Personal Financial Planning As a Project

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1 Personal Financial Planning As a Project By Greg Caramanica, PMP, General Securities Representative Financial Planner with Arlington Wealth Planning ( Introduction Having been on the board of directors for the Project Management Institute (Washington D.C. Chapter), a project management practitioner, and a financial planner, it is only natural for me to bring project management and financial planning together. This article looks at personal financial planning through the lens of project management, describing the activities that a financial planner may perform 1 in project management terms. These activities can also be performed by individuals to evaluate their own financial situation if they have the knowledge, interest, and time to do so. But as I have ventured further and further into financial planning, I am continuously amazed at the depth of knowledge that is required in so many different aspects to make sound decisions. This paper does not go into that level of detail, but rather provides a glimpse into the financial planning world and describes it in more familiar terms to project managers. Financial Planning as a Project I m sure we would all agree that you can apply project management fundamentals to just about anything. The typical application that we see most often is for activities that create something, such as construction projects that create a building or an information technology (IT) project that creates computer software. Similarly, in financial planning, you are creating wealth and creating the means to achieve goals such as building sufficient funds for retirement, paying for a child s college, starting a business, or ensuring financial support to others. 1 The activities performed by financial planners vary and may not resemble the activities listed in this document. When seeking a financial planner, discuss the specific services that will be provided before signing a contract. 1

2 The Phases Arlington Wealth Planning In project management, you have five main phases 2 : Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring/Controlling, and Closing. In financial planning, you typically have six phases 3 : Establishing Goals, Gathering Data, Analyzing Data, Developing a Plan, Implementing the Plan, and Monitoring the Plan. Relating these phases to the financial planning process can be done in various ways, but generally we can draw a connection between phases as follows: Project Management Phase (Project Management Inst.) Initiating Planning Executing Monitoring/Controlling Financial Planning Phase (Financial Planning Assoc.) Establishing Goals Gathering Data Analyzing Data Developing a Plan Implementing the Plan Monitoring the Plan Closing Initiating Establishing Goals The Initiating phase in project management typically establishes the project charter and identifies stakeholder needs, essentially setting the high level scope of the project. We can relate this activity to the Establishing Goals phase of financial planning because this also establishes the high level scope of your financial plan. Also within this phase, you may decide to work with a financial planner, in which case you may establish the scope of services to be provided. Planning Gathering, Analyzing and Developing a Plan We can relate the next project management phase, Planning, to the Gathering Data, Analyzing Data, and Developing a Plan phases in financial planning. This makes a great deal of sense because you would expect to see the financial plan in the Planning phase, similar to the corresponding Project Management Plan. However, the Initiating and Planning phases begin to blend a bit in financial planning when data gathering is required prior to identifying your goals. We will assume that financial goals are established in the Initiating phase and can be changed later after data gathering occurs (there are many reasons why goals may change; for instance, you could discover more goals in the 2 There are five phases to project management according to the Project Management Institute. You can read about these phases in the Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide: 3 There are six phases to financial planning, according to the Financial Planning Association. You can read about these phases here: 2

3 process of collecting data or you could realize that your original goals were too lofty for your cash flow). We will discuss these activities in more detail later in this document. Executing Implementing the Plan The Executing phase in project management can easily be related to the Implementing the Plan in the financial planning process. In both cases, this is the phase where you perform the activities that you previously laid out in your plan. The executing phase most likely makes up the largest proportion of most projects, such as those dealing with information technology or construction. However, in financial planning, this phase will probably not have as many activities as the planning phase did, because the majority of the effort in financial planning happens during analysis in the planning phase. Subsequently, during execution, you are performing actions that you identified in your analysis, which may number in the tens instead of the hundreds. The execution phase is important because this is where you put all your good ideas into action and start working your way towards your goals. Monitoring and Controlling Monitoring the Plan The Monitoring and Controlling project management phase can be mapped to Monitoring the Plan in financial planning. Both contain similar activities, such as periodic evaluation of performance against pre-determined metrics or success criteria. They also both involve controlling activities that seek to adjust the course of the project to improve the chances of success. As in a typical project, variations between estimated and actual performance can result in changes to the plan. Closing (Industry Knowledge) The Closing phase is more difficult to map because financial planning is ongoing throughout a person s life and there is no closing activity to evaluate the success of your financial plan and glean lessons learned for the next time you perform a financial plan. Although there are lessons learned from one generation to another on the best techniques, so many variables change between generations (taxes, economic conditions, etc.) that it may be hard to draw such conclusions. This may be too much for individuals to perform, however we can rest assured that financial professionals are keeping tabs on the best and most appropriate current planning techniques across their client base and the industry. Unfortunately, there is no official phase assigned to this activity in the financial planning world. Other project management practitioners have suggested that you could consider the transition period between life phases (e.g. from accumulation of assets during your working life to the use of assets during retirement) as an opportunity to perform closing activities. Detailed Activities The following activities are representative examples, illustrating how an individual could evaluate his or her own financial plan, stated in the phases of project management. If you seek a financial planner, discuss the specific services up front, as activities and services may vary among financial planners. 3

