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How to Help Clients Have Difficult Conversations in Later Life

In partnership with the Financial Therapy Association, the Financial Planning Association® recently introduced a series to help financial planners prepare for working with clients experiencing life-changing situations. The new three-module, self-study online courses focus on common emotional events and share researched therapeutic techniques that financial planners can immediately use in their practices.

The first of the three-part series—Difficult Conversations in Later Life Planning—was relevant to financial planning practitioners as the average age of a wealth management client is 62. In addition, a future orientation is essential to financial planning which will necessitate conversations about later life even with younger clients.

See what you missed in the first installment of this Difficult Conversations Program Series:

Why Is This So Difficult?

Discussions around later life are difficult. Some common reasons include:

One of the most daunting reasons behind the increased difficulty in navigating these types of conversations is the concept of the fourth age. The fourth age is when a person becomes increasingly more dependent on others for daily care, usually starting at around age 80 or 85 and continuing until end of life.

The third age—the age after retirement—has become an increased focus as overall health has increased and people look forward to talking about what life will look like when they have more free time on their hands. But the fourth age is marked by health concerns and mortality is often scary for clients to even think about, much less plan for.

Part of the fear for clients is the idea of ambiguous loss—which is when we begin mourning something or someone that is not completely gone. There are two types of ambiguous loss:

  • Type 1: a person is physically absent but psychologically present (a child leaving for college)
  • Type 2: a person is physically present but psychologically absent (someone suffering from dementia)

While there are many examples of ambiguous loss in financial planning, the majority occurs when talking about the fourth age. This includes ambiguous loss around one’s identity when talking about retirement plans, or around one’s vitality when talking about deteriorating diseases (like MS or Alzheimer’s) and having to plan for long-term care. Financial planning education programs provide incredible training on how to handle the numerical side of planning for later life, but many of us feel inadequately trained in how to handle the human side.

What Can Planners Do?

Mental health theories can be applied to the financial planning process utilizing financial therapy techniques. The first webinar in the series focused on helping financial planners aid families in building resilience in the different stages of ambiguous loss through the use of these techniques.

Here are guidelines for planners to use these techniques in their practices from the webinar:

  • Finding meaning. Allow time for your client to tell their story and use reflective listening to elucidate the meaning they are formulating.
  • Tempering mastery means helping the family control what they can control and let go of the things they cannot control. Create multiple financial planning scenarios to allow them to feel more in control.
  • Reconstruction identity. Planners help reconstruct identities and roles within the family to help the family come to terms with changes that will occur around identity. Focus on how their identity may evolve around the ambiguous loss and use open-ended questions to help them create a new sense of identity.
  • Normalizing ambivalence. Families will sometimes experience ambiguous loss, which could make people feel scared, anger, guilt and shame all at once. Explain the concept of ambiguous loss to your client and how multiple conflicting feelings is completely normal to avoid any sense of guilt or shame.
  • Revising attachments. Encourage your client to get involved in their community (church, volunteering, etc.) so that they can have the social capital they need to avoid isolation.
  • Discovering hope. Instill hope in the family by asking supporting family members about their future dreams and goals beyond caregiving needs.

These guidelines do not need to be utilized sequentially. There are times where you’ll need to circle back. Instilling hope is one of those guidelines that should be at the forefront of financial planners’ minds throughout the planning process.

What’s Next?

We all know that financial planning as a profession is evolving to meet our clients’ needs in more than just the numbers. Financial therapy allows us to provide more holistic care to our clients facilitating trust and understanding that fosters the planner/client relationship.

The webinar provided a brief introduction of all of this and more, while also providing wonderful supplemental materials to help financial planners integrate this into their practice, including a video role-play demonstrating how one financial planner does this with her clients.

The webinar recapped here, plus the other two in the series, will be available as an on-demand package later this year. Stay tuned to learning.onefpa.org for more.

Smodic

Shelitha Smodic, CFP® professional, is a private wealth adviser at Westwood Wealth Management, based in Houston, Texas. Prior to joining Westwood, Smodic worked in supply chain strategy and design for the consumer products industry, including roles at Sysco Corporation, Coca-Cola Refreshments, and The Clorox Company. She earned a bachelor of science in business administration with a dual concentration in supply chain management and international business from The University of Tennessee. She is currently pursuing a master of science in personal financial planning from Kansas State University. She is an active member of the Financial Planning Association of Houston where she serves as the Pro Bono Director.

McCoy

Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT, is a professor of practice at Kansas State University where she teaches courses for the Financial Therapy Certificate Program. Her research interests focus on Financial Therapy and how to create more empirical evidence to support work that she has seen change so many lives in her clinical experiences. Her work has been published in The Journal of Financial Therapy, The Journal of Financial Planning, The Journal of Family Economic Issues, The American Journal of Family Therapy, Journal of Systemic Therapies, Women and Therapy, Journal of Couple and Family Therapy, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, and Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. Dr. McCoy serves as secretary on the board of the Financial Therapy Association. She is the guest editor for the Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy’s upcoming special issue focused on financial therapy and the associate editor of profiles and book reviews for The Journal of Financial Therapy. Dr. McCoy has practiced financial therapy with clients in her private practice and alongside financial planners in conjoint sessions. She is currently developing a computerized version of Narrative Financial Therapy with Morningstar and plans to run randomized control trials later this year.


