"I have clients fight in my office sometimes," says Alan Moore, founder of Serenity Financial Consulting in Milwaukee. "Clients get up and storm out."
That's not terribly surprising. The average couple fights over money, on average, five times a year, according to a new study by TD Ameritrade. The same study also finds couples discuss money less than twice a month -- so Moore acknowledges that his office is sometimes where the conflicts emerge: "Where else do they talk about money?"
The latest TD study highlights a particular problem for planners working with married couples -- the continued strain that financial issues bring to a relationship. “With the median age for first-time marriages approaching 30, combining finances is not as simple as it once was,” said Carrie Braxdale, managing director, investor services at TD Ameritrade, in a statement. “Couples are bringing more financial baggage into the relationship than ever before."
HOW TO COPE
So how are financial planners supposed to cope with a bickering, emotional couple? Moore says the goal of financial planners should be to get their married clients on the same page with their finances: "For clients that are willing to come in and see me, paying for financial advice, they have a good sense of reality when it comes to money. My job isn't to tell them that their goals are not possible. My job is to educate them with the options and let them decide."
Research by TD Ameritrade, entitled “Essential Skills for Advising Couples,” also stresses the need for advisors to ensure both members of a couple are included in all financial discussions and decisions. This is a common mistake among financial planners, TD found: "While meeting and communicating with only one member of a couple is less time consuming and easier for the advisor, it is not a good practice in the long run."
Another tip is to make sure, during a meeting, to work to balance the conversation and interaction with both members of the couple. (One specific tip TD recommends: Arrange your seating in such a way that you're making eye contact with a couple's female member.)
And for other financial advisors aiming to help married couples get beyond their finance-related arguments, Moore stresses the importance of objective third parties -- whether advisors or therapists. "They might help such couples get rid of preconceived notions and find areas of agreement," he said.