Advisors have an important role to play as a neutral third party for client couples who aren’t quite seeing eye-to-eye on financial decisions, says Christine Van Cauwenberghe, assistant vice president, tax and estate planning, Investors Group Inc., in Winnipeg.
“The reason why so many couples are arguing over financial issues is because it can get quite emotional and there’s all kinds of background there, baggage, that each party brings to the table,” says Van Cauwenberghe, “and with an advisor they can come basically with a clean slate and [advisors can] be sort of safe ground for parties to air out their differences.”
A study released on Tuesday by Investors Group found that 32% of Canadian couples sometimes, often or always have disagreements about money. As well, 50% of respondents said they knew of other couples who fight over finances.
There are a few strategies advisor can use to help clients who are constantly at odds over their finances, according to Van Cauwenberghe. For instance, advisors can use the example of other clients — keeping all personal information confidential of course — who have argued over financial decisions, she says. Doing so will show clients that they are not alone in their issues and also possibly act as a kind of warning of what can happen if those disagreements go unresolved.
As well, advisors can help clients get on the same page financially by putting forward a reasonable financial plan or budget that can work for both partners, says Van Cauwenberghe. Suggesting such a compromise may help one or both clients to realize that their expectations for spending or saving may be unreasonable.
Finally, Van Cauwenberghe suggests advisors meet with clients individually to sort through their financial disagreements and then have another group meeting with the advisor acting as a kind of mediator.
Indeed, simply getting clients to talk about their financial issues might be a big first step. The study found that 18% of Canadians have kept a secret from their partner about how much money they have spent, saved or hidden. In addition, one in five couples surveyed said they ignore the issue when they find out their partner has spent too much on an item.
However, while advisors can do a lot to help, it is also important they recognize when it’s time to take a step back. If an advisor puts forward what he or she considers to be a fair plan for a couple yet the clients continue to disagree, says Van Cauwenberghe, then it may be time for the advisor to refer them on to a marriage counselor.
“You don’t want to get to the part where you’re seen to be necessarily taking sides or getting into the fray too much,” she says, “because the problems may be much deeper.”