Working with grieving clients

Widows represent a growing and potentially lucrative market for financial advisors. But it takes considerable emotional intelligence to succeed with this group. If you’re thinking of expanding your practice to include recent widows, here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I have the emotional capacity to work with grieving clients?
Financial advisors who work with widows — and widowers, for that matter — must play multiple roles. In addition to financial consultant, these roles include psychological counsellor, facilitator/mediator with family members, educator and friend. That’s a lot for any advisor to take on and it’s not for everyone.

“Widows are very vulnerable and they need someone who is rock-solid and totally sensitive, who will put their interests first and won’t take advantage of them,” says Jennifer Black, principal of in Mississauga, Ont.

Black tells her widowed clients that she is always available to act as a sounding board and that they can call her anytime if they have questions or concerns — even on issues that aren’t directly related to their finances.

2. Can I give her the time she needs to make decisions?
You should never rush a widow. “The biggest mistake you can make is pushing them to make decisions before they’re ready,” Black says.

You might not realize how much is going through your client’s mind at such times, she adds. “It’s an enormous transition, and it’s often difficult to make decisions because of the fear of making mistakes.”

Tell your widowed clients which decisions can wait until they’re ready to make them, and which require more immediate attention. Big-picture decisions, such as selling the family home, should be avoided for some time while the client is grieving.

3. Can I ensure that the necessary decisions are made?
While a recently widowed client is in no condition to make significant changes to her life, some things require prompt attention.

“I try to get them to deal with the most pressing stuff first, like freeing up money to pay bills,” says Bev Moir, senior wealth advisor with Scotia Wealth Management in Toronto. “You don’t want cash to languish, so get it into a daily interest savings account.”

You also can assist with practical steps such as helping her apply for Canada Pension Plan benefits, updating her will and changing the beneficiaries, and updating her net-worth statement.

4. Am I interested in helping to educate my client?
If a widow wasn’t actively involved in managing the family’s money while her husband was alive, she may need some educational support.

“Widows may not know what they have financially, so we start from ground zero,” Black says. “You have to take complex money management and investment information and explain it without talking down to her.”

5. Do I understand the benefits of working with these clients?
While working with widows is time consuming and emotionally demanding, it also can be very satisfying. Moreover, it can be great for business development, says Rhonda Latreille, founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business in Burnaby, B.C.

Latreille notes that while women are more demanding in their interactions with professionals and less forgiving of poor service than men, they are more likely to recommend those they like to their friends and acquaintances.

“Many widows will be looking for financial advisors in the years ahead,” Latreille says, “and you can position yourself to benefit from that opportunity.”

This is the first part in a two-part series on working with recently widowed women as clients. Next: Communicating with new widows.

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