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Be a Trusted Adviser: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

“He told me he’d call me back, but I’m not going to hold my breath.” This is what I overheard someone say the other day. I’m not sure if she was talking about a business acquaintance or a potential boyfriend, but her tone was one of acceptance, not disappointment. In other words, she’d come to expect it from this guy.

One of the core components of a trusted adviser relationship is reliability: Can others count on you to do what you say you are going to do? Reliability is where actions meet intention. Planning to do something doesn’t mean that it actually gets done.

When your clients think of you, do they think of someone you communicates clear commitments and then consistently fulfills them? Or do they remember all the times you made a promise but then let it slip away?

Details matter. Your clients look to you as someone they can count on. They want you to say what you mean and mean what you say. If they can’t trust you to return a phone call or share a promised article, why should they trust you to fully implement a plan you’ve agreed on?

Here are three ways to improve your reliability in the eyes of your clients and prospective clients:

  • Set clear commitments and don’t make vague promises. Be very explicit in what you will do and by when. Don’t just say that you’ll send some paperwork over; tell them you will email the account transfer paperwork by 4 p.m. today.
  • Track your commitments. Whenever you commit to doing something, write it down immediately in a trusted place such as your planner or CRM. Otherwise, the “next thing” will come along, and you’ll forget (but your client likely won’t).
  • Reiterate your commitments. Gently remind your clients when you are fulfilling a promise. For example, “Here’s the account transfer paperwork I promised.”

When you follow these three principles, you communicate (to yourself and others) that you are a person who says what he means and means what he says. Isn’t that what people need and want from their trusted adviser?

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in the Pathfinder Strategic Solutions blog. See it here

Adam Kornegay.jpg

Adam Kornegay is a co-founder of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions. He has a background in marketing and business analytics. Coupled with his experience as a financial adviser, he helps a broad array of clients, from relatively new advisers to experienced planners, and consults with various financial services firms. He is a coach in the Messaging and Marketing Strategies FPA Coaches Corner


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On the Long Road to Retirement, Checkpoints are Key

Short-term actions yield short-term effect. This is especially true in financial education, where a recent report from the Pension Research Council at The Wharton School found that programs that follow up with participants or that operate continuously are most effective.

Our financial lives aren’t static; they change throughout the retirement saving process.

It may be time to evolve past a one-and-done education strategy in favor of planning that’s both consistent and dynamic.

According to the study, financial education programs that included follow-ups delivered to employees around the age of 40 optimally enhance savings by close to 10 percent at the time of retirement. Assuming a retirement age of 67, employees who have been followed up with since age 40 will have logged nearly 30 years of personalized education by the time they retire. That adds up to a lot of opportunities for plan sponsors to continue to support employees by engaging through tactics that work best for the particularities of the demographic involved—whether through videos, print materials, live sessions or even podcasts.

To paraphrase an old political phrase about voting, “educate early, educate often.” An employee who planned to retire at 65 but didn’t save enough may be hard to reach, especially late in his career. Our previously mentioned well-served mid-career employee is bound to be more willing to listen and learn. The key takeaway you can impart to your clients is to establish enthusiasm and confidence in retirees at the outset of the planning process, then build a strategy based on this solid foundation.

Bridging the Retirement Conversation Gap

More education is good, but a consistent schedule of relevant follow-ups is even better. For example, companies might improve their enrollment protocol by offering a week of employee presentations and meetings instead of one afternoon. That’s an important step, but it still overlooks the fact that planning can take decades. Typically, conversations about retirement take place during two periods. The first discussion happens when the worker is first hired and probably covers plan details and enrollment policies. The second may not occur until the worker is near retirement, at which point it’s a little late to make adjustments.

To keep the lines of communication open and flowing, advisers can add value to their plan sponsor clients by helping them maintain an ongoing and varied dialogue with their plan participants. Consider staggering the delivery of materials so the recipient doesn’t feel overwhelmed, and craft a follow-up game plan to suit personality types, schedules and status (newly enrolled, on track, running behind, nearing retirement).

Following up with participants may also mean checking in on general financial concerns such as daily living costs and paying down debt. Perhaps they’d like to receive advice about overall financial wellness as well as retirement. Even if they’re not quite on track after receiving guidance, in many cases they’ll still feel better after a chat.

Another opportunity to add value may arise when participants who initially don’t qualify for a contribution matching program become eligible later on. Whether or not the matching policy is clearly articulated by the employer—and in a perfect world, it always would be—your clients can enhance their service model by staying on top of eligibility along with other details.

Retirement planning is a long road for everyone involved—advisers, plan sponsors and, of course, the retirees themselves. You might think about emphasizing the importance of follow-ups by comparing them to friendly inns along the way: they provide the perfect opportunity for all parties to reflect on how far they’ve come and prepare for the next stage of the journey.

Learn more about retirement strategies and solutions through Janus Henderson Investors’ Defined Contribution program.

Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared on the Janus Henderson Blog here.

Ben Rizzuto

Ben Rizzuto, CRPS®, is a retirement director for Janus Henderson Investors. In his position Rizzuto works with financial advisers, platform partners, Janus Henderson colleagues and clients to find solutions for today’s increasingly difficult retirement issues, whether they be within retirement plans or for those clients that are trying to figure out how to retire on their own terms. He also contributes to the dialogue surrounding these issues as the host of the “Plan Talk” podcast and through periodic posts to the Janus Henderson Blog.