1 Comment

Reviewing Financial Infidelity in A Financial Planning Context

Financial infidelity is one of the more complicated issues that financial planners face when meeting with couples. The hurt and betrayal that often comes up in the planning room is made even more complicated by the different perceptions that planners have about it.

Therefore, here is a quick overview. Financial infidelity does not have any real set definition, but Brad Klontz, Kristy Archuleta and Anthony Canaly broadly defined it in Financial Therapy: Theory, Research, and Practice as, “purposeful financial deceit between two or more individuals wherein, there is a stated or unstated belief in mutual honest communication around financial matters.”

Financial infidelity can include financial cheating including, “hiding purchases from spouses, having secret credit cards or keeping secret personal bank accounts,” according to a 2018 Journal of Financial Therapy article titled, “Financial Infidelity in Couple Relationships.”

Understanding your beliefs about what is and is not financial infidelity will have a huge impact on how you handle it when it comes up and how much your clients will trust your help. So let’s dig into this a bit.

It is important not to minimize “small” incidents of financial infidelity as it can reflect larger relationship problems. It may be more about how individuals assert their needs, manage conflict and trust each other more than the actual money.

Rates of financial infidelity vary by definition, but the 2018 Journal of Financial Therapy article referenced above found that 27 percent of individuals admitted to keeping a financial secret from their partner. The effects of the financial infidelity can vary from financial planning problems, interest on hidden debt and postponing major life events, to decreased marital satisfaction, loss of trust, depression and defamation of character.

Steps to Address Financial Infidelity

What can you do if you discover financial infidelity? Here are some steps that are likely to help you as you help your clients move forward:

1.) Ground yourself. Notice your own feelings with this issue. Are you angry? Sad? Scared? We all bring ourselves into our work with clients. It is important to process your own feelings and thoughts so that you can be grounded when you interact with your client.

2.) Be direct, there is no point in delaying. If it does not come out in session, it will later. So do not postpone a conversation because it is uncomfortable.

3.) Try to be open-minded. It is best if you can look at the reasons why this happened without judging the person. The more you know about the clients’ emotions and thoughts, the better you are going to be at addressing their needs and helping ensure that it does not happen in the future.

4.) Normalize and validate. Both partners are likely feeling hurt and need to know their feelings are normal and okay to have. Try to empathize with both partners’ experiences, while holding accountability and not taking sides.

5.) Problem solve. This is an opportunity for you to instill hope. Most tangibly, you will help them come up with a plan, but you need to know everything to help them. This will not only make them feel more hopeful about their work with you, but also help them see their role of disclosing as part of the healing. Remember everyone (at some level) wants to be the “good guy” so let them help you by coming clean.

6.) Tell them to do their research before disclosing to their partner. The partner who has not disclosed is probably fearful of the reaction. It is crucial that you discuss and prepare them to approach the topic in a way that will not incite violence.

Financial infidelity does not look the same and does not come from the same motivations. It can come from addiction, abuse, an affair, fear, shame or pride. Your actions will not be one-size-fits-all but should reflect what your clients need from you. Doing your own research on how to handle these topics or by watching a replay of our webinar for the Financial Planning Association and Financial Therapy Association (which will be available soon), you can gain skills in approaching these situations.

This is a challenging topic, but as you address your own emotional reactions and learn to connect with clients in pain, you can effectively navigate this issue and others. Most importantly, you can and will provide your clients with support in a helpful way.

On a final note, remember that you do not have to do this alone. Financial infidelity is a complex issue that may provide the need for a couple counselor or marriage and family therapist. There is still a stigma against therapy in many places, so you can be an invaluable resource to your client by doing your own research and finding a mental health professional you trust near you that can serve as a referral source.

Editor’s note: The authors of this post explored this topic more in-depth in a Financial Planning Association and Financial Therapy Association webinar called: “Difficult Conversations 3: Couples Dealing with Financial Infidelity.” The other two parts of the three-part webinar series dealt with ambiguous loss from Alzheimer’s disease and financial enabling. All three webinars will be available on-demand for members in the fall of 2019.

0.jpg

Nathan Astle is currently pursuing a master’s in couple and family therapy from Kansas State University with a graduate certificate in Financial Therapy. He is currently researching the interplay of couple attachments, financial transparency, and money scripts on financial stress.

