Posts Tagged ‘Siblings’
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
One of the things that creates strong bonds with key clients is letting them know that you understand and are thinking about all of their important issues, not just the ones related to their finances or the ones you’re making money from.
The unfortunate reality is that clients run into adversity all the time. Many advisors feel challenged in responding when clients encounter difficulty … and rather than feeling awkward because they “don’t know what to say”, say nothing at all. That’s a mistake — it’s in times of setbacks that clients need us the most.
If that adversity relates to their business failing or job loss, clients certainly need our support, but at least there are specific things we can suggest and concrete recommendations we can make.
It’s more difficult when clients are dealing with death of a family member or severe illness … advisors often feel powerless and frustrated by how little we can do beyond providing moral support.
For instance, just about every advisor has clients with family members struggling with Alzheimer’s, whether parents, spouses or siblings. Among the things that makes Alzheimer’s so devastating is there’s no way to prevent it, no cure at this time and how dealing with someone suffering from this disease can consume a family.
When clients are dealing with Alzheimers in their family or other adversity, one way to broach the subject is with a handwritten note (definitely not an email!) with the simple words:
“As you’re going through this difficult time, know that my thoughts are with you. If there’s anything at all that I can do to help, even in a small way, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.”
That expression of support is a good start — but if you’re really serious about being there for clients in tough times, a start is all it is. Here are five strategies you can use when Alzheimers strike a client’s family, that go beyond just expressions of sympathy.
The first relates to updating the client’s financial plan … or where they’ve resisted spending the time to develop a plan, this kind of an event may be the trigger that persuades them they need to do this.
The second suggestion is an idea I wrote about in my twice weekly blog in early January, the rest come from advisors who responded that idea or to a note I sent out asking what advisors are doing when clients run into Alzheimers in their family. (By coincidence, or perhaps not, almost all of the advisors who responded with their own strategies were women.)
Strategy One : Take the lead in updating the client’s financial situation
Every significant change in a client’s situation, positive or negative, brings with it the need to reassess where they stand financially.
For clients already stressed out about the potential cost of long term care for a spouse or family member with severe medical problems, uncertainty about the impact on their finances makes a bad situation worse … and the issue is even more pronounced in cases like Alzheimers when you’re dealing with issues around competence to make decisions and powers of attorney.
Advisors can perform an important service by helping bring clarity on the financial impact of any serious disease, whether from reduced earnings or the cost of care. The key is to do this in a way that minimizes the burden on clients, who are often preoccupied with treatment options and also to raise this in a way that doesn’t come off as insensitive.
Some things to consider:
- - When talking to clients dealing with serious illness on the part of a close family member, tell them that if they’d like to sit down briefly to work through the impact of the disease on their financial situation, you’ll make yourself available at any time.
- - Depending on the situation, you may suggest to your client that they invite their adult children to sit in on the meeting … or to have an initial meeting with them and then if they feel comfortable with this offer to have a follow up meeting with their children.
- - Where there are concerns about competence, you could suggest to clients that their lawyer review the power of attorney in place … and if their lawyer doesn’t have expertise on this, offer to refer them to an expert in this area.
- - Without breaching confidences, it can be helpful to tell clients that you’ve run into other situations similar to theirs … and to discuss what you’ve learned from those.
Strategy Two: Help clients stay abreast of developments
One way to reach out to clients is to be alert to newsworthy articles regarding important developments on the issue they’re struggling with, so clients hear about them first from you.
In early January, my twice weekly blog pointed to a New York Times article on how a “comfort-centered” approach to care appears to ease some of the symptoms among Alzheimer’s sufferers — this is part of an ongoing series on Alzheimer’s.
I heard from several advisors who’d forwarded this article to clients grappling with Alzheimer’s in their family … and who’d received an overwhelmingly positive response. By sending this article, they’d reminded clients that they were aware of their issue and were with them in spirit. Bear in mind that given the level of concern on this issue, clients dealing with Alzheimer’s in their family might already have seen this article. If you do send this, you may want to say something like:
I thought of you when I read this article on some advances in treatment of Alzheimers patients … in case you haven’t seen this, I’m sending it along. Please know that my thoughts are with you as you and your family struggle with this disease — if there’s ever anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.
Here’s the link to the article, titled “Giving Alzheimers Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate.”
And here’s a link to the entire series, titled The Vanishing Mind.
Strategy Three: Raise your own knowledge level
Based on the response to the NY Times article, I asked advisors who get my twice weekly blog for ideas to support clients who have family members afflicted with this disease.