4 Initiating Activities The following activities are performed in the Initiating phase and serve the purpose of determining the high level scope of your financial plan by assessing basic information and defining your financial goals. Collect Basic Information Document basic financial information about yourself, such as income, life phase, estimated insurance coverage, debt balances, payments, savings balances, and investment balances. PMI Tools: Initiating Project Charter Stakeholder Register Evaluate Stakeholder Needs Document the stakeholders involved in your personal financial environment, such as yourself, spouse, children, parents; and including any self-employment or anticipated large purchases or monetary needs (such as down payment on a new house or capital for starting your own business). YOU CAN USE PMI S STAKEHOLDER REGISTER TEMPLATE TO RECORD THIS INFORMATION. Perform a Basic Analysis Perform a basic analysis of your financial situation, including benchmarks and thumb rules for each of the following elements: Assessment of risk (e.g. insurance, estate documents, etc.), short-term savings (e.g. emergency fund, etc.), and long-term savings (e.g. retirement savings rates, retirement balance benchmarks, etc.). This may require some research to identify some basic financial benchmarks. Document Goals Based on the information you have gathered and your basic analysis, determine what your goals will be and the general objectives of those goals. Also determine your general approach, whether you are going to develop a plan to achieve your goals on your own, or if you are going to pursue professional assistance. You can use PMI s Project Charter template to record this information. 4

5 Planning Activities The following activities are performed in the Planning phase and serve the purpose of performing adequate analysis to develop a financial plan (the output of this phase). Collect Detailed Financial Information Collecting information about your financial situation can be onerous, but this is very important to building a foundation to perform your analysis. You will need to collect all account statements for savings accounts, investment accounts (retirement and other), and insurance accounts, as well as any insurance policy documents summarizing the types and coverage. You will also need to collect any estate documents, including wills, trusts, powers, and other estate documents. Finally, gather your past years tax documents. PMI Tools: Planning Requirements Documentation Project Scope Statement Risk Register Activity List Project Schedule Quality Metrics Stakeholder Management Plan Project Management Plan Create Personal Financial Statements Just like accountants do for companies, you (or your financial advisor) will create financial statements representing your personal financial information. This includes a balance sheet or statement of net worth and a statement of cash flows. From the information on these statements, you will be able to run some basic financial ratios and compare them to benchmarks to determine weaknesses in your financial situation. PMI DOES NOT HAVE TEMPLATES OR TOOLS FOR THIS ANALYSIS, BUT I HAVE PROVIDED A TEMPLATE ON MY WEBSITE ( Perform a Risk Analysis After collecting detailed information about your financial situation, you (or your financial advisor) will perform an in-depth risk analysis. This includes the review of your exposure to financial disasters (such as disasters at your home, to your automobiles, to your employment, or to your general ability to provide for your family). This will also include a review of your estate and risk to wealth transfer. From a project management perspective, you may also wish to evaluate risk to the success of this project, your financial plan, and determine mitigation and contingency actions to ensure that you and your family successfully carry out the plan. In this risk analysis, you will also evaluate your risk tolerance to determine the investment allocation and estimated return that best suits you and your family. FOR THIS ANALYSIS, YOU CAN USE PM TOOLS SUCH AS THE RISK REGISTER TO RECORD RISKS AND DECIDE WHETHER YOU WILL ACCEPT, AVOID, MITIGATE, OR TRANSFER EACH ONE. Perform a Detailed Goals Analysis Evaluate the cost of each of your goals, accounting for the time horizon, assumptions on inflation and return, and savings rates (calculators can be found on the internet). This may require an evaluation of your cash flow, tax situation, existing savings levels, as well as research into economic trends. The results of this analysis may cause you to perform a budgeting exercise, re-evaluate the efficacy of your 5

6 objectives, and possibly change your goals. Once you have a viable cash flow scenario, develop a baseline for expected investment performance over time and expected progress towards your goals. Develop a Controlling and Monitoring Plan Controlling and monitoring the plan is typically done by financial planners at varying intervals based on your life stage, and most likely vary between financial planners. However, as a project management practitioner, you will likely want to have a good understanding of controlling and monitoring activities and plan when they will happen (like a project), especially if you are doing them yourself. To develop this plan, determine the actions and frequency of those actions to execute and control your financial plan, including monitoring investment performance, re-assessing your risk threshold, reassessing your life stage, rebalancing your portfolio, re-evaluating financial information, and refining goals and objectives. You should also identify metrics (if you haven t already during your cost analysis) that you will use to judge whether your plan is being executed successfully (for instance, measurements of risk within your portfolio, portfolio return, forecasted account balances, ratios of investments based on life stage, etc.). Develop a Project Schedule To manage your financial plan as a project, you will need to develop a PROJECT SCHEDULE. As such, you will need to sequence and plan the dates that your activities will happen and document them. Whether you use a tool such as MS Project or a more simple representation in a document editor, this will allow you to plan your activities and follow the execution of those activities over time. As with other projects, this will ensure that the activities are performed and deviations in schedule can be tracked. Finalize the Project Plan As you would with a Project Management Plan, assemble the information that you have gathered and created into your Financial Plan, address any gaps, and ensure continuity. This document will serve as a record of the decisions you have made, the activities to which you have committed, the timeline of those activities, and your approach to monitoring and controlling the plan. Execution Activities During your analysis you determined what needed to be done and why, now it is time to perform those actions to the specifications you identified. These activities will include sourcing and negotiating contracts with lawyers (for estate documents), insurance salesmen (for risk control mechanisms), and banks or investment brokers (for saving), and potentially making adjustments to personal behaviors to get your financial situation in order. During the execution phase, activities may play out differently than planned, so you may want to track the issues and decisions you make along the way. AS A PROJECT MANAGER, YOU MAY CHOOSE TO USE TOOLS SUCH AS CHANGE REQUESTS, CHANGE LOGS, ISSUE LOGS, AND DECISION LOGS TO TRACK THIS INFORMATION. PMI Tools: Execution Change Request Change Log Issue Log Decision Log 6

