Change the Conversations to Address Your Client's Vulnerabilities

How can I change the conversation when my client can barely carry a conversation? 

“We each have our level of tolerance for uncertainty. People with low tolerance are more likely to experience high anxiety that can lead Money Shock™,” according to Susan Bradley, CEO of the Financial Transitionist Institute. People in shock struggle to calm their emotions and think clearly. Fear-based decisions or indecision can create even more stress and potentially lead to financial ruin. 

Our priority, as financial planners, is to foster an atmosphere of stability and security. Spotting high anxiety is easier when we are face to face with a client. It is much harder when communicating over the phone or by email. Keep an eye out for these three signs of high anxiety:

Look for narrow focus, which is a preoccupation with one issue or decision at the expense of having another more important discussion. The conversation leads to a debate and quickly ends with a demand.

Here is a shortened example:

Client:  Things are crazy now. I think I should cash in my life insurance policy so that I have some money, just in case. What do you think?

Advisor:  How about we start by reviewing your income and how much cash is already available? Then we can address what if anything needs liquidating.

Client: I know I have some cash, but this life insurance policy is just sitting there. I’m not worried about when I die. I just need to make sure I have some money I can get to just in case. I need to cash it in. 

Try reminding your clients how financial decisions are rarely isolated. Liquidating or purchasing an investment depends on many factors. Our job, as financial advisors, is to help people step back and consider many options.

Next, look for overwhelm, which is the opposite of narrow focus. Your client’s thoughts jump from one idea to the next. A question with a simple answer leads to another question. Where narrow focus may only see one task or decision, feeling overwhelmed may come from a long list of must-dos. Everything is urgent and important. If your client is overwhelmed, you can help them prioritize, finish tasks, and make decisions one at a time.

Lastly, watch out for frozen clients. Like overwhelm, the driver is a seemingly endless list of tasks, but instead of jumping from task to task, they freeze. While helping clients with a narrow focus or overwhelm is challenging, helping someone who is frozen is the hardest of the three. Watch for unreturned phone calls or emails as they may not want to talk with you right now. Your client’s well-being is at stake, they are avoiding you, and you have concerns that they may abdicate their decisions to someone who doesn’t have their best interest in mind. 

Clients are frightened right now, and this is your moment—the reason you do what you do. Every client is experiencing this pandemic differently. Change the conversations to address their vulnerabilities. Whether they are experiencing narrow focus, overwhelm, or freezing, talk to them about their feelings and provide them with stability.

And then don’t forget to add in the hope. Remember, it is the people of the world versus this virus, and the people will win.

Related: Changing the Conversation: What Financial Advisors Can Do to Help