In recent years, understanding and applying concepts of financial psychology have become increasingly important skills used by financial advisors. While technical knowledge can help advisors develop objectively sound financial strategies, turning those strategies into advice that the client will actually follow often requires some knowledge of the client’s personality, culture, and background, so the advisor can deliver their advice in a way that is meaningful and motivating to the client.
One powerful tool for better understanding a client’s financial behavior and psychology is an exploration of their “money memories” – the key moments in a person’s past that can shape their current beliefs and actions around money. By encouraging clients to reflect on these influential events from their past, advisors can help them examine their current behaviors more objectively and recognize the reasons for feeling so stuck (their change inhibitors), which can make it easier to identify workable strategies that will help their clients get ‘unstuck’ in challenging areas of their financial plan.
However, money memories can be a very sensitive topic for many people given the emotions (both positive and negative) that these conversations can elicit, and clients may feel deeply vulnerable when talking about their money memories and past decisions. If an advisor asks about money memories too early in the relationship – without first having built a deep foundation of trust – the client could feel as if they are being judged on their past or present actions and become put off or defensive, shutting down the conversation until their trust can be rebuilt. Which means that money memory conversations that are approached deliberately and respectfully can make them more productive and insightful.
Advisors can prepare their clients for the conversation by providing an agenda outlining the discussion topics well in advance, which can give clients an opportunity to contemplate their responses ahead of time. And keeping the conversation as an open-ended exploration of attitudes and feelings (rather than using it to diagnose specific problems or behaviors, which can feel overly judgmental to some clients) can help clients feel more comfortable about having a candid discussion of their money memories.
Ultimately, money memory conversations are about giving clients the space to explore their own perspectives and perceptions of their experiences. The simple question “What’s your earliest money memory?”, followed by respectful and open-ended follow-up questions to explore the client’s thoughts and feelings more deeply, can help clients recognize for themselves the ways that past experiences may manifest into current behavior. At the same time, helping clients uncover these memories for themselves can give advisors deeper insight into the client’s psychological approach toward money – helping the advisor give advice that aligns with what matters most to the client (and that can help them tackle their most challenging obstacles)!