Three Strategies for Working with Older Clients –
And Preserving the Relationship
April 29, 2014
by David Solie
It’s always an ambush.
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From Steve’s perspective, the estate settlement was going well. Beneficiary papers had been filed and trust provisions initiated. While he had worked primarily with Jim over the last 11 years on financial matters, Steve always maintained a friendly relationship with Jim’s wife, Ellen. Unfortunately, four months after Jim’s death, he received a request from Ellen to transfer the account to another advisor.
No call. No email.
In my 23 years of providing training programs in client communication to financial advisors, I have found that the challenge of preserving accounts when an older client passes away is a persistent problem. Recent statistics confirm the magnitude of the loss: 70% of widows change financial advisors within six months of their husbands’ deaths.1
Is this an unavoidable reality of being a financial advisor, or are there steps that can be taken to preserve these accounts? In my opinion, many of these losses can be avoided if advisors follow three preservation strategies with their older clients: competency, resonance and timing.
In today’s aging society, advisor competency goes beyond financial expertise. Forward-thinking advisors realize they need to update their knowledge about the psychology of aging.
The updating process begins with a new insight about aging: Older adults are still growing. Older adults are not diminished versions of their younger selves, looking backward instead of forward, having lived past their developmental peak. While this is the physical reality of aging, it is incorrect to assume that the loss of physical capabilities implies a mandatory loss of mental capabilities and the end of personality development.
My research has shown that beginning in their mid-60s, older clients are confronted with two developmental tasks that dominate the final phase of life: control and legacy.2 One task requires hyper-vigilance to guard against an unending potential series of losses that threaten to push life out of control. The other task requires a reflective pause, a review of life’s events and an eventual letting go. Each task is pulling in a different psychological direction. One evokes a struggle to last while the other evokes a readiness to leave.
Given the central importance of communicating with older adults, how do advisors signal they understand the importance of control? It requires a new approach in two primary areas:
- Utilizing language that resonates with control.
- Linking products and services to control.
Words like independence, choice, manage and control can be used to enhance open-ended questions and reflective summaries:
- “Would you tell me more about your choices for preserving independence?”
- “How were you able to manage that loss?”
- “I hear that you feel your living situation is slipping out of control.
- Let me see if I understand how you plan to preserve your independence.
1. “Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women,” Prudential 2012
2. David Solie, How To Say It To Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 2004)