Physicians Use Coaches to Achieve Financial Mastery

When some physicians say they have to spend time with their coach, they're not talking about their personal trainers or their kids' soccer coaches. Instead, they're referring to their financial coaches.

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

—John Wooden

When some physicians say they have to spend time with their coach, they’re not talking about their personal trainers or their kids’ soccer coaches. Instead, they’re referring to their financial coaches.

Financial coaches are purveyors of perspective and boosters of confidence on matters regarding earning, spending, saving and investing money. Rather than allocating assets or selecting stocks, coaches instead try to help clients feel more in control of their financial lives by educating and guiding them to intelligent choices. They typically dole out their advice during regular sessions, usually on the phone from their home offices

Some people use financial coaches in tandem with financial planners, investment advisors or brokers, while others rely exclusively on their coaches’ guidance in making decisions. Unlike financial planners or advisory firms—who deal with the nitty-gritty of investments, insurance, pensions, estates and trusts—coaches typically see their role as providing emotional support and, above all, helping clients discern their own true wishes. “Having a good coach means having someone to keep you focused on what matters most to you,” says Sandy Vilas, CEO of Coach Inc. and owner of Coach University, an organization that trains coaches.

One Species Among ManyThe financial coach is but one species in the evolving family of coaches. More and more Americans are relying on coaches of various stripes to help them work out their thoughts on virtually any subject. Regardless of their specialty, coaches are a unique blend of partner, champion, and confidant.

The growth of coaching as a service is evident in the rising membership rolls of leading coaching organizations. For example, membership in the International Coach Federation, a professional organization for coaches that stresses best practices and promulgates standards, now exceeds 13,000 in 80 countries, up sharply from 2,100 in 1999.

More than 60% of the current membership practices in North America. “The growth of this organization reflects the continual expansion of professional coaching throughout the globe,” says Kay Cannon, ICF President. The IFC, defines coaching as the process of forming partnerships with clients in a “thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Vilas says he tries to get his physician clients thinking about “who they are and who they want to be financially, and what they want in life. As with most people, he says, physicians want more time, money, and love. The idea of coaching is to help clients change their way of thinking so they can get more of the things the do want and less of those they don’t—less frustration, fewer problems, less stress.”

Some financial coaches who serve physicians say that they have a unique—and, as a profession, in some cases—a pressing need for coaching. “As a profession, physicians don’t tend to manage money well,” explains Vilas, a former stockbroker.

“More physicians than you would think live paycheck to paycheck,” says an Atlanta-based coach who helps wealthy physicians curtail lavish spending so that they save money to invest. The reason: financial institutions tend to liberally extend credit to doctors, many of whom, lacking financial acumen, feel compelled to build an image of success accessorized by a big Mercedes and five-figure mortgage payment, though their bank statements conflict with this image. So the advisor charges his clients to spend a day each month in his office, going over bills and bank statements, and encourages them to call him when they find themselves swooning in an automobile showroom.

Overcoming Reaction to Dreams Deferred“Most physicians have been poor for a long time during medical school and residencies, and they develop a feeling of entitlement to have a better life after they begin practicing,” says Vilas. “Too many of them don’t think about budgeting and setting aside money to pay off student loans and, ultimately, to fund retirement. They don’t think about the future. That’s where I come in—to help them figure out what matters and plan accordingly.”

Of course, many physician clients are well advanced financially, and focus on subjects including long-term investment management, retirement and estate planning, and the financial management of their practices. For example, Vilas has a doctor client in Texas whose main focus in coaching sessions is on issues surrounding his bringing his daughter into the practice. “He’s in his early 60s, and he’s looking at transitioning, and wants this to work out seamlessly.”

To accomplish this goal (or any other client goal) Vilas focuses on a client’s “blind spots”—the things they may not be aware of that are blocking their success in some way. These blind spots can range from marriages troubles to organization issues to the need for a personal assistant to handle routine personal financial chores, such as paying bills.

Do Your Homework

Professionals of their own making, coaches—including financial coaches—are free to begin work merely by assuming the moniker. As the field is unregulated by state or federal laws or licensure, physicians must do their own background checks when choosing a coach. They should ask for references or check whether to see whether the coach is affiliated with or has retrieved training through a reputable organization such as Coach University. (Indeed, consumers are using this kind of yardstick more and more, as evidenced by Price Waterhouse Cooper’s recent ICF Global Coaching Study, which shows that 52% of clients expect their coaches to be credentialed.)

To determine if a coach is properly certified, trained or affiliated, prospective clients are advised to consult organizations such as Coach Inc, the International Coach Federation, or Coaches Training Institute, all of which offer insights into coaching qualifications, training, and methods.

Richard Bierck is a Princeton, NJ-based writer and editor who has published articles in a broad range of financial and consumer publications, including Bloomberg Markets, Money.com and U.S. News & World Report.

70%Percentage of physicians who are "worried" about their business.(PFNLive.com survey, 2007)