Leave a comment

Best of 2018: Things You Shouldn’t Say to Grieving Clients

Editor’s note: Until the end of the year we will be publishing the top blog posts of 2018. This post is about what not to say to your grieving clients, which I wrote shortly after my dad passed away in July and I witnessed how our parents’ financial adviser was a shining example of how to interact with a client’s family after a death. 

The unthinkable happened this year.

My dad died.

We’re still living this nightmare that started when he got sick. Oftentimes, kind‐hearted well‐wishers unknowingly make it worse with the things they say, but my parents’ financial adviser is not one of those people.

I remember Mr. Vincent Rogers since I was a little girl. I was frightened of him for a long time simply because when my parents took out life insurance policies on us when I was 9, I was terrified to have blood drawn and I blamed Rogers for my fear.

Rogers was not just a financial adviser, he was also a friend to my dad, as he relayed to me when he paid his respects at my dad’s funeral.

“Do you remember me?” he asked.

“Of course,” I responded before thanking him for joining our family to celebrate our dad’s life.

“Your dad was my great friend,” he told me.

He relayed a story about how when he was a young newlywed, my dad made his wife (who was from Colombia and at the time spoke limited English) feel comfortable because he spoke in Spanish to her. Oftentimes, Rogers said, my dad and he had philosophical conversations about life and marriage. He told me that he will miss my dad—and I could tell he meant it.

There is one guarantee in this life and that is death. Given that fact, there is a very high chance that your clients are going to experience the loss of a loved one in the course of your working with them.

A time of loss is also a time of heightened sensitivity. Understandably, it’s stressful to approach a grieving person for fear of saying the wrong thing. Death in a family can cause your clients to cut out their own family members, and if you say something offensive to them, they just might cut you out too.

Clients might hold you to a higher standard when it comes to communication skills, and especially during a time of loss. Avoid being offensive by steering clear of the following phrases:

“I can’t even imagine.” Andrea Raynor, hospice chaplain, writes in her book The Alphabet of Grief: Words to Help in Times of Sorrow, that this is one of the more hurtful things to say to clients who are grieving. She said that this is like telling your client that their situation is so horrifying that you can’t even picture yourself going through it.

“I know how you feel.” None of us know how each other feels, really, and especially not during a time of loss. We’ve all lost someone, so if you are trying to say you know how they feel because you too have lost someone, then tell them the specific story while also clarifying that you understand that we all grieve and feel differently.

A friend, who’d also lost her father not too long ago, reached out and instead of saying, “I know how you feel,” she shared a specific story of how she has coped with losing her dad.

“It gets better when you realize he’s always with you,” she told me. This has been incredibly comforting, and I think of it every day.

“I’m so sorry.” Amy Florian told the Wall Street Journal that your clients will likely hear this phrase thousands of times and it will likely not have any impact by the time you say it. She’s right. This phrase could open the door to a negative situation, also, Florian noted, like the client responding with “Not half as sorry as I am.” Instead, she adds, share a memory of their loved one if you knew them, the way Rogers did with me.

“Everything happens for a reason.” This is another one best avoided, David Kessler, author and lecturer on death and dying, told the Wall Street Journal.

“When you’re in deep grief, you don’t care about any reasons,” he said in the article titled, “What Not to Say to a Grieving Client.”

He advises to simply let your client talk. Allow for extra time for your meeting with them with the expectation that they’ll need more time to tell their story.

These are the four phrases that have been triggers for me, and upon further research I found them on several lists of what not to say to clients who are grieving. Simply avoid these phrases altogether, opting for an authentic, heartfelt story of your clients’ loved one. You’re not going to make them feel better, but you could avoid making them feel worse.

One last bit of advice: check in on your clients. They’re probably not OK one month, two months, even a year after their loved one’s death. You reaching out just to see how they are will mean the world to them.

Ana TL Headshot_Cropped

Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.


