Best practices for advising couples

Of the 60 million married couples in the US, it’s unlikely that any fell in love over a shared investment risk tolerance. It’s far more likely that at least some money conversations are tense, unproductive, stressful or unfold with the grace of two bulls in a china shop. Couples meeting with an advisor for the first time may expect them to untangle years of financial disagreements and emotional baggage, in addition to developing a long-term investment strategy. It’s no wonder, then, why advisors sometimes feel more like a marriage therapist than a financial advisor.

The way advisors work with married couples requires a little more finesse and attention than working with someone one-on-one. In the past, advisors typically had discussions with one spouse, the man. At the time, spousal roles and responsibilities were often clearly delineated and financial decision-making was the husband’s domain. Today, couples are more likely to share responsibilities and want to make decisions together. Thus, advisors need to engage with both spouses and create an environment that positions the couple for success.

Use the following best practices to elevate the experience for your married clients.

Best Practice #1: Engage with both partners. Always.

The first step to foster a balanced relationship with a couple is, oddly, treating them as individuals. These suggestions may appear small but, when only one spouse receives the communications, the other may notice, and those small slights may grow into bigger dissatisfactions over time.

  • Require both people in the relationship to attend all meetings.
  • Address mailed materials to both spouses.
  • Include both email addresses on emails, newsletters or other correspondence.
  • Have each spouse fill out their own pre-work survey or questionnaires. These serve a dual purpose, you’ll get an understanding of each individual’s goals and beliefs about money and help you identify potential areas where conflicts may arise.
  • Include both partners in the conversation. Many male advisors have fallen into the trap of focusing their attention on the male client only to find out that the female client controls the money decisions. If she feels left out of the conversation, you can bet she’s considering finding another advisor.

Best Practice #2: Level the playing field.

Recently, a colleague told me about the first meeting she and her husband had with their financial advisor. Although she works in financial services, her husband tends to dominate investing conversations. Their advisor started the meeting by saying, “You are both breadwinners, you both contribute to your financial future, and you both need to feel confident about and involved in making the decisions.” This statement simultaneously empowered my colleague and gently reminded her husband that this was a joint venture. Here are three tips for involving both spouses:

  • Tee up couples to feel equally responsible for shaping and contributing to their financial goals.
  • In some instances, one spouse will clearly be the sole decision-maker and the arrangement works for them. However, be sure to continually connect with the other spouse so they feel informed and part of the dialogue. If they feel a connection to you, it may be more likely their assets remain with you if the decision-maker passes away.
  • Recognize that having an interest and wanting involvement are two different things. Often, one spouse demonstrates more interest in the nitty gritty investment details and it’s easy to engage with that person and lose track of the person who wants to be involved, but isn’t as enthusiastic about the subject matter.

Best Practice #3: Foster balanced communication.

Communicating with both spouses at the same time brings its own set of challenges. Achieving success may require using all the communication strategies in your arsenal.

  • Active listening in a small group is critical to making sure each person feels heard and understood. Use all the tips and tools like eye contact, nodding, mirroring their tone,etc.
  • Notice who responds to your questions with facts and who tells stories. Usually, but not always, men respond with factual communication whereas women favor the connection that stories convey. Mixing factual information with stories (even your own story) can help bridge a gap in communication styles.
  • In some cases, one spouse may monopolize the conversation with their ideas and questions. If this happens, draw the quieter spouse into the conversation with direct open-ended questions as a way to encourage their involvement.
  • Pay attention to body language. Non-verbal communication speaks volumes about a person’s agreement. Watch for crossed arms, eye rolling, dirty looks, sighing, non-existent eye contact, pursed lips or shrugs that replace actual answers. Take a moment to pause and ask an open- ended question that gives them an opportunity to express what’s on their mind.

Best Practice #4: Instill confidence to continue the dialogue.

For many couples, the ability to openly discuss their hopes, fears and goals about their financial future can bring them closer to each other. What’s more, being able to envision that future can instill a sense of excitement, security and empowerment. Your clients will recognize and appreciate the role that you play in helping them achieve their goals both financially and emotionally.

