As all advisors know, it’s one thing to provide clients with appropriate advice and another thing to actually get them to follow that advice.
In this series of reports, Investment Advisor columnist and psychotherapist Olivia Mellan and financial behavior specialist Kol Birke of Commonwealth Financial Network address some common scenarios that advisors face in getting their clients to follow through on their advice. This advice for advisors flowed out of a web seminar hosted by Investment Advisor and ThinkAdvisor editor Jamie Green late last year.
Scenario 5: Engaging a Passive Spouse
Jamie Green: Olivia, you often talk about the importance of getting a third-party involved within families to “blow air into the system,” because as we all know, families and couples can easily fall into very strict, very codified routines in how they work with each other.
One of our audience members asked this question: “In my experience, if one spouse is engaged and the other is passive, and the advisor tries to insist on meeting the passive spouse, this does not usually work and can create resentment. A difficult problem with no great resolution.” Are there steps you can take to help break up this active-passive dynamic?
Olivia Mellan: Ironically, after a speech I recently gave to an industry association, a company president came up to me and said, “My wife is in charge of all the money.” I said, “Do you meet with her regularly to know what’s happening?” He said, “Not really,” and I could tell he felt ashamed. I said, very nicely, “Monthly meetings where you really get a lot more involved, so you’re not in the child position, would be highly recommended.” I think he must have been ready to do something about it, or he wouldn’t have confessed it to me. And maybe my comment was all he needed to take that first step.
If the husband is the engaged spouse, it’s really important to say to him, “If we wait until you’re gone to educate your wife, it will be terrible for her and she will not be able to learn. She really needs to partner with you now, and you have to lovingly find a way to get her involved.”
I think it’s absolutely necessary to find some creative way to reach out and get the uninvolved spouse on board. Maybe there should be a reward if she or he does this, because it’s hard. During the talks I’m giving for Wells Fargo Women Advisors, I’m often asked about this. We brainstorm ideas about how to get a passive spouse more involved, such as inviting her for coffee in a restaurant to break the ice before urging her to come to your office for an appointment.
Kol Birke: I definitely agree. And I would go back to that “positions vs. interests” idea. As a financial advisor, your position is that you want to get that other spouse involved in the planning. There are a variety of interests driving that: to help the spouse become financially savvy, to make it more likely that she’ll stay your client long after the other spouse passes away, to ensure that she’ll be okay no matter what happens in her life.
The other thing you have to think about is “What is the most achievable goal that is still meaningful?” That may mean you start by just forming a relationship with the passive spouse, maybe even not talking about finances at all but simply going for a walk together. You can find out what this passive spouse is interested in and what they are comfortable with. Once you have a better relationship, you can ideally tiptoe from there into “What would make you want to come to these meetings?”