthy decisions.”

Wellness and retirement planning

Most of the advisors we identified that are currently focusing on wellness were relatively young and served clients who were mostly decades away from retirement. Even so, several made wellness part of their conversation about retirement. Jay Powell, a certified financial planner since 2013, frames retirement planning broadly. “The retirement discussion I have with clients starts with how do they want to live, what do they want to do for a living and what kind of income they create, and then we get around to the question of ‘What’s your health like?’” he explains. “I’ll ask if they’ve had a physical recently and what the doctor said. We talk about what they’re doing for fitness. We often talk about sugar intake because we’ve seen all the big chronic diseases tend to come from a high sugar intake.” 

Powell calls each area of financial planning a “joy,” and retirement planning is “the joy of reincarnation” in his system. “We talk about this other renewing phase of life, where they’re going to want to incorporate good nutrition and fitness to get the most out of it.”

Gratitude and productivity

Advisors are seeking wellness and meaning in their own lives in a variety of ways, upending what has always been a competitive, dog-eat-dog financial services industry with ideas about balance and well-roundedness. Mark Wilson, APA, CFP and president of Irvine, California-based Mile Wealth, starts each day with a gratitude journal, writing down three things that he’s thankful for and one thing that made him happy the previous day. “Our brains are really bad at distinguishing between what you’re writing about and what actually happened, so I get to enjoy that thing twice,” he says. He then finishes his morning routine with a 10 to 15-minute meditation. 

Wilson says he’s calmer and more focused when he finishes — and he misses the routine when he’s unable to do it.  He doesn’t proselytize, he adds, but he’s happy to talk to clients about his approach if they ask.  And, he thinks that being open about his personal wellness routine is part of a new, more holistic approach to financial advice. 

“I think the fee-only side has always been about helping people with their money and realizing that not every decision is a financial decision,” Wilson says. “We pay more attention to a better life, versus more money in the bank.”

“Holistic planning is going to become more prevalent, especially as the industry starts serving younger generations,” says Andrews. “I like to remind clients is that money is a tool to live your life. My job is to help you define the kind of life you want to live and then I’ll hold you accountable by positioning your money so you can live that life.” 


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