Working with couples can be a challenge, especially in cases in which only one partner is engaged in the financial planning process. That is a common problem, according to Al Nagy, a certified financial planner and regional director with Investors Group Inc. in Edmonton.

Having both partners engaged right from the discovery meeting is key to starting the financial planning process on the right foot. Nagy offers the following tips to help get both partners involved:

1. Insist that both partners be present
While a couple may express that one partner handles the financial decisions, Nagy refuses to conduct a discovery meeting unless both partners are present.

“We have a responsibility to get to ‘know your client’,” Nagy says. And that means knowing both spouses.

Also, financial planning involves determining the couple’s life goals, Nagy adds, so both partners should be there.

Nagy uses a variation on the medical analogy: “Would you send your spouse to the doctor for a problem you have?”

2. Encourage questions
Prior to the meeting, send an email to the couple requesting they bring any questions they may have, in writing.

Then, begin your meeting by saying, “I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”

By doing so, both partners will know you are expecting to have to clarify details, and the less-interested client will not be uncomfortable admitting a lack of understanding.

When your clients ask their questions, write those questions down and re-phrase them. This will demonstrate that you care and that you are taking their queries seriously.

If, for example, the couple wonders what options they have to fund their children’s education, you can re-phrase the question by asking: “So, are you asking about available government programs and funds for post-secondary education?”

If that is what they meant, respond and then ask if you answered their question.

3. Direct the conversation toward the less-engaged partner
Speaking directly to this person will make him or her more aware of the conversation.

By using this strategy, Nagy says, you will pique that person’s interest. You also will earn the respect of the more involved partner, who will appreciate the extra effort you are making.

Ask simple questions such as: When it comes to finances, what keeps you awake at night? What would happen if [the more engaged spouse] was unable to handle the financial issues.

“By engaging them that way,” Nagy says, “all of a sudden, they’re alive in this conversation, and they realize that the financial planning process is about dealing with life goals.”

4. Watch body language
If the less-engaged client’s chair is pushed back, he or she is checking a cell phone or has crossed arms, that client probably has tuned out the conversation.

It is up to you to bring that person back. You can do so by asking questions directly to him or her. Ask about the client’s goals and aspirations in order to get him or her to open up.