Advisors face a unique challenge when their female clients become widowed: Research from United Capital indicates that women are “likely to change financial advisors upon the death of their spouse” It’s an all too common occurrence; the couple may have even used the advisor for years. Yet when the advisor’s primary client – often the husband -- dies, the widowed wife is left to reassess her relationship with the advisor. And if it’s not a secure one, they just might leave – despite benefitting from the advice of an experienced outside professional.
An advisor’s missteps
Obviously, many women aren’t feeling a connection with their advisors. One culprit could be lack of personalization. If the professional is offering cookie-cutter solutions to female clients, the client probably knows it. The fact is that the financial planning industry remains led and run predominantly by males. And advisors may sometimes fall prey to generalizing and stereotyping female clients, thinking of them “en masse instead of segmenting them into diverse consumer segments,” according to the United Capital study.
Financial advisors should also consider revising or replacing the financial strategy that used when the husband was alive.
“You have historical familiarity with the client, but you have to really listen carefully to their concerns and come up with a new assessment,” says Myra Natter, wealth advisor for Titus Wealth Management.
A time of transition
The onus of reestablishing the relationship – essentially starting new – with the widow is clearly on the advisor Natter says. “The client needs to feel safe and newly invested in the process,” she says. Advisors, then, can should move ahead and work on the “now,” avoiding thinking of what may have worked for the client in the past.
The female client may need a bit more explanation from the advisor, especially if the conversation is new to her and the husband previously handled the financial decisions, says Altair M. Gobo, partner at U.S. Financial Services. He admits that, if the husband was the more vocal party when it came to financial planning, then the advisor must take the time to ensure the widow is comfortable with her new financial strategy.
The right approach
Smart advisors can also bridge the gap with compassion.
“It’s our job, especially when there’s a major change such as a death or divorce, to be empathetic and do some hand-holding,” Gobo says. And while advisors do need to be patient, especially with someone who has just experienced a death in the family, they also should avoid talking down to the client. Any client would be sensitive to that, and women are especially mindful of professionals who don’t consider them to be engaged or educated, he adds.
Fortunately, says Gobo, a new generation of advisors – and, hopefully, a more diverse one -- can bring less stereotypical thinking to the business, in turn forging stronger connections with female clients in all stages of their lives.
“We decided several years back to have the younger team members at every meeting,” he says. “What happens is that you get a fresh set of eyes.” And hopefully, he adds, new ways of thinking will become commonplace for the advisor community – ultimately benefitting the clients.