Working Through Loss and Grief With Clients
Source: IMCA, Apr. 30, 2013
CHRIS LATHAM, REPORTER, FINANCIAL ADVISOR IQ: Hello, this is Chris Latham with Financial Adviser IQ. I'm here in Seattle at the annual IMCA conference with Amy Florian, CEO of Corgenius, which counsels advisors on how to communicate with clients who are experiencing grief, loss and transition. Amy, how does this help advisors grow their business?
AMY FLORIAN, CEO, CORGENIUS: All of the studies that have been done in the past five years are showing that the markets are changing. It's not enough to be transaction-based anymore. People are looking for more. Clients want advisors who understand their life. And that's who they're going to give their business to.
We know, for instance, that 70% of widows switch financial advisors within three years after their husband's death. I did, too. Why? People assume it's because they didn't build a relationship with the wife before the husband died. But my proposal, and my experience, is that more important than the relationship you have before there's a death or a tragedy or transition in the family is how good you are at supporting clients through it. If a woman's husband dies, she comes into the appointment. And even if she's had a relationship with you, if it's really awkward, and you don't know what to do and you don't know what to say, when she goes back home, there's going to be a ton of people telling her where else she should go. But if you don't have a relationship with her, and she comes in, and you amaze her because you're not like everybody else, you know what to do, you know what to say — why on earth would she leave?
CHRIS LATHAM: Amy, I know that you've written a new book. Can you talk about that, please?
AMY FLORIAN: My book is No Longer Awkward — Communicating With Clients Through the Toughest Times of Life. Talk about death, divorce, aging, dementia, terminal illness — all the things that we don't know what to do, we don't know what to say, so that advisors can really distinguish themselves.
CHRIS LATHAM: All right, thank you. Next question is, what are some of the obstacles that advisors face when trying to discuss this with clients?
AMY FLORIAN: The biggest obstacle that advisors face is, they don't know. We live in a death-denying society. We're not taught what to do. We're not taught what to say. So they don't know what to do any better than anybody else. We pick up what everybody else has always done, and what that does is perpetuate the mistakes. If you can go to [memorial] services, or if a client comes into your office, and you're different than everybody else, they notice. They notice it right away. And if you can offer effective support — I facilitate a support group for grieving people. I've worked with them for over 20 years, over 2,000 of them. And the number of times they come in and say, "Well, people mean well, but I wish they wouldn't say this or I wish they wouldn't say that or this just isn't helpful at all." But when somebody comes in and is different, they notice.
CHRIS LATHAM: Now, you have a very scientific, psychological approach. How much psychology should advisors know?
AMY FLORIAN: They should know enough psychology to allow them to be different. They should know the reasons behind what they're doing. Sometimes I'm asked, just give me the bullet points. Just say do this, do this, do this. But there's so many different types of transitions that clients go through that, if the advisor understands why they're doing it, then they can apply it in all kinds of different situations. So they need to know enough psychology to understand why they're doing what they do. But the psychology is not enough. They have to know, OK, because grief is this way, what do I do? What are the practical steps? And I'm very practice-focused. I give concrete steps that advisors can take in order to bring the psychology, really, to bear with their clients.
CHRIS LATHAM: Now, from the client's prospective, what is the client looking for in the advisor when discussing grief and loss?
AMY FLORIAN: The client is looking for somebody who is different than everybody else, who understands what they're going through, who seems to have a clue what they're experiencing. Every place else they go, there's a big white elephant in the room because we don't know what to do, we don't know what to say. If they walk into an advisor's office and the big white elephant disappears, they're immediately more comfortable. They immediately make a connection. And it builds loyalty that lasts. They're looking for somebody who understands their life. And that's who they want to give their business to.
CHRIS LATHAM: Amy, what are some of the things that advisors should say to clients in these situations?
AMY FLORIAN: Everybody walks into the services and the first thing out of their mouth is "I'm so sorry." That's actually not very comforting. There's a couple of reasons why. First of all, when do you use the words, if you're not in that situation? That's when you're apologizing for something. When you've done something wrong. And you've heard it that way since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. So if I'm the grieving client, you come in and say to me, "I'm so sorry," I have an innate psychological reaction that I can't control. I hear it kind of like an apology. And what I want to say to you is, oh, that's OK, it wasn't your fault. In other words, I feel like I have to comfort you instead of the other way around. You're telling me something about you. You're not comforting me. Besides, it's a conversation-stopper. What am I supposed to say back? Thank you?
Well, the grieving people that I work with, what they're tempted to say back is "Not half as sorry as I am." They don't. We're very politically correct. They don't say that. But that's what they want to say. Besides, by the time you hear those words from the 150th person, they really don't mean anything anymore. It's just a conveyor belt. So instead of "I'm so sorry," what people really take away, what makes a difference to them, is the stories and the memories they hear. I never knew my dad was so loved. I didn't know my brother had so many friends. I never realized my mom was so treasured in that organization. So when you walk in, instead of saying, "I'm so sorry," you could say, "You know, I don't really like to come to these things. They are always awkward. But I came because I care about you. And I want you to know the thing I'm going to remember for the rest of my life about your mom was her big, infectious smile. She really knew how to make people happy. She could walk into a room, start smiling at people and, pretty soon, everybody in the room was smiling. That's just what I'm going to carry with me for the rest of my life. And I wanted you to know that I have that memory of your mom."
CHRIS LATHAM: Thank you, Amy.
AMY FLORIAN: You're welcome.