One of the unique aspects of financial advising is the opportunity to share in some of the most pivotal moments of clients’ lives.
When a client gets married, he or she may come into the office with the new spouse. When that client has a baby, he or she may need advice on how to ensure financial security for their new family. When that baby grows up and is ready for college, those nervous parents will likely need help planning for the expensive next four years.
And yet, it’s not only the joyful and exciting moments that advisors are called upon to participate in.
During times of grief, clients often must meet with their financial advisors out of necessity, whether to discuss the management of a deceased person’s affairs, to reevaluate certain financial decisions, or for help dividing up assets. These meetings will be more frequent for advisors who work extensively with senior clients.
These can be challenging meetings to have. As a culture, we’re not terribly prepared for accepting another person’s grief, and the temptation to “solve a problem” instead of comfort and support is strong.
So how can financial advisors be sensitive to their grieving clients - especially when it’s important to address certain financial matters in a timely fashion? Here are 5 important tips.
Recognize that grief is not only associated with death.
Many of us are conditioned to think of grief only in relation to bereavement. We may be prepared to recognize grief in a widow or widower, or someone who has lost another loved one.
However, grief is a feeling of intense sadness that can come after any loss - loss of a job, a marriage, or an idea or image we had for our lives.
With this understanding, advisors will be better able to recognize grief in clients going through all kinds of transitions, from divorce, to retirement, to moving a spouse or loved one into a long-term care facility.
Listen attentively to allow your client to express their emotions.
You want clients to feel safe expressing their emotions with you. After all, they’re sharing some of the most intimate details of their lives with you, simply due to the nature of the advisor-client relationship.
Attentive listening is one of the best ways to show your clients that you care and that you are there to offer them support.
Attentive listening means paying attention not only to a person’s words, but also to their nonverbal cues. It means asking sensitive, open-ended questions. It means doing one’s best to judge when the client is ready to begin discussing financial matters, and when they just need to talk about the person they’ve lost or the change they’re going through.
If a client has the opportunity to express those painful, often all-consuming feelings with you, you’ll end up with a richer, deeper client-advisor relationship. You’ll also be better equipped to help them financially once you know what kind of concerns and emotions they’re dealing with.
Ask them to share happy memories.
When confronted with another person’s grief, many of us find that we want to avoid it. We try to talk about anything other than the pain we know that person must be feeling.
However, these attempts to avoid the subject can do more harm than good. They can make the person feel embarrassed for expressing their feelings, or as though their grief isn’t important to you.
Instead, address what your client has experienced with empathetic, sensitive language. According to bereavement consultant Amy Florian, who was featured in the article “Grieving Clients, Sensitive Advisors,” some good things to say to your grieving clients are:
I can't imagine what this is like for you.
Would you like to tell me about it?
Healing doesn't mean getting over it.
I’ll do whatever I can as a professional to make this difficult process easier for you.
I know your grief won't be over in a week, a month or even a year.
Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
This will take a long time and I’ll be here for you.
Working with grieving clients offers advisors the opportunity to offer not only financial support, but also much-needed emotional support during a time of great need. For more, read our post “Looking Out for Your Senior Clients: Do’s and Don’ts.”