Client Relationship & Service
Putting wellness at the center of financial planning


Many advisors take a holistic approach to financial planning, but David and Evan Coles of WMBC Financial in Irvine, California, have gone a step further. Working alongside their father, Scott Coles, who founded WMBC in 2003, the two brothers have developed a proprietary “human wealth” planning strategy, aiming to understand not just clients’ financial needs, but also their emotional relationships to money as well as their sense of overall well-being. 

In this episode, you will hear David and Evan share how they worked with a think tank on this so-called human wealth approach, and how they implement it in their practice. We will also discuss how this family firm has found success working with other family-owned businesses. 


Re-defining wealth and well-being

When he joined the business in the mid-2000s and set out to learn the basics, David found that good intentions were everywhere. He remembers one industry leader urging advisors to limit time spent on resource management and focus on planning and client fulfillment. But how could he accomplish this? “No one really had an answer for that. They just said you need to work your way up there. And that’s how I started thinking we needed to improve planning.” 

That meant, in David’s words “creating space for things like fulfillment and well-being.” But the path to creating that space was less than clear. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this by myself.’” He explained the idea to his brother Evan who lived in San Francisco, and soon WMBC had a third member of the Coles family on board.

To realize the vision for what ultimately became human wealth planning, WMBC teamed up with the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a think tank consulting agency. “What they’ve been doing is, over the past couple of decades, working on subjective ‘well-being science’ and trying to understand the research and developing a model that could be used to then create metrics of well-being,” explains Evan.

The result of WMBC’s collaboration with NEF was a human wealth questionnaire that goes beyond assessing clients’ finances and seeks to capture information on their attitudes toward money, as well as a picture of their health, social connections and community involvement.

 “Human wealth planning really is a tool to help our clients realign their relationships with their finances. Our financial relationship is extremely complicated. And I think part of it is because of the way that we hold money and how it operates in our life,” says Evan. 

How does that make you feel?

David and Evan admit that surfacing the emotions connected to money and probing on areas like fulfillment and well-being goes beyond the typical boundaries of the advisor-client relationship. “We've had people say, ‘I'll do this, but I don't know what you're going to get out of me because I'm a very private person.’ And as they start digging in, they start opening up about their family and their past, why they are the person they are,” says David. “What we have found is if someone gives it the opportunity, they walk away going, ‘Well, that was a nice discussion. You really do have some tools now to create something for me that's meaningful.’”

Human wealth planning in action

So what does human wealth planning in action actually look like? David and Evan cite the case of a successful client who, although prospering financially, was suffering from a loss of vitality and energy due to the demands of his job. “One of the things we started planning with him for was a career change. How can he move into a career that allows that greater balance and engages him more, you know? And so that's what we were setting up for. And we began to develop financial systems to establish a cushion — so they would have financial resources to draw on while he made this switch — as well as starting to pay attention to his community, and what steps could be taken so that he feels that support, too, as he makes this shift.”

According to the brothers, this type of client outcome is the fulfillment of their practice’s vision. “It was so impactful for us to see that and for him to come to us and say, ‘Thank you, I could not have made this transition without you.’”

Family dynamics, family dramatics

A planning approach that factors in emotion has resonated with one client segment where feelings often run deep and can be especially complicated: family-owned businesses. It doesn’t hurt that the Coles have experienced these challenges firsthand. “We've gone through a lot of the ups and downs and working through issues that arise as being family members in a business. We feel this kind of connection with other family-owned businesses,” explains David.

Issues of succession and fairness to children or relatives who might not be involved in the business can be thorny. “How do I give my son what he needs, or my daughter what she needs, in the business? Because she’s earned it. But yet I have three other children that may not be in the business. How do we work through those feelings? Our process holds space for those things,” notes David.

Putting a price on wellness

In pricing its services, WMBC seeks to align its compensation approach with its wellness-based philosophy. That means, rather than charge based on assets under management, their fee structure keys off a client’s net worth and grows as a client’s financial picture and estate become more complex. In their view, this is in keeping with their goal of making client wellness — not just wealth — the centerpiece of their practice. David explains: “We’re not concerned with ‘How am I going to get paid if they don't give me their assets to manage?’”

David and Evan have ambitions to expand their firm while continuing to refine their process and technology with an eye toward eventually licensing it. In attempting to drive change within their industry, they’re motivated by the impact they’ve seen human wealth planning have on the lives of their clients. Recalling the client whom they helped transition to a new career, Evan says, “’ That's exactly where we want to be. That's how we want to operate and have that sort of impact with our clients.”

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