For many advisors, building client relationships means getting to know their family. Their spouse, children and perhaps even parents become part of the mix.
XAutoplay: On | OffBut what if the client is single?
Advisors with a significant number of single clients shift their focus. Instead of ensuring that couples — and key family members — are on the same page, the challenge becomes crafting a financial plan tailored for an individual’s needs.
Solo clients come in many forms. Some have lost a spouse or undergone a divorce. Others are unmarried, either by choice or because they haven’t found a mate.
Regardless of the reason, single people often face special considerations when saving for retirement, buying insurance and weighing everything from estate planning to their housing options. Advisors help them create their own safety net to secure their financial future.
Yet advisors often see their role as essentially the same whether they’re working with couples or singles.
“I tend to treat single people like all my other clients,” said Spuds Powell, a Los Angeles-based advisor. “You have to communicate with them in a way that makes them feel comfortable.”
He estimates that about 25% of his clients are widows. These women often must manage their finances for the first time in their life.
With widows and other single clients, Powell seeks to boost their confidence about money. They may lack the knowledge and tools to make sound financial decisions, so he doubles as a teacher.
Rebound From Adversity
To educate widows, Powell created what he calls a “surviving spouse checklist” about nine years ago. The three-page document includes a series of to-do items such as completing legal forms and other paperwork.
“Normally, I give it to them two to four weeks after their spouse passes,” he said. “I have to be sensitive to the timing.”
Several variables affect when he gives widows the checklist. For example, he might wait longer if their spouse’s death was unexpected or if they don’t have a family member to help.
Providing widows with a detailed list of prioritized action steps gives them direction when they feel adrift, Powell says. He also stays involved, asking supportive questions such as, “What information would you find most useful?” and “What are you most concerned about?”
Clients who are single by choice may embrace their independence and work closely and enthusiastically with their advisor. But for those who suddenly find themselves on their own — whether through divorce or a spouse’s death — the trauma can leave them immobilized and fearful.
Janice Cackowski, a certified financial planner in Wickliffe, Ohio, says that about 60% of her clients are single professionals. Many are accustomed to having a spouse or partner — and are adjusting to their newfound status as singles.
When advising the freshly divorced, Cackowski has learned to rivet the discussion on the client’s finances. She does not want their meetings to turn into gripe sessions.
“In divorce, it doesn’t matter who did what to whom,” she said. “I don’t want to hear it. You can’t get in the middle of it.”
If someone starts bashing a former spouse, Cackowski will politely say, “Let’s focus on what we can control.”
Ask Delicate Questions
When advising widows, Cackowski asks thoughtful questions about a client’s deceased spouse. Some advisors hesitate to inquire about a client’s past for fear of causing pain, she says.
But posing queries such as, “What about your marriage to Chris are you missing now?” can help Cackowski gain a better understanding of her client. For new widows, she might invite them to “tell me about Joe.”
“To build a relationship, you need to ask open questions, let people talk and listen,” she said. “Ignoring what has happened and never bringing it up won’t help you understand their needs.”
Cackowski finds that some singles assume they will not benefit from a comprehensive financial plan. “It’s only me,” they might say. “I don’t need much help.”
But that attitude can cause them to overlook prudent steps such as drafting a will and even purchasing life insurance.
When getting to know single clients, she probes to determine the type of legacy they want to leave and if there are family members, friends or charities they want to support. They may seek to set aside funds for a relative with special needs — or ensure that an estranged sibling does not receive any of their inheritance.
“You’re hurting the people that you leave behind by not planning,” she said. “After your death, they may have to spend your money to resolve your estate transfer. And your money may land in the lap of someone you don’t want to get it.”
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