As the first male boomers begin to die, their widows will be in control of the family assets long before the kids inherit them. In fact, on average, a widow can spend 16 years without her husband. Yet most advisors with older clients have done little to build a relationship with the wives in these couples.
To be fair, in all likelihood the husband was the primary contact and the wife frequently showed little interest in getting involved. Nevertheless, the reality is that 80% of widows leave the family’s financial advisor when their husbands die, saying, “I never really knew him, I wanted to find someone I could work with.”
The writing is on the wall. Advisors who don’t want to lose accounts when the husband dies must engage their wives – even if these women resist. You cannot assume that just because “Harry” has been a great client and friend for years, you will keep the account when he dies.
Engaging the female partner is not always easy. You may be faced with excuses like: “My husband handles all this,” “I find it boring” and even, “I don’t understand all the jargon.”
So what’s an advisor to do?
1. Enlist the husband/partner – by appealing to his sense of responsibility for his partner with a question like – “Harry, what would happen if you became ill or died? Would Ellen be comfortable overseeing the portfolio? What can we do to involve her and make sure she’s ready to take over if need be?”
2. Uncover what’s important to her – by showing interest in her point of view and the issues particular to her. Make your next meeting about her and engage her in conversation by asking about her dreams for the future. Always remember that women tend to see finances in terms of life issues, not asset allocation or investment returns.
3. Manage her confidence in the investment process to achieve her goals – by assuring her that you will work with her to put it in a way that makes sense and interests her – avoid jargon. Speak in terms of real outcomes – will she be able to travel? Will there be enough money to look after a handicapped adult child? Will she have enough should something happen to Harry? These are the types of issues that matter to her and will bring her peace of mind that she can achieve her goals with your help.
Take away: To make sure you retain the account of a couple when the husband dies, you must engage the female partner into the discussion: enlist her partner to bring her in, uncover what’s important to her and manage her confidence in the investment process in achieving her goals.