McCoy

 Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT, is an adjunct faculty member at Kansas State University where she teaches courses for the financial therapy certificate program. Her research focuses on financial therapy and has been published in several journals including the Journal of Financial Therapy and the Journal of Financial Planning. She serves on the board of the Financial Therapy Association and is associate editor of book reviews and profiles for the Journal of Financial Therapy.


2 Comments

Why Knowing Your Client Is Key to Success

There’s a hairdresser in Arvada, Colo., who likely knows more about her clients than their doctors. She listens to them and makes them feel valued. She’s honest with them when pixie cuts aren’t right for their face frame and her referral business is booming.

Getting to know your clients and making them feel you are in tune with their needs is key to more referrals and more business growth, according to a 2018 study. Also key is being comfortable with tension.

The “Know Your Client” benchmarking study by FPA, Capital Preferences, and T. Rowe Price found that clients might respect and like you more when you are a “behavioralist”—someone who tells them in a diplomatic way when they say one thing yet do another.

A behavioralist, the study noted, is a planner who has “will, skill and means” and can handle tension productively. This leads their clients to appreciating their honesty, referring them to more people and it results in more business growth, the study found.

But planners have to know their clients well in order to pull this off.

“The better we know and understand our clients, the better we are at providing financial planning services,” Frank Paré, CFP®, chair of the FPA board of directors, told InvestmentNews. “Having a deeper understanding of our clients helps us to point out where there might be some inconsistencies in terms of what they do versus what they say. I’ve seen that where clients are looking to the future but still going to Vegas on a regular basis.”

He added that clients want to be called out when they are not acting in alignment with their goals. And although that might be tense, if a planner is a behavioralist with will, skill and means, they thrive in that situation.

“In identifying behavioralists, we’re looking, for example, at how planners deal with the tension that creeps into a client relationship. Behavioralists are comfortable with that tension,” said Pat Spenner, chief marketing officer at Capital Preferences, in an InvestmentNews article.

The takeaway is to put in the time to get to know your client, their partner and their families—including pets (ever talk to a 30-something millennial with only fur kids? Hello, unsolicited dog pictures.)

A Financial Planning article reporting on the survey noted that the sweet spot is to spend around six extra hours working to know your client and their loved ones in the first year of the relationship. That six-hour commitment led to a referral rate of 27 per 100 clients and a net growth rate of 24 percent.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the August issue of the Journal of Financial Planning in the Observer section. The Journal of Financial Planning is a member benefit for Financial Planning Association members. Not a member yet? Become one today.

Ana TL Headshot_Cropped

Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planningand the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn


Leave a comment

What If Being Customer-Centric Was Actually About…the Customer?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the terms “customer-centric,” “client-centric” or “customer-first,” just over the last few months, I’d probably have about eight bucks. Don’t get me wrong, I think these terms are important for every financial planner (and indeed, anyone who works in or owns any type of business) to understand and value. My beef is with how they are being used: “buy this product,” “purchase this data,” “take this course,” and you, too, can suddenly become more “client- or customer-centric.”

It seems to me that too many of these messages are about more—more data, more tools, more strategies, more insights. Personally, I think most of us (whether we are business owners, employed by a business or individual practitioners) need just the opposite. We have plenty of data; the issue is in finding ways to use it effectively on a consistent basis. We have tools at our disposal; if we’re not using them to the best of our ability now, are we likely to suddenly change our ways when we get new ones?

Understanding the Customer is About Learning How to Use Your Data (Not More Data)

I don’t think customer-centricity is something we can purchase, and more data for more data’s sake is only likely to further muddy the waters. To truly understand our customers, we must learn how to use the data we already have, simplify how we will use it moving forward and stick with our plans long enough to measure whether they are successful.

This is, of course, easier said than done, but I have an idea that I think is worth trying to help you get started, and it starts with one of my least favorite marketing terms: personas. Used effectively, personas can be an extremely valuable tool in enhancing customer understanding, but I’ve personally never been in an environment where they made a positive difference. It’s one thing I’ve seen fail more often than succeed in my time as a marketer.

When customer experience is the topic of conversation, the discussion inevitably turns to spending money on personas, and because the creation of personas is so enigmatic, mysterious and cool (i.e., so few people understand it), everyone gets excited about the initiative…until they receive them. Then, internal teams start changing them to fit their own biases, some are removed entirely while new ones are added and the hotly debated question of whether or not “Randy, age 55” actually does like to go to the movies ends up killing productivity for weeks. After that, they’re forgotten or relegated to the company shared drive, and everyone agrees that the agency really didn’t understand “us” well enough to get us what we needed.

