Many fellow certified financial planners I worked with at the beginning of my career were terrified to speak with their clients about the more emotional aspects of money. One of my peers even went so far as to tell me that if a client of theirs started crying in a meeting that meant it would be adjourned rather quickly. Stories like this compelled me to more intentionally explore the relationship between money and emotions and how to better connect the relationship between these two key aspects of our everyday lives.
According to an academic study published in December by Herbers & Company, people who use a financial advisor are three times happier than those who manage their own finances, so those seeking your services are already more pleased and fulfilled than the average person. But that’s not to say that even your relatively happy clients don’t have any kind of struggles or issues that they’d like to discuss with you.
We have a saying in therapy: you can only take your clients as far as you have gone yourself. Advisors need to take a step back and look in the mirror. This may be an unpopular opinion, because I have learned emotions and money are often not subjects advisors are keen to co-mingle. But advisors must get past their reticence and look to better understand and serve their clients who are facing complex financial issues that are often laden with stressful emotions. By understanding our own triggers around money, we are better able to understand those that plague our clients and how to help them.
One of the positive outcomes from the pandemic is that it has made us more willing to talk about mental health as a society. The U.S. Census Bureau has been collecting data since the pandemic started; what that data has shown is one in three people have experienced some form of anxiety over the last year and half, compared to one in 12 people prior to the pandemic. If we look at depressive symptoms, it’s now one in four compared to one in 15 before the pandemic.
With this influx of people experiencing mental health battles, people are becoming more willing to acknowledge their own mental health needs, and they are coming to their financial advisors with this on their minds. Advisors don’t need to be trained therapists to respond to this need. The first step is just being willing to listen and to empathize with your clients. Something as simple as offering an example of someone in your life who has benefited from seeing a counselor can really help and the mere mention of this can have a significant impact. “I hear what you are saying, I have also felt a lot of anxiety, and I don’t know if you know but there are these options available to you.” Was that so hard? It does not need to be uncomfortable; and we certainly don’t need to end meetings if the tears do come.
Advisors need to be willing to guide a deep conversation and ask their clients to reflect on their earlier experiences with money. Often, this will unlock answers as to where the clients’ current feelings around money came from.
With all of that said, it is important that the advisor engages in the conversation with the client, while recognizing where the boundary for their ability to help lies. If they are not in fact a licensed therapist and sensitive issues begin to come up, that is the time when it is important to offer support but also be able to make a referral to get your client the services they need, the same way you would refer a client to an attorney or certified public accountant if they needed financial assistance beyond your abilities. We are here to help in the capacity we can, and to lean into the vast network of resources at our disposal when we don’t have the answer right in front of us.