How to engage both members of a couple

By not working directly with women, many advisers may be losing out on their best sources for referrals

Jul 20, 2014 @ 12:01 am

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Talk to the man, talk to the man, nod to the woman,” Sallie Krawcheck said in a recent presentation, painting a stark picture of how many financial advisers conduct meetings with couples. The former broker executive's observations were based on the results of taped client meetings that the participating advisers described as “balanced” — at least until they saw the tapes. In reality, the advisers were paying most of their attention to just one partner.

It's one more reminder that we need to find ways to engage couples, not just individual clients.

The research supports this idea. “The Rules of Engagement,” which was recently published by Advisor Impact, draws a direct line between working with couples/families and client engagement and growth, based on input from 1,200 investors across the country.

According to the results, 25% of clients are engaged; they drive all referral activity, value advice and are satisfied and loyal.

Family wealth management is a driver of client engagement. Fifty percent of engaged clients say their adviser works with them as a family, compared with 28% of all other clients.

Engaged clients are more likely to say they meet as a couple (69%) than other clients (59%).

The obvious risk of not building relationships with couples is the potential of losing the assets when one spouse passes away. If we don't actively engage both partners, we may lose one of the best drivers of referrals in our business: women.

In thinking about if and how you engage couples, consider two questions: Do all review meetings include the couple? If you are meeting with a couple, are you actually engaging both individuals?

IT STARTS IN THE MEETING

Engagement begins simply — in the client meeting. We know that two-thirds of clients meet with their adviser as a couple. Of the 34% who do not, about a third acknowledge that their adviser had suggested they meet together, but they did not feel it was necessary. Unfortunately, the way in which couples make financial decisions may get in the way of your best efforts to involve them both in meetings. Twenty-nine percent of clients who are married or in a partnership say they make all of the financial decisions alone.

So how can you take action? The best strategy depends on the scenario.

Scenario One: A male client says he makes the financial decisions and/or his wife/partner doesn't need to participate.

Action: Engage the client in a conversation about his primary goals. Our research suggests that men are acutely concerned that their wives/partners be taken care of if they pass away first. They are motivated to be family leaders. Link your client's core objective to the need to include his spouse in the meeting and help him understand the importance of the spouse being comfortable with the adviser and with their overall plan.

Scenario Two: A male client tells you his wife isn't interested in attending meetings.

Action: Reframe your meeting agenda to make it more compelling for the spouse. For example, very few women will not want to be part of discussions about their children. More than half of clients indicated they were concerned that their children would not reach their financial goals and 69% of clients between the ages of 45 to 54 said it would be valuable if their adviser could help their adult children create a sound financial plan now. Consider adding the following to the agenda: ideas to help your children define and reach their financial goals, plans that involve your children in the financial planning process, and resources to help young investors establish a solid foundation for their future.

You might also consider gathering feedback from clients in a way that gives both spouses an opportunity to provide input. A survey might ask clients if they are concerned about the extent to which their children will meet their financial goals or their lack of understanding about investments and planning. You might also ask if they are interested in having you help their children create a financial plan, facilitating a joint meeting with their executor or accessing resources to help their family communicate about money. By asking the right questions, you are drawing both spouses into the conversation.

When it comes to building relationships with couples, words may not be enough. Create an offer that attracts couples and engages both. In so doing, you'll be demonstrating leadership and helping clients have the tough conversations, both of which are directly linked to client engagement .

Julie Littlechild is the president of Advisor Impact.

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