  • Give them a question or two to discuss on the drive home. It can be innocuous such as, “What do you want to do with your time each day in retirement?” or “Where should we take our first post-retirement trip?”
  • Talking about money in your office is one thing and having that dialogue at home, on a regular basis, is another. Encourage dialogue between spouses in-between meetings and assign homework-style conversations for them to complete. Simply feeling confident to have financial conversations as part of everyday interactions can feel like a big win for many couples.

Ultimately, on the drive home your clients will talk about one thing: you. Their feelings about you and how you treated both of them may override your portfolio suggestions. By incorporating these best practices you position yourself as a true partner to both of them and demonstrate a strong commitment to their success.

What are other best practices for working with married clients?

This post was originally published in June 2016.

The views expressed in this article should not be considered investment advice or recommendations to invest in any security or adopt any investment strategy.

From now until normal: 7 ways to reframe and elevate the client experience

If normalcy is many months away, how can advisors provide exceptional value to their clients now?

Productivity in unprecedented times

To thrive in the new normal, advisors may need to reorient themselves both physically and psychologically. Here’s three tips.

Coronavirus, clients and the role of a financial advisor

Escalating anxiety calls for a reliable voice of reason.

Advisor’s guide to the psychology behind goal setting

As more advisors adopt goals-based investing into their practice, the amount of client interactions naturally increases as advisors seek to define (and refine) the full scope of their client’s goals.

Let’s elevate practice management in 2020

Right now, thousands of athletes around the globe have their sights set on one goal—the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games in Tokyo.

Are you ready for a new decade of financial advice?

This past decade, financial advisors and the finance industry was shaken up and forever changed.

How to help clients be prepared for the unexpected

Having these preparatory conversations with clients are especially relevant now as many begin to reflect on the previous year and gear up for the next one.

Can a group supercharge your growth? This one might.

For the last few years I have focused on helping advisors understand how to create an elevated client experience.

Three ways to reframe referrals (that work)

Let’s be honest, that old way of asking for a referral doesn’t work for a lot of us.

Running your business and managing clients during periods of market volatility

In the past, it might not have been too challenging to field questions from a few concerned clients when the market takes a dip.

Advisors, how are your storytelling skills?

Millions of shows scream for our attention to be watched and, while it can be overwhelming, it reflects an underlying human truth—we love good stories.

The professional contacts every advisor should have

Advisors are hired and given a license to discuss at-length, a topic that for most people, is a pretty touchy one—money.

The fundamental flaw in traditional referral requests

In my observation, many financial advisors ask for referrals in the same way.

What grieving clients need from you

A number of commercials for financial advisors focus on being with clients for life’s high points—graduations, home purchases and retirement.

Best practices for advising couples

Of the 60 million married couples in the US, it’s unlikely that any fell in love over a shared investment risk tolerance.

Anchoring and financial decisions

Anchoring can become dangerous when clients allow anchors to influence their performance expectations.

What Are the Risks?

All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions. Special risks are associated with foreign investing, including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets’ smaller size and lesser liquidity. Investments in fast-growing industries like the technology sector (which historically has been volatile) could result in increased price fluctuation, especially over the short term, due to the rapid pace of product change and development and changes in government regulation of companies emphasizing scientific or technological advancement or regulatory approval for new drugs and medical instruments.

Important Legal Information

The companies and case studies shown herein are used solely for illustrative purposes; any investment may or may not be currently held by any portfolio advised by Franklin Templeton Investments. The opinions are intended solely to provide insight into how securities are analyzed. The information provided is not a recommendation or individual investment advice for any particular security, strategy, or investment product and is not an indication of the trading intent of any Franklin Templeton managed portfolio. This is not a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any industry, security or investment and should not be viewed as an investment recommendation. This is intended to provide insight into the portfolio selection and research process. Factual statements are taken from sources considered reliable, but have not been independently verified for completeness or accuracy. These opinions may not be relied upon as investment advice or as an offer for any particular security. Past performance does not guarantee future results.