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How 9/11 turned insurance, finance pros into life counselors

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It’s not unusual for financial advisors, insurance agents and employee benefits specialists to face clients in a crisis.

If there were ever a question about the conseling roll that many agents and advisors find themselves in, that question was answered on Sept. 11, 2001.

Related: Life insurance regulators look back on 9/11 after 15 years

The attacks caused annuity specialist Stan Haithcock to shift the way he sells: “Just like two planes flying into the World Trade Center seemed unthinkable, we have to ask ourselves as an industry what potential threats may be coming our way?”

Longtime advisor Dave Buckwald, who lost 51 clients when the World Trade Center fell, writes that the way he approaches life insurance clients was forever altered that day: “Now when I talk with a married client, I insist that I meet with their spouse as well.”

Whether it’s an event as routine as a job change or as life-altering as the death of a family member, each person’s response to a life crisis is distinct.

It may not matter how much time has transpired between your client meeting or call and that individual’s crisis. It may not even be their own event that spurs the interaction.

Related: For health insurers, 9/11 started small but might have a long tail

Family members, friends and acquaintances of someone in crisis also may experience secondary trauma symptoms, both emotional and physical, according to the Binghamton University Counseling Center.

How to talk to clients

Since financial relief is among the top solutions that may help ease people in crisis, here are four tips from trauma experts for talking to people in the throes of a crisis:

    1. Empathy can go a long way toward building a personal connection. To that end, weave a measured degree of personal storytelling into your conversation.

    2. Practice supportive, nonjudgmental listening.

    3. If the conversation becomes emotional, encourage your client to seek out support from trusted friends and family.

    4. Encourage your client to develop financial priorities, then present reasonable options for achieving them.

Crises and their aftermaths can alter the way an individual thinks and feels. If you want to take a page from trauma experts, many of whom perfected their research and strategy in the aftermath of 9/11, manage clients in crisis by combining honesty and empathy.

See also:

Focus on clients’ positive financial behavior

Behavioral finance techniques really work in 401(k)s

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