Outside voices and views for advisers

Financial therapy 'money scripts' can help you beat the robots

Get clients talking about youthful pitfalls they secretly keep replaying. Then show clients how to stop

Oct 12, 2017 @ 9:14 am

By Michelle Begina

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Why would someone pay a financial adviser to manage their assets when an automated system can do it for less money?

To accomplish this, many advisers are beginning to explore the discipline of financial therapy, a relatively new practice combining technical and financial competence with behavioral coaching and counseling.

Feelings that your clients harbor today about money stem from way back when they were kids. The part of their lives when they were just starting to earn, save and spend money on a consistent basis are at the root of their financial challenges and opportunities in adulthood. Since these initial views on money are imprinted at such a young age, they often develop into stubborn habits later in life that can hinder long-term financial goals. Cue financial therapy.


First, advisers need to ask questions they're not necessarily accustomed to asking. Financial therapists have been known to predict what their clients will do based on their "money script," a term coined by psychologist and financial planner Brad Klontz. Money scripts are the thoughts that run through clients' minds, like lines of a movie script, when they think about money.

These thoughts drive client decision-making about income, personal net worth, credit card debt and financial risk profiles. This approach is one of the fastest and most effective ways for advisers to start incorporating financial therapy into their practice.

It's also the fastest route to success. For example, advisers could quickly analyze their client's money scripts to identify patterns that can help them predict negative behaviors such as financial dishonesty with one's spouse or partner, compulsive buying, pathological gambling, hoarding or financial enabling.

How and when do you start the process with the client? Sometimes client feedback can prompt the discussion, such as comments that their finances make them feel depressed or anxious, or that they continue to repeat bad money habits.


Since some clients could be sensitive to this approach, advisers should wait until they have an established and trusted relationship with the client. Tread with caution when trying this with prospects. Time is your friend here. It affords an adviser opportunities to observe and develop an understanding of the client's money scripts without casting judgement.

After introducing money scripts, the next step is to analyze the results and then create an assessment that informs the goal setting. Once compiled, the adviser should then use the results to prompt a follow-up conversation with the client to clarify and explain what was discovered as part of that goal setting. These findings may be incorporated subtly, through passing references or gentle nudges over time, or more overtly through deliberate structured exercises.

That part is up to you. In fact, the entire process is up to you. Feeling empowered? Good, because there's a huge opportunity for financial advisers to underscore their value by simply being human and connecting in ways they have yet to consider.

The financial planning market has long been highly competitive, and with the rise of so many non-human, less expensive automated alternatives, clients constantly expect advisers to prove their worth. But never mind worth. That's relative. The practice of financial therapy is where you'll prove you can connect and understand your client on a human level, something a robot will never be able to do.

Michelle Begina is a Senior Partner and Managing Director at Snowden Lane Partners.


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