By Jessica Lanning, JD, CFP®


I share the following story with you to illustrate why hiring a CFP is a great idea, but you need to be mindful of their limitations.

I start by admitting that I fully fell prey to our teeth-obsessed culture.

Not only did I have braces as a kid, I paid for a redo as an adult out of sheer vanity.

When a Generalist Becomes a Specialist – Or Do They?

So many dentists these days offer services that used to be the exclusive purview of orthodontists.

This was true of my last dentist. She did teeth straightening with braces or aligners in addition to cleanings, fillings, root canals, and the usual stuff a dentist does.

Despite stern warnings and prompts from my parents – “I paid good money for those teeth! You better take care of them!” – I failed to wear my retainers regularly after having my teeth straightened as a kid.


(Kids do stupid things by definition. I was no exception.)

As a result, my upper front teeth on each side of the middle two (lateral incisors numbers 7 and 10, if you’re into such things), had returned to their original twisted state and poked out.

Let me be clear: No one but me and my dentist, who wanted to sell me braces, noticed this.

But for one low price on a payment plan, if I wanted, I could have them and a few lower teeth returned to their original post-braces-as-a-kid glory.

I wanted that. And I had the money to do it. So I did. Being an adult is fun that way.

The Warning Signs

Let me say first that I loved that dentist and trusted her implicitly.  

We decided I would use aligners, those clear “retainers” that one wears without almost anyone noticing.  

The first thing that went “wrong” was that the company advising my dentist and creating the plan for straightening my teeth said aligners were not recommended for my very twisted teeth.  

They recommended we use braces instead.   

Ugh.  Braces. 

My dentist assured me that the treatment plan was faster, and, hey, a lot of people think braces are a fun facial adornment.  Like earrings or other jewelry or makeup.  Really?!  Well, okay.

I signed up.  

This is where I should have paused.

This Could Have Gone Badly

Ultimately, this story ends well.  I am happy with my teeth.  The only reason I refer to her as my dentist in the past tense is because she moved away not because of these braces.

But I should have paused.  

I probably should have consulted an orthodontist, someone who knew about crooked, twisted teeth in adults.  

As we say in the law, I had a “nuanced fact pattern.”  

I was pretty sure that my dentist probably hadn’t seen enough twisted teeth to truly advise me, even with the company experts who were creating my treatment plan.  

In fact, if memory serves, she even told me that getting a second opinion wouldn’t be a bad idea.  

In all truth, I thought about it, but forged ahead anyway.  She’s smart. She’s a doctor.  What could go wrong?

Financial Planners Are Typically Generalists

I know you’re taught to look for the CFP® designation when hiring a planner. Those marks indicate someone who has made a commitment to education, being a fiduciary, and serving clients well.

All that is true for most CFP® colleagues. It’s good advice.

Please understand, though, that getting that designation requires financial planners to take a generalist’s exam. The same is true for taking the bar exam in any state to practice law.

Trust me, I know. I’ve done both.

The beauty of the generalist’s exam is that it forces the test taker to learn a large variety of subjects on a surface level, which ideally causes that person to be aware of issues that they need to pay attention to.

That’s a good thing. They see red flags and bring them to your attention.

It does not make them a specialist. That is someone who knows a narrow subject very deeply.

Where Generalists Get Into Trouble

When a generalist doesn’t know the limits of their knowledge and acts as a specialist, that’s a recipe for trouble.  

Because what if a client has a nuanced fact pattern?  And let me tell you, most people have a nuanced fact pattern in some aspect of their lives.

When I see those fact patterns, I provide the generalist’s impression:  Here’s what I see.

I typically then provide guidance:  And you need to talk to this specialist, just to make sure I’m not missing anything.

You’d want that from your dentist.  You want that from your financial planner, too.

While they’re not straightening your teeth, financial planners are attempting to “straighten” your financial life, and you deserve expert care.  

And once you have it, wear your retainers – literally and metaphorically.  I do.

If you want to talk about your nuanced fact pattern or want a referral to my new dentist, please reach out.



Jessica LanningAbout the Author:

Jessica Lanning JD, CFP® brings focus and perspective to your individual financial needs to identify your opportunities for investment and wealth. Regardless of what you’ve done before or what “mistakes” you think you’ve made, Jessica can help get you back on track quickly and safely. As a former practicing lawyer, she brings a comprehensive approach to legal, tax, and financial challenges so that her clients can enjoy peace of mind. A huge proponent of conscious decision-making, Jessica makes sure her clients are educated and informed so that they make sound decisions with clarity and confidence.  Lanning Financial Inc. is a registered investment adviser. The information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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