There are probably no goals more important for financial advisors than attracting new clients and keeping the ones they already have. But death and divorce pose big challenges to that.
A 2011 study by Spectrem Research found that 70% of widows changed their advisor within a year of the death of their husbands. A TIAA-CREF study released Wednesday found that 32% of advisors report losing female clients after a divorce.
Since couples typically account for about 60% or more of an advisor’s client base and wives tend to outlive their husbands, advisors need to pay attention to what TIAA-CREF is calling the “Couples Conundrum.”
“Despite their best efforts to work with both members of a couple, advisors often do not have adequate insights into the remaining spouse to serve him or her as effectively as possible in the event of a major life transition,” said Jennifer Pedigo, managing director and head of institutional business development at TIAA-CREF Asset Management, in a statement. “It’s critical that advisors are able to make a real connection with both partners.”
Why do so many widows and ex-wives switch advisors? The survey found huge information gaps between the advisors, the wives and the husbands.
Many advisors do not connect regularly with both partners in a couple, according to the survey of 250 advisors and 1,004 investors — 500 were married or living with a partner. Forty-four percent of couples had just one partner handling the couple’s relationship with a financial advisor and 41% said they didn’t involve their spouse in the decision to choose an advisor. Sixty percent said one partner made most of the couple’s financial decisions.
Often the lead partner on financial issues was the husband, but wives didn’t necessarily agree with that analysis. Fifty-four percent of husbands believed they’re the primary contact with an advisor, but only 20% of wives agreed with that. Forty-five percent of wives believed they participated in every interaction with a financial advisor, but only 38% of husbands thought so.
Closing these information gap between members of a couple and between advisors and their couple is crucial for advisors. “If you understand what contributes to the couple conundrum you can create a more robust discussion and close connection with clients, “Pedigo told ThinkAdvisor.
But often advisors were found to “give one member of the couple more status: the male,” the survey found.
For example, advisors “significantly underestimate the number of wives who take charge in the hiring process,” and “overestimate the number of husbands who take on the hiring job,” according to the survey. While 17% of investor couples reported that the wife did the hiring, only 10% of advisors thought so. Thirty-three percent of investors said the husband did the hiring, but 40% of advisors reported that.
And advisors tended to know more about the male partner than the female partner of a couple.
In a twist on the legendary Newlywed Game, the survey tested advisors about their knowledge of the individuals within couples. While 74% said they knew the expected retirement age of the husband, only 16% knew that information about the wife. Fifty-four percent knew what charities the husband supported, but only 13% had that information about the wife. The percentages were even lower for unmarried clients in a relationship.
“Getting to know these couples goes beyond the financial background,” said Pedigo.”It’s important for the advisor to make sure the couple sees them as working for the couple and its individuals.”
To that end, TIAA-CREF has developed a trademarked program called Get Closer: Solving the Couples Conundrum, which include five tactics to build better relationships with couple clients. These five tactics are:
Tactic #1: When you ask, really listen
Give informational questionnaires to each spouse to fill out, which include questions about life goals, responsibilities and investment. Then listen to the answers. Know the expected retirement age of the husband and wife as well as their professions. “This information will help you tailor a more personalized plan and communicate to clients that you understand and respect their values.”
Tactic #2: Don’t ever say “Let me handle it”
Instead of such statements use words and phrases that make clients feel empowered, such as informative statements like “Here are your options” and “This is what it means to you.” Don’t condescend — “I’ll talk to your spouse and get back to you” — or be dismissive: “You don’t need to worry about that now.”
Tactic #3: Engage both spouses with client events that appeal to husbands and wives
Discuss financial topics that appeal to both members of a couple such as financing a college education, and when to claim Social Security. Invite both members of a couple to nonfinancial events that appeal to each of them, such as wine tastings and concerts.
Tactic #4: Design onboarding services that work for surviving spouses
Put together estate-planning binders for high-net-worth couples that include up-to-date financial statements, deeds, insurance policies, pension statements and other important papers. “Spouses will feel well organized and a surviving spouse will know that a major potential source of stress has been dealt with in advance. Starting the binder … clearly communicates to both spouses that you care about their comfort and are ready to serve them under all circumstances.”
Tactic #5: Reframe the relationship to include both partners equally
This may be the most important tactic of all. TIAA-CREF had Julie Littlechild, president of If Not Now Research, write this part of the report. She advises that each partner in a couple know the plans of the other. If, say, a male client says that one of his core objectives is to ensure that his wife will be positioned well in the future, then involve the wife in some way in the overall financial plan. Littlechild suggests holding an annual family review meeting attended by both members of a couple to “ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the plan is reflecting all of the goals, needs and values of the couple.”
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