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by Joni Youngwirth

I often hear advisers and their staff talk about the challenge of communicating action items as quickly as possible after client review meetings. Doing so allows advisers to get things off their minds before moving on to the next task, while staff prepares to follow up on action items.

Often, though, there’s a delay between the time that a client leaves a review meeting and when the notes—whether in verbal or written form—are conveyed. Why? One reason may be that the adviser doesn’t have a consistent, efficient approach for summarizing the meeting.

Lessons from the Medical Profession

Several decades ago, medical professionals started using “SOAP” notes. SOAP stands for subjective, objective, assessment, and plan. When everyone making notes in a patient’s chart uses this convention, communication is more efficient—both for those writing the notes and those responsible for following up and implementing plans.

Here’s an example of a fictitious, medically oriented SOAP note:

S: 60-year-old female patient presents complaining of a “sore foot for one week.” Patient acknowledges a “trip” on the steps of her house seven days ago. Her gait is obviously impaired.

O: Physical exam identified acute point tenderness on the left foot at the head of the third metatarsal and phalanx.

A: Suspect fractured metatarsal or phalanx. Temporary splint provided.

P: Labs—get uric acid test to rule out gout and CBC to differentiate septic arthritis; get X-ray of L metatarsal and phalanx. Patient advised to immobilize and limit weight bearing until results of X-ray. Call patient with X-ray results.

The notes are consistent, clear, and concise, and they quickly communicate to staff what needs to be done next.

Could such an approach be helpful in our profession?

Applying the Practice to Finance

Let’s look at a fictitious financially oriented SOAP note:

S: Mary and Sam Jones requested a meeting because they “want reassurance that they have sufficient funds to retire in 2017.”

O: Clients have $2 million in a 60/40 equity/bond asset allocation in a separately managed account. Risk tolerance has been established at a moderate level. Annual budget of expenditures is $220,000. Clients are 65 and 66 and will start taking Social Security at 66 and 68, respectively. Clients have sufficient long-term care insurance and cash balances. Clients state they are healthy and have normal life expectancies.

A: Given estimated life expectancy of 84.6 and 86.4, portfolio modeling indicates that the clients will outlive savings, assuming normal markets. Discussed their options—spend less, continue working, or address risk tolerance to invest more aggressively.

P: Send clients executive summary outlining explanation and options discussed in meeting. Schedule a call with Mary and Sam in two weeks to follow up.

This may not be a perfect approach for you, but it raises the questions:

  • Is your approach to documenting client meetings consistent, clear, and concise?
  • Does it quickly and effectively communicate what staff needs to do next?

If the answer to either question is, “No,” you may want to give SOAP notes a try.

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass. She is a regular contributor to the FPA/Journal of Financial Planning Practice Management Blog.

This article originally appeared on the FPA/Journal of Financial Planning Practice Management Blog. Read more of Youngwirth’s posts at


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