Attracting Couple-Clients to Your Advisory Practice
By Kathleen Burns KingsburyMs. Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including How to Give Financial Advice to Women and How to Give Financial Advice to Couples. Connect with her by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org For more information, visit kbkwealthconnection.com.
Working with couples is an important skill that is often overlooked by advisors. The practice of advising is more complex— you have two people in the meeting, two perspectives about money, multiple life visions, and two risk tolerance levels. Sometimes they overlap quite a bit, and sometimes they don’t.
Each question has at least two answers, and often the financial solutions lie somewhere in between the answers. Some couples will be forthright when they communicate with you in a meeting. Others will be resistant to share their opinions for fear of upsetting their partners. It is no wonder that many in the financial services industry prefer to work with just one partner. It certainly is less challenging.
However, while working primarily with one member of the couple is more clear-cut, it means that you are only getting half of the story and only building a relationship with one person. You run the risk of not really understanding the financial needs of the couple and making a recommendation that is less effective or worse yet, inappropriate. You also are in danger of losing the couple client when one of them leaves the picture, either through death or divorce. Finally, routinely meeting with only one person in a couple raises questions as to if and how you can fulfill your fiduciary responsibility to the one not in the room.
The good news is that advisors who skillfully and routinely advise couples find this work very rewarding. At times it requires more effort, but the return on investment is very high.
Here are some tips you can use to enhance your work with your couple clients and build a reputation as a couple friendly advisors:
Rethink How You Plan Your Meetings
It is important in the first meeting to establish and agree upon how you plan to work together. Having a well-thought-out methodology sets the stage for a good working relationship now and for years to come. A couple-friendly advisor should create a protocol describing how they specifically work with couples. This protocol should be clearly defined and spelled out for clients and staff. Include how you conduct your meetings, who needs to be present at these appointments and what, if any, exceptions there are to the rules. Having a set of ground rules helps both the couple client and you achieve success quicker and aids in achieving better long tern results.
Balance Gender Differences
It is important to be aware of and balance gender differences in the client–advisor relationship. Men and women often view money, wealth, and financial advice differently. For example, women often associate the word “wealth” with security, whereas men associate it with power. When discussing services or products, it is prudent to include commentary on how recommendations increase the couple’s financial security as well as save them a few basis points or guarantee a solid return on investment. This attends to both partners’ perspectives. With heterosexual couples, balancing gender differences means constantly bridging the gap between what she wants and what he wants. With gay couples, this translates into understanding how two people from the same gender negotiate finances in their partnership.
As with any generalization, there are always exceptions to the rule. But one thing is fairly certain: if you don’t adjust your style to meet the needs of your female clients, you run a high risk of being fired once their male partners have left the picture.1 As women control the majority of the wealth in the US and make 85% of the household buying decisions, including who to hire for financial services, it makes good business sense to make sure your female clients are satisfied.2
Focus on Communication
Advisors are often more accustomed to working with male clients, and you may be more comfortable communicating in a style that appeals to men. However, to best connect with your female clients, it’s vital to communicate in a way that works for them too. While you may have the urge to jump into a lecture about 529 plans, it is best to slow down and ask more feeling-oriented questions first, as women want to feel understood before you offer concrete solutions. Of course, verbalizing thoughts and feelings related to financial decisions is useful for most clients, but with women it is a paramount step toward building and maintaining trust.
Know Where You are Coming From
Before the couple walks in your office, it is vital to identify your own “couples mindset.” A couple’s mindset is the automatic thoughts and beliefs about couples and money. Often these attitudes do not reside in the conscious mind but do impact the work an advisor does with a couple-client. Therefore, understanding how you think and feel about couples and how they manage money is important to identify. This mindset informs the type of couples you want to work with and is often tied to your core values. By doing this internal work upfront, you can more easily demonstrate your expertise, differentiate your services from the competition, and help customer self-select based on the match between what you offer and what they need.
Practicing in a couple-friendly way is not only good for your clients, it is good for your business. By attending to both partners’ needs in the meeting and including both in the discussion, you decrease the risk of alienating one of the partners, especially the female client. At the same time, you increase the likelihood that her partner will trust you to help her should this person pass first. When a couple hires you and trusts you, you acquire more assets—his, hers, and theirs. Not only is this approach client-centric, it is also likely to increase the longevity of your business.
1 K. Wojnar and C. Meek, “Women’s Views of Wealth and the Planning Process: It’s Their Values That Matter, Not Just Their Value,” Advisor Perspectives, 5, no. 9 (March, 2011): 2, http://www.advisorperspectives .com/newsletters11/pdfs/Womens_Views_of_Wealth_and_the_Planning_ Process.pdf.
2 Liza Mundy, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012)