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Dos and Don’ts of Helping Bereaved Clients

April 29, 2014

A husband comes down with cancer. A daughter dies in a tragic accident. In cases where clients are suffering a devastating personal loss, it’s natural for an advisor to reach out.

But be careful, bereavement consultant Amy Florian, in Hoffman Estates, Ill., warns in a ThinkAdvisor column. She recommends that planners avoid trying to make things better somehow. “We live in a culture where people try to fix it, especially in a field like financial advising,” says Florian — often the wrong approach with a grieving client.

The best route is simply to offer compassion and serve as a sounding board, says Scott Neal, an advisor in Lexington, Ky., with $179 million in assets. “If you’re a problem solver and someone starts crying, you want to stop the crying,” he tells ThinkAdvisor. “But what we really need to do is be empathetic, listen, be sensitive to their feelings and give space for the clients to express themselves.”

The trick, say veteran planners who’ve been through the grieving process, is knowing your clients’ personalities. After all, some people tend toward stoicism, putting their emotions aside and focusing on whatever work is at hand. Others seem to have trouble dealing with even minor annoyances.

Advisor Rod Carson, in Overland Park, Kans., who manages $150 million, has developed a procedure for his team to follow when he finds out a client is suffering through bereavement. Seeing the client in person becomes a priority, ThinkAdvisor reports. Instead of offering condolence messages, Carson and his colleagues talk about the deceased and encourage the client to share memories. He and his fellow advisors even practice in advance to prepare for meetings with grieving clients.

Experts suggest that as ailments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s become more common, advisors will increasingly need to examine how they act and speak around clients in bereavement.

By Murray Coleman
  • To read the ThinkAdvisor article cited in this story, click here.