Can I Ask You Something? Why Your Clients Aren’t Asking You More Questions

As world famous vulnerability researcher Brene Brown said  about money“ “I don’t understand everything that I feel like I’m supposed to understand, [and] not understanding puts me at risk.” By not asking questions those clients think they’ve managed the risk.

Your clients may want to ask you something. In fact, your potential clients may want to ask you something. For financial advisors who work with individuals, those individuals may lack the ability to talk about their concerns. Why is talking about money so hard?  

Scientific American recently noted that “44 percent of Americans see personal finance as the most challenging topic to discuss with others, more so than subjects like death, politics, and religion.” Yes, even post-2016 people think talking about money is harder than talking about politics. That same Scientific American article also noted that not talking about money has a negative impact on health and wellbeing. In working with Common Cents lab, they collected stories of folks who had crushing debt or missed financial opportunities solely because they lacked the ability to ask for help about finances.

Family matters. Some studies have shown that the climate around money in which a child was raised can have a life long impact on how they relate to money.  Those who grew up in households that had an open attitude about money reported less impulse spending and less credit card debt.  Similarly, couples that engage in joint decision-making tend to make less financially risky and generally more responsible financial decisions. While it may not be appropriate to ask clients about their family’s behavior around money, getting to know your client’s background by asking neutral questions about how often money and budgeting was discussed when they were younger or whether money was a taboo subject to bring up with their parents can help you gain an understanding of how hard it might be for your clients to talk about what’s on their mind.  

Attitude adjustment. Another theory about why its hard to talk about money involves what it symbolizes. As this article from said so succinctly: “Attitudes about money can expose the deepest aspects of our personality or insecurities. We have a feeling, largely unconscious, that it might reveal too much about us. It might reveal our irrationality, impulsiveness and the unthought-out nature of our money attitudes.” Money also symbolizes power and work. For many, it seems like those without money just haven’t worked hard enough. And most often they point that judgmental finger right at themselves, blaming themselves for any unforeseen financial hardship.  Just as asking clients about their families might not be appropriate, asking clients about their attitudes about money might not be either. But a financial advisor can be mindful of those attitudes and ask neutral questions about how and when clients feel comfortable discussing money.

Vulnerability. Just as money symbolizes power, so too does it touch on a major point of vulnerability. This may be the main area of why clients struggle to talk about money. As world famous vulnerability researcher Brene Brown said “ “I don’t understand everything that I feel like I’m supposed to understand, [and] not understanding puts me at risk.” By not asking questions those clients may feel less exposed to risk. As noted above, that vulnerability may bring up other emotions, like guilt and shame. Acknowledging the vulnerability and risk might help clients feel less vulnerable. How so? For some people, addressing the existence of their anxiety or vulnerability may help them address the causes of it. In other words, they may have less anxiety about the anxiety they have.

Once you pop you can’t stop. And it may be that vulnerability and attitudes impact the number of questions your clients have. Scratch the surface and they may worry about the sheer volume of questions they have once they get a chance to ask them. Like Pringles, they may not be able to limit themselves to just one or two. Ask a friend if they have any burning retirement questions and they’ll spill out paragraphs of highly intelligent questions. A veritable Pringles can of retirement questions can flow once you pop the top off the subject. They might involve comparisons of SEPs and microfinance to low fee target funds and also touch on how to set up IRAs for children. They can involve questioning whether they’ve tackled the calculation of the total amount of retirement they’ll need.  Assuring clients that they have all the time they need to ask questions and follow up can help them start the flow of questions to you.

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