Leave a comment

Best of 2018: Financial Planners, Stop Making Excuses and Start Marketing

Editor’s note: Until the end of the year we will be publishing the top blog posts of 2018. This no-nonsense piece by FPA’s Marketing Director Dan Martin advises readers to just do it already when it comes to marketing. 

Collectively, the financial services industry and, more specifically, the members of and advocates for the financial planning profession have done an atrocious job of articulating the value we provide. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but on the whole, I think most of us can agree that we can do a lot better.

And, as you all know, the stakes are not trivial. Sure, our jobs and livelihoods depend on the health and future existence of the profession, but in the end, it’s not really about us. It’s about the millions of investors who need and deserve access to objective advice and support in planning to fund a future packed with variables, potential potholes and uncertainty.

Having worked with financial planners for more than a decade, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. In this profession, I’ve met some of the most selfless, generous and philanthropic people I’ve ever had the honor to know, and truly believe that these planners can and do change the lives of those who choose to work with them.

As a marketer, however, I have come across the same excuses from planners for poor or non-existent marketing, and it’s time for all of us to commit to changing the paradigm. Yes, we face some distinct challenges, but we’re no worse off than industries like health care, featuring regulations at least as strict as those in financial services, or marketing technology, in which commoditization is arguably a far bigger issue than it is for financial planners, or donation-based non-profit associations, in which the lack of resources is a daily struggle.

The point being, we need to stop letting people tell us that it’s OK to do the bare minimum when it comes to marketing or, in some cases, not do it at all, because our industry and profession are “a different animal.” The challenges we face are all real obstacles and I’m not attempting to minimize them in any way, but I do believe they are mostly a distraction from what really needs to be done to promote yourself and your practice in a healthy way.

I’ll leave the full conversation about how marketing is defined for a separate post, if only to say that I think it’s extremely easy to overcomplicate the concepts of marketing and promotion, especially for those not exposed to the jargon every day. I want to make the case that, for financial planners, keeping it simple can be a foundation on which to build and a great place to start.

You don’t have to be a marketing expert to be able to articulate your value to current and future clients, you don’t need millions of dollars to build a strong brand and you don’t need to post on social media every few minutes to become a part of the conversation. Search engine optimization, search engine marketing, digital advertising, marketing automation and content management systems are all important tools in maximizing the value of a marketing program, but together or separately, they have no value without the story they are built upon.

Thus, before making your list of tactics on how to reach your audience, the systems and tools you need to get in front of the right people and the right time, and the spreadsheet identifying the return on investment for every marketing dollar that goes out the door, spend time crafting, reworking and solidifying the story about you and your practice, about your clients (not you), and that you believe with every fiber of your soul to be fundamentally, irrevocably true.

The term “authenticity” is now so pervasive in conversations about marketing, promotion or online content that it’s routinely included on lists of overused buzz words. And yet, nothing could be more important when it comes to earning new clients, and perhaps more importantly, making sure they are clients for life. At its most basic level, marketing is and always has been, about showing the world (and your current and prospective clients as a subset) who you are, what you stand for and why you care so deeply about helping them solve their problems. If you believe in the story you’ve created, and the way you show up for your audience every day (such as your clients, prospects, your family or the Twitterverse) reflects that story, others will begin to believe in it too.

So why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, it’s not easy to come up with a concise story in the first place. It’s much easier (although ill-advised) to attempt to be all things to all people—this is why it’s often far more difficult to write a one-sentence mission statement than a 2,000-word article. Even those who do have a concerted story may struggle to stick to it, as tough times will bring the temptation to walk back on commitments or to make seemingly small adjustments to appease important stakeholders that can take away from the power of a story over time.

For those who have worked under the traditional model of marketing throughout their careers, focusing less on the quantity of tactics going out the door and content that’s all about what makes them great in favor of marketing that’s about help, not hype (to quote the legendary marketing mind Jay Baer), will be inherently uncomfortable. But isn’t nearly everything worth doing uncomfortable at the beginning?

