We're Not Just Here For The Good Times (Part II)

We're Not Just Here For The Good Times (Part II)

Photo from Pixabay

Last week, I wrote a piece about how financial planners are there to help and support their clients when events don’t go according to plan, as well as to celebrate with them when they do.

I received a lot of positive feedback on the piece and I know there are many good financial planners out there who provide this kind of support for their clients.

Tadas Viskanta was kind enough to highlight my piece on his own blog on Friday, and he made a comment which really hit home:

The challenge (and opportunity) of being there for someone during a tough time is not talked about enough.”

It’s funny, but the piece I wrote last week was not the piece I initially set out to write. What follows is, and it builds on Tadas’ comment.

One of the instances I highlighted in last week’s piece was the elderly woman whose husband divorced her after more than 40 years of marriage, after she walked in on him and his (male) lover.

That event occurred nearly 30 years ago, but I can recall it as if it was yesterday.

It started with the lady in question calling the firm I was working at and being put through to my boss. She explained that she needed some financial advice and asked for an appointment for an adviser to go and see her. Nothing unusual about that, except that she added that she would prefer to see a female adviser, but if that wasn’t possible then the male adviser must not have a beard.

As it happened, my boss was both male and bearded, and I was female, so an appointment was made for me to visit her.

A week or so later I drew up in front of a small, neat bungalow. The lady welcomed me into her home and after the usual chit chat and mandatory cup of tea we started talking about her finances.

It very quickly became clear that she was not a potential new client. In the divorce she had lost her home and received a very modest cash settlement. After buying her bungalow she was left with a small nest egg. The only income she had was her state pension, and she was already supplementing that by drawing on her capital.

It’s worth stating here that at this point I had barely heard of financial planning. The UK financial services industry was virtually entirely commission based and although I was paid a salary by my employer, I was still expected to sell products that would bring commission income into the firm to justify that salary.

Realising that there was no sale to be had here, my main objective quickly became one of giving her some tips on managing her expenditure and getting out as soon as I could.

But then she started crying. And slowly, the story of what had happened which led to her divorce came out. It was pretty harrowing. It also turned out that the man her husband had been having an affair with was bearded, hence her unusual request.

The truth is, I wasn’t equipped to cope. I was in my mid-20s and had zero experience of dealing with a situation like this.

The reason why this incident has stuck with me over so many years is because I feel as though I let her down, that I couldn’t be what she needed at that point. 

A few weeks ago, our Wealth Planning Manager, Charles, and I were having his weekly one-on-one.  The previous week he’d had a meeting with some clients who are going through a challenging time at the moment and had taken a call from a very long-standing client who had given him some sad news. Charles commented that he had found the week “emotionally draining”.

It was like being hit by a truck. I realised that I had never previously thought about our team and their ability to cope with these sorts of situations.

Years ago, when the firm was tiny, Rob and I did everything from making the tea to executing multi-million-pound trades but as the firm has grown, we’ve naturally had to allocate more time to working on the business than working in it. I don’t interact with our clients with the same frequency as I used to. This is in part because we have a brilliant team who do that, and we want to get out of their way and give them the opportunity to grow.

But I hadn’t thought about this. Our team is young, some of them are that version of me 30 years ago. They haven’t yet had the life experience to help them cope with the bad times.

Talking to Charles that day, my main concern was to make sure he was ok – which he was. The younger team members report directly to him, so we agreed he would also check in with them about how they were doing emotionally.  We agreed that it was important that we support each other as a team and remember that when our clients are going through difficult times, it may have an impact on us too.

The relationships we have with our clients today are on a completely different level to the relationships I had with many of my clients 30 years ago.  Financial planners are not social workers, but the very nature of our work means that a) we get to know our clients on a very personal level and b) we care about them. We couldn’t do this job if we didn’t.

So, what I would like to be your main takeaways from this post are:

  1. If you are a business owner, please make sure that your team have someone to talk to and support them when they are dealing with difficult situations with clients
  2. If you are currently a young financial planner flying solo, please make sure you have a network of planners who have been around the block a bit, who you can reach out to if you need to

    It’s not just our clients who are affected when the going gets tough.