How to Thrive Through a Financial Crisis

We deal in facts and figures; no question about that.

However, as we cope with the business fallout from COVID-19 (aka coronavirus) it’s worth remembering that, when it comes to our clients, we are also dealing with the full spectrum of human emotion that comes with investing capital for the future.

The opportunity afforded by this crisis is for you to grow as a financial planner in two ways. One, to take stock of how you deal with uncertainty and build professional resilience. Two, to courageously step up for clients and provide the reassurance needed that their financial goals—and dreams—are still achievable.

We are about to have some difficult conversations, driven largely by fear. What I’d like to do is help encourage and reframe these conversations so that you can be in a place to offer empathetic insight to anxious clients wondering how COVID-19 will affect their money.

So where do we begin?

Prepare and Self-care

Before you even start to think about how to deal with the business fallout of the crisis, check-in with yourself to make sure you have the well-being tools at your disposal to cope and thrive. If you have a mentor, speak to them to establish context for what is happening. If you don’t, I recommend seeking out digital resources to gain a sense of perspective and direction. Josh Brown, CEO of Ritholtz Wealth, shared an inspirational talk he gave to safeguard the well-being of his team and help young financial planners navigate this crisis with their clients. Let Josh’s voice be your own!

Pick Up the Phone First

Be the financial planner who proactively reaches out to clients before COVID-19 panic motivates them to call in a frenzy. Check in with them first to see if they are doing OK, if their family is healthy and if there are any immediate ways you can be of help. Be as vulnerable as they are and have a human conversation before you pull it back to their financial plan and address any concerns about their investments.

Acknowledge and Repeat Their Concerns

When rational thinking is in short supply, our primary concern is to ensure our clients don’t derail their long-term goals and strategy. What some may be feeling right now is a fight or flight reaction, at odds with the logic that brought them to their investing journey. You can’t talk them out of how they’re feeling in this moment; it’s akin to telling someone with a cigarette in their mouth to stop smoking.

First, acknowledge that you’re thankful for them opening up—that it’s normal—and repeat back what you hear. Right now your client is looking for empathy and some emotional skin in the game, not a silver-tongued voice of reason. We get it, this sucks, now let’s take a deeper look together.

Create Space

Before this conversation gains momentum, stop it in its tracks and create some space. Tell them you’re pulling up their file; put them on hold. This gives them a chance to pause (and center) and creates a platform for you to drive the conversation. Right now your client feels an absence of control over their external environment and they need you to remind them of what they can control: how to react.

As Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six pillars of influence, which he set forth in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, suggested now is also the moment to establish authority…quickly. Data and facts may not help irrational thinking, but clients still want to know you’re on top of things. Have your evidence-based information ready to start the conversation.

Refocus on Their “Why”

When you first started this relationship, you spoke at length about their financial goals, values and reasons for investing. That was a good conversation. This one can be too if you pull them back from the immediate reality they are focusing on and go big picture. Ask them once more about what the purpose of investing was and scale it back to what was always a longer-term timeline. Our worst decisions are made when we can’t construct a positive future, especially with the repercussions of COVID-19 confronting us daily. Remind them of their financial plan and use visuals to show that things will get better in the future. Even better, pull up their plan and show them that all their goals are still within reach.

Word Choice is Everything

Gently remind them that your strategy accounted for market fluctuations, even at this level. Use phrases like “Remember, we discussed” to reassure them that this is well-trodden ground and not unplanned for. Now is a good time to use empowering language to bring your client into feeling an active partner in what happens now, rather than a passive victim to the markets. It’s our strategy, it’s our financial plan and it’s our goal. Remind them to trust the decision-making skills that led them to invest in the first place.

Anchor Their Experience

Anchoring clients in recent history, with timelines, is also helpful. Provide the wider context, as you did at the start, that markets are cyclical. We fear bear markets because of fear of the unknown. Six years ago, we had a bear market.  Do whatever you can to give things form by linking their experiences to the past. For example, the average bear market losses are X. The average bear market lasts this long. Again, be aware and intentional with the words you use. Focus on using positive words that infer we will get through this.

End with Hope

You didn’t have to rush to call the client, but you owned the situation and did. Your priority was to give some reassurance and a regained sense of control. You did this because you understand that living through a market downturn isn’t about portfolios and percentages for them. It’s about the thought of having to stay in a job longer, not being able to afford a child’s education, not seeing out a lifelong dream.

There will be many of these conversations ahead and I encourage you to embrace them. Contextualize each one around your client’s unique set of dreams and fears. Do that each time and you’ll provide the balance of normalization and hope needed.

Much better, you’ll strengthen the bond you have with your clients, through authentic, considered financial leadership.


Amyr Rocha Lima, CFP® is a partner at Holland Hahn & Wills LLP, a financial planning practice based in the United Kingdom. Recently named by Citywire as one of the UK’s Top 35 NextGen Financial Planners, Amyr specializes in retirement planning for successful business owners and senior professionals, serving clients in London and the South East of England. Follow him on Twitter @a_rochalima or check out his personal blog www.amyr.co.uk. Connect with him on LinkedIn


Editor’s note: This article is in the forthcoming April issue of the FPA Next Generation Planner. 



Client Communication Tips During Uncertain Times

In one household in quarantine right now, there are two schools of thought: one, this is an unprecedented event that we will recover from; and two, this is the end of the world as we know it.

