Questions, Not Answers: Conversations For Advisors To Navigate Clients’ Anxiety Around Change

Questions, Not Answers: Conversations For Advisors To Navigate Clients’ Anxiety Around Change

Financial advisory clients are bound to experience stressful conditions that can impact their finances at some point during their relationship with their advisor. From market downturns to geopolitical shocks, there are many potential external factors that might make a client nervous about their financial situation. What’s more, the stories individuals tell themselves can lead to decisions that negatively compound the initial impact of the event. For example, a market correction can create fear for investors (particularly those nearing – or even in – retirement), and when they create certain narratives (e.g., “I need to sell all of my stocks now before the market drops further”) they can find themselves in an even worse situation. For worried clients, advisors often serve as a sounding board for many of their stories, putting the advisor in a unique situation to help clients weather their emotional challenges and stay on course with their financial plans.

Advisors naturally strive to offer expert guidance to their clients, but sometimes addressing only the technical intricacies of a client’s plan is not always the most helpful response. For example, reminding a panicking client during a market downturn that they have a diversified portfolio or that corrections are a regular part of market cycles might not resonate with them to truly alleviate their anxiety.

Instead, addressing a client’s upsetting stressors by encouraging them to form new personal narratives can help them understand and implement new perspectives that make it easier for them to address challenging situations in different (and often more successful) ways. In this way, the client can become their own ‘expert’ through facilitation from their advisor. One way for advisors to start this conversation is by asking the client the question, “What would you tell your best friend if they asked you this question?”

This strategy can lead the client to expand their narrative (by serving as an ‘outside’ advisor to themselves) and to potentially accept new ideas that they may already know but have been resistant to acknowledge before. Because reminding a friend that having a well-diversified portfolio is a good way to manage market risk can be easier than reminding themselves of the same thing (as they watch their portfolio value fall during a downturn); at the same time, clients are likely to respond to a friend with more kindness and empathy (versus the negative self-talk they can present to themselves). Thus, going through this exercise can calm and empower the client by revealing a more compassionate and relatable response that they come up with for themselves! Additionally, the advisor is afforded valuable insight into productive ways in which the client might want to respond to the situation.

Ultimately, the key point is that by finding ways to change their own narrative stories, a client can expand how they see themselves and better understand that they can change their role in the story. In this way, they can become empowered and more capable of preventing a stressful situation from compounding negatively. And advisors can play an important role in this exercise by facilitating the conversation and listening actively, enabling the client to craft a new narrative and potential next steps!

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