Helping clients through unexpected transitions

As the guardians of our client’s life dreams, goals, fears and finances, we are accustomed to challenging conversations. But 18 months into the Covid pandemic, our conversations have become more challenging and difficult conversations – more frequently.

Kim Potgieter CFP®, Director at Chartered Wealth Solutions, ICF Professional Certified Coach, New Money Story® Mentor Coach, Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator

We may be accustomed to helping our clients through transitions, retirement being one of them. But as we all face new and demanding challenges because of Covid, we are increasingly asked to guide clients through arduous, and often unexpected life-changing transitions. These stand out for me: death, divorce and broken careers.

The landscape of our clients’ visions and dreams – and their money – has changed, and I believe that the test of living with vulnerability has never been more acute. We are all navigating life – not sure what tomorrow will bring, and our clients are left feeling vulnerable and anxious. Now more than ever, our role as planners is to facilitate difficult conversations, guide our clients through life-changing transitions, offer support and provide objective advice. This is where we add value.

Skills to facilitate difficult conversations

I have found value in Brené Brown’s work on self-awareness and believe that being comfortable with vulnerability and practicing empathy are core skills that planners need to guide clients through difficult times.

Being comfortable with vulnerability is the first step to being brave. It is difficult listening to clients going through pain and not be able to take it away. It helps me to name the emotion that I am feeling, live into it, and at the same time, guide my clients to recognise what they are feeling and move through it.

Being comfortable with vulnerability is the first step to being brave.

Empathy is one of the bravest ways to ease someone’s pain and suffering, and practicing empathy, helps you respond to clients and feel comfortable knowing that it is okay to not have all the answers.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone’” – Brené Brown.

I am adding a third skill to the mix – coaching. I have found that coaching is often what clients need most when going through transitions. It helps to know how to ask exploratory questions, listen attentively and be at ease with long silences and tears.

Conversations about death

Sarah, a 44-year-old client with two small children – age two and four – came to see me. Her husband was diagnosed with Covid, had to be ventilated in hospital and was recovering until a bacterial infection took his life. Sarah and Mark had their second chapter all planned out. Now, her life plan is destroyed, and she is left picking up all the pieces alone.

Sarah needed help with winding up the estate and her financial plan (which now only consisted of one salary and disrupted dreams.) This is what we, as planners do. And it is not always easy. How can anyone going through such pain know exactly what they want or even concentrate on making decisions? I believe empathetic and patient planners are better equipped to guide themselves and their clients through this transition.

Divorce conversations

Covid seemed to have widened existing cracks, and relationships that struggled before the pandemic are severely challenged now. I have found that more people are taking stock of their lives and making changes to live more fully, and unfortunately, divorce is sometimes the outcome. Divorce is traumatic, and many clients are so emotionally burdened that they neglect to consider their long-term prospects and lives post-divorce.

To help our clients through this transition, we need to sift past all the emotions and help them reach a fair and objective settlement so that they can live a significant and purposeful future.

Loss of income conversations

Some of my entrepreneurial clients have lost not only their income but their entire companies, while other clients have been retrenched before their planned retirement. Losing your job is difficult – losing your job in a pandemic is devastating. Given the current economic situation, there is little hope for many of these clients to build enough funds for retirement.

In my experience, these clients often (at first) live in denial – they don’t change spending habits and deplete investments too quickly, hoping that things will change. They end up feeling hopeless and insecure. In these cases, I believe the best way to add value is to coach clients to reinvent themselves and help them to find new and alternative means of earning.

Transitions are never easy; these conversations are always hard. As planners, we are adding more value to clients now than ever before. With insight into their lives and finances, we can help clients live their best lives – enabled by their money.