Both feelings are valid. And they’re feelings your clients likely might be having as people across more and more cities are ordered by mayors and governors to stay put in their homes.

Here are some tips to communicate better with your clients during this time:

Avoid shaming and judging. You might not understand where a client is coming from when they spent $750 in two weeks stocking up on stuff because they’re scared. They may be freaking out at the constant grim news of the coronavirus and the turbulent market and subsequently may make ill-advised financial moves. They’re probably also home watching “Contagion” to help them make sense of all this. But try not to judge them for any of these things.

Connect with clients on social media, if they’re open to it. Likely, your clients (and you) are spending  your days working at home, batting off distractions from their kids, spouses or pets. Likely, they take respite in social media to connect and catch up on their memes or news. Research from Broadridge Financial Solutions found that clients want engaging and actionable advice, including on social media.

Social media “presents a real opportunity for advisers to provide more personalized communication and experiences,” said Chris Perry, head of global client solutions at Broadridge Financial Solutions at the SIFMA Private Client conference, as reported by Wealth Advisor.

Social media can give you a glimpse into what is going on in your client’s life and head right now. For instance, if they’re posting conspiracy theories, they’re likely freaking out and might need a touch-base. If they’re lamenting about how they had to cancel their wedding or their child’s graduation party, they might need some sympathy, wisdom and guidance from you. Connecting with them on social media can help you be more proactive.

Tell them good news. There is a shortage of two things right now: toilet paper and good news. Your clients could use a win or a glimmer of hope. Reach out and tell them something good.

Keep your word. Things feel uncertain for many people and they’re scared right now. They’re worried about the health of their elders, about their financial stability, and whether they’ll have a job at the end of all of this. The world feels unreliable to many of your clients. Provide reliability for them by keeping your word. If you say you’ll call in 30 minutes, call in 30 minutes. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep right now. Keep your Zoom meetings on schedule. When you can, under promise and over deliver.

Know what they want and expect. It will be helpful to truly understand what clients expect from their relationship with you right now. Ask them how often they need to hear from you.

Also, after you determine how frequently they want communication, remind them of their purpose and goals they set out in your first meetings and remind them how you will help them get there.

FPA is here to help you through these turbulent times. We are supporting members by offering an online Volatility Resource Center to help you  navigate the markets and better serve your clients. And, see the new community on FPA Connect, “Navigating Market Turbulence Related to Coronavirus.” Here you will find recordings of four calls with profession leaders on how to support your clients through this uncertainty. Also, join the March 25 fireside chat with Rick Kahler on market uncertainty at 3 p.m., Eastern.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the FPA Next Generation Planner. She also edits the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn


Coronavirus: How to Calm Anxious Clients

News of coronavirus cases hitting the U.S. sent financial markets into a tailspin, with U.S. stocks recording their worst week since October 2008. Naturally, many clients reacted with anxiety and fear. Many had concerned conversations with their planners. One of the best ways to learn new strategies for allaying client fears during volatility and uncertainty is to ask your peers.

In response to its members’ needs, FPA has created a new virtual community on FPA Connect for planners to share language and strategies for calming clients in the wake of coronavirus anxiety. This FPA Connect group held three live webinars in early March, during which the following tips were shared amongst planners (visit Connect.OneFPA.org to access this and other discussion groups):

Provide perspective.

Longtime planner and professional leader Dave Yeske, DBA, CFP®, said that during times of uncertainty, he starts conversations with anxious clients with the idea that whatever happens, human beings are enduring.

Yeske also provides perspective, demystifying the concepts of “the economy” and “the markets.”

“I always explain to clients that the economy is not some big machine that gets expressed in statistics, like gross domestic product, and consumer price index, and GDP deflator,” Yeske said. “[The economy] is just you and me, and everyone you know, and everyone you don’t know going about the business of earning, saving, spending and investing. Those individual decisions aggregate up to this thing we call the economy. And that’s why economies are resilient. And that’s why markets are resilient—because human beings are resilient. And that’s a fundamental regularity that’s not going to change.”

Offer weekly recaps.

Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA®, CES™, said it’s important for planners to find that balance between keeping clients informed on what’s going on, yet not creating anxiety. Her firm, Francis Financial, surveyed clients during the recent market turbulence and asked: how often do you want to hear from us? The No. 1 answer was one a week.

“What they want is a weekly recap that helps them cut through the hype,” Francis said. “We need to help them see what’s really important, and what they don’t need to pay attention to.”

Francis also passed along advice from Michael Kitces and Carl Richards, who suggested adding non-financial tidbits to your weekly recaps, such as upcoming community events or spring break travel tips—content that shows you’re paying attention to more than just the markets.

Be understandable and relevant.

Francis also suggested reminding clients that what the markets are doing is different than what their portfolios are doing.

Tell clients: “Your bonds are doing phenomenally well, and they’re doing exactly what we wanted them to do, so that when stocks are falling, your bonds are going up and really saving the day,” Francis said. “Let them know that the myth of, what happens in the market is happening to me, is just not true; show them that it’s not true.”

Experience more peer-to-peer learning like this through FPA Connect at Connect.OneFPA.org.

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Carly Schulaka is editor of the Journal of Financial Planning. Reach her at cschulaka@onefpa.org.