I firmly believe that a story infused with passion, centered on transparency and guided by truth can be a difference maker for you and your practice. For those willing to take the plunge, my advice to help you get started is to:

  • Embrace your weaknesses. No true story focuses only on the positives.
  • Be vulnerable. Showing emotion doesn’t make you weak, it can make you strong.
  • Broadcast your passion. It’s better to be too passionate than to look like you don’t care.
  • Narrow your vision. Don’t worry about alienating those who are unlikely to be your clients; focus on your ideal prospects and make your message about them.
  • Focus on what matters to your clients. Eliminate the things that every financial planner offers, and center on how you can help clients relieve their pain points and solve their problems.
  • Have fun. Your enjoyment in telling/showing your story can be contagious; let others know how much you love what you do.

Happy storytelling!

Dan_Martin_Headshot

Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®) 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.


Leave a comment

Best of 2018: Leveraging Divorce to Maximize College Financial Aid

Editor’s note: Until the end of 2018, we will be revisiting the top five blog posts of the year. The No. 2 spot went to a great piece about how to make the best out of a bad situation. Robert J. Falcon gives readers some insights on how to leverage a divorce to maximize your kid’s college financial aid. Revisit the blog post, which published in February of 2018, below. A version of this post appeared on the College Funding Solutions blog. You can find it here.

Divorce is rarely a positive thing. But when it comes to helping your clients maximize college financial aid for their children, it can be used to their advantage.

There are many complexities associated with clients sending their child off to college. Perhaps the biggest factor that keeps parents up at night is the cost of college. Unfortunately, at $25,000 per year for in-state public institutions to $50,000 a year at private institutions, a four-year education can approximate that of a small starter house. Multiply that by two or three kids, and the cost approximates that of a very nice house. Unfortunately, many students are taking on huge loans without regard to their post-graduate income, and parents are likewise assuming massive amount of PLUS loans and putting their retirement in jeopardy.

Complicating this process is the fact that the net cost students will pay varies significantly between schools. Just as very few people pay the sticker price of their new car, almost nobody pays full price for college. Each college doles out aid in very different ways to reflect their charter. For example, the Ivy League universities give large amounts of need-based aid (but little merit aid), while other schools are more generous with merit-based aid.

Each college accepts one of two financial aid documents as part of the financial aid process. The majority of schools accept the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and the CSS Profile is utilized by a number of select elite colleges. Finally, 25 uber-elite schools that comprise the “568 Presidents Group” apply the CSS profile data differently to utilize the Consensus approach. The calculation of Expected Family Contribution (EFC) differs significantly between the three. Of the three approaches, FAFSA is the only methodology that takes into account only the income of the custodial parent.

That’s right. If your client makes the same salary as their spouse and they get divorced, the amount of family income that a FAFSA school attributes to the family is roughly half of that if they were married. Families filing FAFSA forms with only one parent’s income reported will likely obtain a greater amount of needs-based aid.

Families with divorced parents need to leverage their situation to maximize the student aid they receive. These families should do the following:

  1. If your client is divorced, their students should focus on applying to schools that accept the FAFSA. They can still apply to non-FAFSA schools, especially if they might get merit-based aid, but they have a better shot to get needs-based aid at a FAFSA school.
  2. Since the custodial parent is defined as the one with whom the student spends the most time during the year, students should spend at least 183 days each year living with the parent who has lower income. Make sure your client plans for this and keeps a calendar if necessary. This point is especially important in families where there are significant income disparities between the divorced parents. If the custodial parent is considering remarrying, they may want to consider delaying the wedding if the impact on college aid is significant.

College financial planning is stressful and complicated no matter your clients’ situation. Divorce adds an extra layer of stress and complexity. Leverage these differences to your clients’ advantage by planning.

Bob Falcon Pic

Robert J. Falcon, CPA/PFS, is a financial adviser with OneSource Retirement Advisors in Malvern, Pa., and the president and founder of College Funding Solutions LLC. A candidate for CFP® Certification, Falcon is a CPA/PFS with more than nine years of public accounting tax experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Villanova University and an MBA from Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.