How to help clients who are going through major life events

Susan Bradley, CFP®, CeFT®, Founder of the Sudden Money® Institute
Investment News
March 13, 2017

I recently Googled "reasons to hire a financial adviser" and found something startling. Almost all the articles mentioned transitions. The advice was clear: If you are experiencing a major life event, such as retirement, divorce, inheritance or the loss of a spouse, hiring a financial adviser is a wise move.

The startling fact is that advisers are not trained in how to manage and adapt to change. They no doubt would score quite high on a test of financial literacy, but wouldn't fare so well on a test of transition literacy.

Financial literacy is about how money works, but transition literacy is how life works. Your training as a CFP, CIMA or CFA provided you with comprehensive knowledge of the technical side of money. You understand investments, risk and tax consequences. And you have plenty of tools to help your clients with those matters. That's an important skill set.

Furthermore, you probably see the impact that emotions and dreams and relationships can have on the finances of your clients. But do you have tools to help them with this personal side of money? The crucial work of transitions and of adaptation to change happens on the personal side.

The four tenets of transition literacy might help you the next time a client or prospect is about to go through or is going through a major life event.

1. Transitions occur in stages. They are a person's journey from what was to what will be.

There are four stages to transitions: anticipation, ending, passage and new normal. Each has its distinct markers and challenges, and identifying where a client is in their transition can go a long way to determining what they need to do (or not do).

The moment someone learns that they are about to experience a life event is the moment that person's transition is triggered. They begin to hope or dream or grieve or even spend in their minds based on their awareness of the event and the expectations they have around it. Without guidance during anticipation, clients can do damage to relationships, finances and their careers.

Tip: It's a luxury to have an anticipation stage. If a client has time for preparation, take advantage of that. Think about all of the potential problems you can avoid if you can help the client identify what they expect when the event happens. Run through an exercise of what, when, how much and with whom they want to share. And if there's a partner, do the same with them to test out differences long before they become a problem.

2. Transitions of all kinds take several years to complete.

When someone retires, their transition doesn't start on their last day of work and end on their first day of retirement. Do you know when a retirement transition begins and can you identify when it ends? Do you know how to help your client make the decisions that are right for them?

Timeframe is the most difficult part of transitions, probably because here in the U.S. we like to expedite change rather than experience it. But the experience is where all of the important, deep work occurs. And the intentional reshaping of life, though difficult, is a powerful and empowering process.

Tip: Normalize the timeframe, encourage them to do "what if" kinds of thinking, and then establish the habit of running scenarios.

3. People going through transitions need someone to help them make good decisions.

There is so much going on during life transitions, from the "doing" that is often necessary (i.e., legal, accounting, financial) to the managing of relationships. It's easy for some people to just push forward and do everything that appears to be necessary.

Though that might sound harmless or even positive, it's entirely possible that everything that looks necessary or urgent really isn't. And it's entirely possible that making decisions just to check them off the list is a terrible idea. But when you are in the throes of transition, it's not always easy to tell what needs to be done and what can wait. Transition literacy is about knowing when and how to slow down a person who seems dedicated to simply getting everything over with.

Tip: Not every decision that presents itself needs to be acted upon the moment it arrives. Make a list with the client of everything they are thinking about, want to do, should do or want to avoid. Then find the one or two things that are time-sensitive or urgent. Work through the list completing as best you can a few items at a time.

4. Transitions are times of uncertainty.

The paradox of transitions is that they contain both an ending and a beginning. Although we will know what the end/ending was, we won't know what will happen next. We won't know what kind of beginning will emerge. Transitions can be times of opportunity and reinvention, and we need to be able co-create outcomes with our clients that serve their best interests and deepest desires.

Tip: Once the major "doing" is done, it's time for the client to explore, discover and test out new ways of being.

Advisers can help their clients write their next chapter after life pivots them in a new direction, while imparting transition literacy along the way.

Susan Bradley is founder of the Sudden Money Institute and the Financial Transitionist Institute (FTI), and the visionary behind the Certified Financial Transitionist designation.

 

You can find the orginial article here. 

 

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