There’s no way around it, every advisor will have clients who lose a husband, a wife, or another family member. Every advisor will face grieving clients and difficult conversations about these painful transitions, but according to Florian, the problem is that most don’t know how to interact with clients at this crucial time.
Instead, most advisors repeat the behaviors they’ve learned, but that learned behavior is wrong, Florian said. “The underlying issue is that we are not taught,” she said. “We are not taught what really is comforting or what really is helpful, so people pick up the wrong lessons and perpetuate them.”
Florian led a session at Schwab and cautioned advisors against dealing with grieving clients in the wrong way.
While of course it can be challenging, even scary, for an advisor to broach such a personal and painful topic, ignoring a clients’ grief of loss is one of the biggest mistakes an advisor can make. “Number one, we ignore the reality,” she said. “We’re afraid. We don’t know what to say, so we don’t say anything. We pretend it’s not there.”
Beyond ignoring what everyone clearly knows is there, Florian said, we also tend to isolate grieving people. “We think they don’t want to hear the memories, they don’t want to hear the name, they just want to be left alone, and that’s not right,” she said.
What advisors can and should do when working with grieving clients is open the door for clients to talk about their loss by asking the right types of questions. “The best way and the overriding principle anytime somebody is in transition is to ask good open ended questions and really want to know the answer and listen,” said Florian.
This is something advisors should keep coming back to, she said. Each time you see clients, give them the opportunity to talk about it and follow their lead. While they may not want to talk about it the first time, once you’ve brought it up, it’s up to them and they know they can bring it up if they ever feel like it, Florian explained.
For advisors who can get comfortable talking about these difficult transitions with a client, the benefit extends beyond deepening that particular client relationship. Advisors who can serve and engage clients in the right way during the grieving period can also see significant benefits for their practices in referrals and reputation. “Grieving people talk to grieving people, that’s why we can have support groups,” she said. “And they do refer.”
If advisors are reluctant to bring up the loss, they run the risk of being like everyone else in the client’s life who is ignoring the issue or telling them to ‘get over it’ Florian said. Being able to talk with grieving clients actually sets them apart she said.
“If you walk people through the toughest times of their lives, you’ve got a client for life, and you’ve got their friends, their families and their associates,” Florian said.