Money is neither good nor bad. Anyone hoping to win the lottery would disagree. But that’s what Susan Bradley, founder of Sudden Money Institute insists. It’s how you behave with money — especially a windfall — that determines the ultimate experience, positive or negative, says the former 23-year financial advisor.
Sudden wealth creates, or results from, a major life shift. At such times “clients’ lives are in flux. They have a new range of choices. Their behavior changes because they have the option to move money that maybe they didn’t have before. Their emotions can be turbulent. So it’s easy for advisors to say, ‘I gave this person good advice, and they didn’t take it — they crashed and burned. That’s their problem.’ But it isn’t their problem,” says Bradley, “It’s our problem.”
She started the Institute in 2000 to fill what she calls a big gap in traditional planning. It offers FAs training in the Sudden Money discipline as well as workshops for the public to help cope with the transition a windfall brings. These funds may come through inheritance, divorce, pension payment, business sale — or hitting the lottery.
One hundred percent of an advisor’s clients will go through such a financial transition, says the empathic Bradley, 57, a Ridgewood, N.J., native based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who describes herself as “a curious worker ant.” So it’s heads-up time for FAs: “The sudden money wave is just starting to hit. Seventy-six million Americans will be receiving $41 trillion to some $100 trillion over the next 20 years or so. And that’s only from pension payments, inheritances and sales of businesses.”
Bradley was “a godsend,” says Sudden Money client Joanna Plafsky, a film producer who’d been grappling with changes made to her dad’s will concerning a family business. “I had a lot of fear dealing with my father and brother. Susan helped me psychologically to go forward. She understands both sides of the problem — the financial and the human.”
Scoping out the need for a specialized type of planning in 1997, Bradley set about writing a book, Sudden Money: Managing a Financial Windfall, published three years later.
The issue of “sudden money looks easier than it is,” she says. But because it occurs along with a unique transition, a different kind of planning is required. The same SMI transition planning model works for a sudden decline in finances.
Bradley has not been on the receiving end of a million-dollar windfall herself; but she took some of her own medicine, as she puts it, three years ago when she turned over her practice to her partner to focus on SMI full-time. “There’s a passage to the new normal, and that takes a while. It’s a loss when a phase of your life is over. I used the tools and techniques I’d been developing for the Institute. But sometimes it’s easier to be the teacher than the student.”
One technique is the “Decision-Free Zone”: Advisors need to create a safe space for the sudden money client wherein they step away from making big financial commitments and long-term decisions. This, in part, protects them from predatory sales pitches, and friends and relatives clamoring for loans. Clients are counseled to say: “I have no idea if I can or can’t. I’ve agreed not to make any unnecessary decisions for quite a while. I’ll look into the matter in about six months.” That way, says Bradley, “there’s a defense against all the stuff that comes at them; but they’re not alienating people who are well intended.”
Advisors pay an annual fee to become an SMI member and must submit a case study for approval once completing the training. “I want them to really be able to do the work because we’re holding out to the public that we do something different,” says Bradley.
Second eldest of 10 children, she half-jokes: “I learned middle-management skills at a young age.” Her father is the retired CEO of Stone & Webster, a large NYSE company; but it took Bradley a while to hop on the big-business track.
After studying science at European universities, she married and, back in the U.S.A., opened a modest home furnishings company. While creating lamps and the like, she would listen to a financial radio show. At the same time, the entrepreneur was getting interested in finance via her uncle, the late John Lampe, PaineWebber’s advertising director who, together with an agency, devised the catchy “Thank You, PaineWebber!” campaign in 1976.
Soon Bradley was making investments with her Amerex oil broker husband. When his job moved them from New Jersey to West Palm Beach in 1981, she decided to become an FA. Affiliating as an independent with Mutual Service Corp., she picked up the certified financial planner designation. After 13 years, she joined Raymond James for another 10.
From the start, the now-divorced Bradley gravitated to financial planning. But “my uncle couldn’t understand how financial planners would make money. He came up in a world where you paid for the transaction and got the advice for free. We were creating a new paradigm,” she says, “where you paid for the advice and got the transaction for free. He was always scratching his head wondering why I was ‘wasting my talent.’”
Susan Bradley Founder, Sudden Money Institute; Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.What it’s like growing up one of 10 kids: “Very tribal!”Why FAs should learn about helping clients with sudden wealth: “I get calls from the public saying, ‘I’ve worked with an advisor on my IRA and stuff — but now that I have my inheritance, I need some serious advice. Who can I go to?’ So this advisor who’s dedicated [him/herself] to the family is soon to be out!”
Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.