One advisor named Susan responded this way:
“I always start meetings with clients by asking whether anything’s happened in their lives since we last met that I should know about, whether good or bad. About 95% of the time I don’t hear anything new or I hear great news about promotions or their kids getting university scholarships or perhaps expecting children themselves and we continue on with the meeting, unless of course their good news has implications we need to discuss.
The other 5% of the time, though, the answer causes our meeting to move in a different direction … I hear about health or work issues with them or family members or kids struggling with school or careers.
Last fall, I realized that in the past eighteen months I’d had three clients talk about a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s … and how draining this had become for them and other family members.
I decided I needed to learn more … and went to an information session that the Alzheimers Association in my city puts on for people where a family member has been diagnosed with this. What I heard was a real eye-opener, as a result I’m better able to relate to the issues my clients are dealing with and ended up asking two of my team to go to a similar session the next month.”
Susan also directed me to a website that offers practical advice for caregivers for Alzheimers patients:
Strategy Four: Provide a respite for clients
Another advisor named Ellen responded to my blog with an alternative suggestion, based on her first hand experience.
Her parents live 1000 miles away from both her and her brother, making it even more difficult when her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For two years before his condition made a nursing home necessary, her mother was the primary caregiver, understandably causing tremendous stress. One of the things that helped a bit was that twice weekly Ellen and her brother hired a nurse to come into her parent’s home for four hours, allowing her mother to shop, do errands and have lunch with friends. This break was invaluable in helping her mother keep her spirits up during this very difficult situation.
Among her clients, Ellen has two couples in which one has developed Alzheimers, with the other providing care at home; in one case it’s the husband providing care, in the other the wife.
A month before the birthday of the client who’s providing care, Ellen calls and says she’d like to take him or her out for a birthday lunch. She goes on to say that the son of a client is a registered nurse who goes into the homes of people suffering from Alzheimers to provide part-time care. She has spoken to her client’s son and if they’re open to this, he would arrive that morning to get to know the spouse with Alzheimers and would then be available to provide care during the lunch.
Ellen went on to comment:
“My clients are overwhelming grateful … not so much for the lunch as for the break and the acknowledgement of their situation. The cost for the nurse and the lunch are trivial relative to the outpouring of appreciation from her clients.
And while this was not my motivation, I’ve come to know one clients’ children as a result of these lunches … and we’ve talked about the possibility of them joining as clients also. ”
Strategy Five: Build client acknowledgement into your practice
While one-off might be appreciated, the challenge is how to scale them into your business.
After a recent talk at a conference, I spoke to Lisa, who systematically builds communication about the diseases causing the most stress for clients into her ongoing contact with those affected.
She started by reviewing her top clients and identified three diseases that had affected multiple clients directly or had impacted their close family members .. arthritis, Alzheimer’s and breast cancer.
She then did two things.
First, in the course of their ongoing reading, she and her team began to look for articles about new research findings and developments on treatment of these three diseases; one of her team members also set up a Google alert.
When she finds an appropriate article, she sends clients affected a link to that article, with the note “Thought of you when I read this.” She’s careful not to overwhelm clients, her goal is to send something relevant about once a quarter, if possible.
Second, she’s reoriented her own charitable giving and fundraising activity to focus on these three causes … and in her last year end letter to clients, explained that because several clients had been affected by Alzheimer’s, arthritis and breast cancer, for the coming year these were the causes her annual fundraising golf tournament would be supporting.
A final advisor named Bill sent an email saying that his own dad had suffered from Alzheimers. As a result, he’s become involved in organizing the “Walk for memories” fundraiser for Alzheimers in his community. Every year, he sets a goal of raising $5000, contributing the first $2500 himself and inviting friends and clients to match his donation. He also invites clients to join him on the walk. A number of clients take him up on the offer, generally because they too have been touched by this disease; this past year he was joined by ten friends and clients who walked as a group.
Some might criticize some of these advisors for lacking spontaneity in how they communicate around this issue. A reminder though … just caring about clients isn’t enough, clients have to know we care. One way to deepen relationships with clients going through a difficult time is by reminding them that you’re thinking of them and are there for them.
Clearly, no one communications approach will work for every advisor. If you too have clients affected by Alzheimers or other degenerative diseases in their family, consider taking some time at your next team meeting to discuss the right method for you to support clients going through a difficult time.
Tags: Adversity, Alzheimer, Alzheimers, Bonds, Concrete Recommendations, Dealing With Death, Email, Expression, Expressions Of Sympathy, Family Member, Family Members, Handwritten Note, Mistake, Moral Support, Parents, Setbacks, Siblings, Suffering From, Tough Times, Unfortunate Reality
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