Two of my friends lost their fathers recently. As usual, I found it difficult to express my feelings in a way that would comfort them. Perhaps you've found yourself in this position as well, but in your professional capacity. It's a situation that will happen time and again to every financial advisor. And, it is a scenario that each and every one of you needs to know how to handle. At our recent Women Advisors Forum in Boston, we were fortunate to have Amy Florian, the founder and chief executive officer of Corgenius, as one of our speakers. Florian is a "grief coach." Her expertise is in thanatology or the study of death and dying. In fact, she herself was a widow at a young age, losing her husband in a car accident just seven months after the birth of their first child. It led to her current profession. And the wisdom she offers is essential for everyone and especially for financial advisors.
With an increasingly elderly population, dealing with death and the finances of survivors promises to become a major portion of an advisor's practice.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2007 men in the United States had a life expectancy of 75.4 years of age while it was 80.4 for women. However, an advisor has to be more than a number-cruncher in these moments. Being a "people person" becomes a critical skill when a client suffers such a close personal loss. Florian instructs us not to say, "I'm sorry" because that puts the person undergoing the loss in the position of comforting you; telling you "it's okay, it wasn't your fault." What each grieving spouse or partner or child needs is different for each person. But, in that first meeting with you following the death, that client needs someone who will first listen and then take him or her through a step-by-step financial process in a patient and gentle way. And, it's okay to cry with that person if the situation calls for it.
On her company's website, Florian describes the "mumbled platitudes" offered by some professionals. She said that others "handed me a tissue before quickly moving to the comfort zone of business. Others ignored the death altogether." She said she "came away feeling like little more than a number in their contact list." One person did get her business—for 25 years—because of his empathy and insight.
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