HINT: If you think persona creation is about you, and not expressly about your ideal clients or customers, then your customer-centricity project was doomed to fail from the start.

Improving the Customer Experience by Starting Small

The idea is this: if there is truly an ideal customer, member and client out there for all of us, what would happen if we tried to create an exceptional customer experience using just one avatar (just so we don’t have to use “persona” again)? If we focused on crafting just a single avatar using the data we already have available, and committed to using it to test every interaction, we would find it simpler to make the improvements required to actually move the needle on customer/client experience. Further, the focus of this avatar is not on its creation, but on bringing it to life as part of our daily work.

I’m not saying that your avatar’s profile, interests, needs, wants, wishes and dreams should be arbitrary—far from it. I just want you to avoid getting bogged down in creating the “perfect” avatar, so that by the time you’ve achieved perfection, everyone involved resents what you’ve built. Creating the avatar should be fun, but it can be done relatively quickly as a group exercise. In addition to the standard profile items (age, gender, name, AUM, etc.), make sure to draw a picture or find one online, and to focus on the emotional and human side of your avatar, as these things will make him or her more real and tangible. Put a deadline on this part of the project, and when the group is done, you’re done (no adjusting—your avatar has been officially brought to life, warts and all).

Integrating Your Avatar: Meet the Newest Member of Your Team

Now comes the most important phase: deciding how you and your colleagues or team (if applicable) will use your avatar. This is so critical that you might even consider creating a social contract and having everyone sign to represent their commitment to seeing the process all the way through. I like to think of this part as inviting your avatar (let’s call her Perry for now) to join your team and to take part in every meeting, every discussion about programs and initiatives, and every company event…oh, and Perry is also copied on every email and participating on every inbound and outbound phone call.

You can take it as far as you want to, including leaving Perry a seat in the conference room for larger meetings, or having a specific place she sits and takes notes during client meetings. As you may not wish to weird out your clients, you can decide whether you want to let them know that Perry will be joining you in spirit, but you and she know that she’ll be there (and maybe just a little bit late, because that’s so Perry). You and your team will begin to see every touchpoint a client has through Perry’s lens, and begin to make decisions based on how she would perceive an idea or adjustment to the status quo. You can start with questions like:

  • “What would Perry think of this idea for a client event? Would she want to come and how would we make her feel comfortable enough to stay?”
  • “Would Perry approve of this prospecting email? How would it make her feel? How can we improve it so that it would make her happy and interested?”
  • “How would Perry have changed the environment or direction of the discussion in the last client meeting? How would she have felt afterward? What could we have done differently, and what should/could we do after the fact that would make her feel more comfortable and less fearful?”
  • “What would Perry think of the inflatable plastic pineapple in our conference room? Would she think it was odd, or should we add more things like that to make the environment more Perry-friendly?”

Common sense though it may be, customer- or client-centricity is about putting the customer or client first. That means making decisions with the customer or client at the forefront of your mind, and doing what they would want you to do, not what you want to do.

If you like the idea, how you go about it is entirely up to you, and you can make myriad changes based on personal preference. The most important pieces are that you and your team/group agree on who your avatar is and feel a connection to it, and that you’ve committed to integrating the avatar as much as possible.

Remember, the Primary Goal is Getting to Truly Know Your Ideal Client

This concept won’t be for everyone, and that’s OK. For example, you may have more than one type of client you are attempting to attract, and this may not (and potentially should not) change your focus. It does, however, force you to choose a very specific ideal construct, based not exclusively on asset size or life stage, but on who you actually want to work with.

I do believe that simplification can often provide us with insights we may not have been able to see through all the noise we are forced to sift through every day. If you choose to go down a path like this, you can measure many different outcomes, but if, at the end of the experiment, you and your team feel closer to your current and prospective clients, and have a better understanding of your ideal customer, you have set yourself up to be of great value to a host of future Perrys.

Dan_Martin_Headshot

Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional membership organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.

Disclaimer: The Financial Planning Association is independent of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (“CFP Board”), a 501(c)(3) organization that grants the CFP® certification to CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals in the United States. CFP Board owns the trademarks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.”