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The Art of Communication With Aging Clients


The Art of Communication With Aging Clients

Have you ever had an older client who didn’t want anyone, not even family, to know what his assets were? Did you find this secrecy about money to be a problem with a few of these older folks? It’s not so rare.

Everyone is entitled to privacy, of course, and the rules mandate that you not share a person’s private financial information. But what if your client begins to decline in his health? What if he starts to appear as if he’s “losing it”? Then are you supposed to just let him make mistakes and feel constrained that you can’t call a family member or anyone about his health? It does seem that most advisors do nothing until things reach a crisis point.

As aging experts, we think things should be handled differently. When you open every client file, you are not required to get the name of someone to call in case of emergency or in case of need. That is precisely what needs to change. Let’s consider common sense. If people are living longer than ever, their chances of developing cognitive impairment are consequently greater. With impairment, people lose their financial judgment. If you have a client’s trusted contact in the file, you may need it. And you can’t wait until your client is really, obviously impaired. If you do, she probably won’t want to give you anything. That puts you in a bad position. Your client is vulnerable to big mistakes and even to financial abuse. You don’t know what to do. You can’t call anyone and you wouldn’t know who to call even if you could.

Here’s the sensible solution: get the names and contact information of two trusted others for your client when you open any file. And with existing clients, ask them for the contact for two trusted people in their lives at the next portfolio review. Do it across the board for every single client. That way, when any one of them goes on to develop cognitive impairment, or dementia or has a stroke or anything disabling, you are not caught flat.   And how do you ask that secretive client for the names and for permission to call when, in your judgment, the need arises? You start by making it your problem. You let the client know that it is now office policy. You politely insist and you get it done.

Not every single client will immediately cooperate. Some will need your patient persuasion and tact to coax them to do this. That is one of those “soft skills‘ you absolutely need with your older clients. A few may refuse your request and you can’t force it on them. But for most clients, the encouragement from you to look to the future may be considered part of your job.

Senior clients can pose a number of communication issues with you besides being secretive about finances. Hearing loss, vision limitations and mobility issues can all make conversation more difficult. What you need to know to hone your skills and keep on top of these challenges is all spelled out for you in our book, Succeed With Senior Clients, A Financial Advisor’s Guide to Best Practices.  Check out the chapter, “Tough Talk: Communication Challenges With Aging Clients”.

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