7 Monitoring and Controlling Activities During this phase, you will execute your monitoring and controlling plan. This includes activities that you defined to track the progress of your finances and progress towards meeting your goals. Periodic reviews will allow you to track the balances of your investments and improvements in your financial ratios, as well as allow you to validate the assumptions you used in your estimates and make adjustments to your plan. Changing circumstances may also offer opportunities to adjust your goals, which will also necessitate a change in your plan. Diligence in following your progress will improve your chances in meeting your goals. PMI Tools: Monitoring and Controlling Status Report Project Performance Report Risk Audit Variance Analysis AS A PROJECT MANAGER, YOU COULD USE STATUS REPORTS TO KEEP TRACK OF YOUR FINANCIAL STATUS, PROJECT PERFORMANCE REPORTS TO TRACK AGAINST PREDETERMINED METRICS, VARIANCE ANALYSIS TO SUMMARIZE DEVIATIONS FROM YOUR ESTIMATES, AND RISK AUDITS TO RE-EVALUATE YOUR RISK PROFILE. Closing As we mentioned earlier in this document, the Closing process group is more difficult to map to financial planning because you generally don t close a financial planning project. Financial plans include actions that you intend to complete over a lifetime, ending when your estate transfers to your PMI Tools: Closing heirs. However, you could close major phases during a financial planning project. If you were to perform closing activities, you could perform them at the time when you achieve a goal. For instance, you could perform closing activities when you are finished saving for your child s education and you begin making withdrawals to pay tuition. At this point, you have achieved a major goal and can assess performance and evaluate changes to your plan that will attempt to improve results of other actions. Procurement Audit Lessons Learned Project Closeout Some of the things you may want to evaluate are: How well your procured services helped you in your plan, how well the original assumptions resembled reality, or whether your actions adequately addressed the goal. If you choose to do activities related to Closing, you could use the Procurement Audit, Lessons Learned, and Project Closeout PMI templates to record information. 7

8 Arlington Wealth Planning is a financial planning firm located in Arlington, Virginia. We provide services to help families develop and monitor their financial goals. Our specialties include personal financial literacy, goal identification/quantification, budgeting, and financial planning for education, retirement, and estate management. We offer services to evaluate and provide solutions to mitigate financial risk and solutions to increase the ability to meet short term and long term financial goals. Visit our webpage for more information at: Arlington Wealth Planning offers securities through Integrated Financial Planning Services (IFPS), a FINRA/SIPC Registered Investment Firm. IFPS ( is represented in all major regions of the United States and throughout Europe, with some individuals working in the Far East. The advantage of representation around the globe is that IFPS has many geographical regions from which to provide service, which is especially crucial for clients who travel or relocate frequently. We have dealer s agreements with very many major mutual fund groups, annuities, tax planning, and insurance planning companies. We can prepare your taxes or, in conjunction with our attorneys, prepare your trust for estate planning. Our representatives all subscribe to the Code of Ethics and Standard of Care of the Financial Planning Association (FPA). 8

9 Project Management Tools and Templates The following is a list of tools and templates referenced in this document and links to the Project Management Institute website where you can find examples. Note: These links require you to sign into the PMI Website Disclaimer: These templates are not the most robust and attractive examples I ve seen, but they are the most publically accessible. They have been created by and are the property of the Project Management Institute. Initiating PROJECT CHARTER ( STAKEHOLDER REGISTER ( Planning REQUIREMENTS DOCUMENTATION ( PROJECT SCOPE STATEMENT ( RISK REGISTER ( ACTIVITY LIST ( PROJECT SCHEDULE ( QUALITY METRICS ( STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT PLAN ( PROJECT MANAGEMENT PLAN ( Executing CHANGE REQUEST ( CHANGE LOG ( ISSUE LOG ( DECISION LOG ( Monitoring and Controlling STATUS REPORT ( PROJECT PERFORMANCE REPORT ( RISK AUDIT ( VARIANCE ANALYSIS ( CLOSING PROCUREMENT AUDIT ( LESSONS LEARNED ( PROJECT CLOSEOUT ( 9

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