Within a year of being widowed, 70% of women fire their male financial adviser.
“Sometimes, women feel patronized by financial professionals,” said Natalie Colley, a certified financial planner at New York City-based Francis Financial. “They want an adviser who connects with them emotionally, who understands them on a personal level.”
Say a woman has accompanied her husband to meetings with the family’s financial planner, who is a man. If the two men do most of the talking, the woman may feel ignored and disrespected.
When her husband is no longer in the picture, a woman may realize she lacks rapport with the adviser. He may use too much jargon or simply talk too much. If he had primarily addressed the husband and treated the wife as an afterthought, she might find it hard to maintain the relationship.
“It’s about making her feel heard,” said Courtney Richardson, a Philadelphia-based attorney who runs Desired Legacy, a new financial education platform for women. “Does the male adviser make her part of the conversation? Does he validate her and see her? Does he direct questions at her or just the husband?”
The way a financial adviser responds in the immediate aftermath of the death of her husband can affect a woman’s decision on whether to stay or go.
“When someone has recently lost a spouse, the tendency is not to bring up the spouse,” Colley said. “Actually, it’s the opposite. Widows generally want to talk about their spouse.”
Many of the clients at Colley’s firm are women who are widowed, never married or recently divorced. She and her colleagues have gone through grief training to learn how to can respond with compassion to new widows. They have learned to invite a recent widow to open up about her husband and share stories and remembrances.
Colley recently got a call from a client — a young woman whose husband had died suddenly. After hearing the news, she prompted the widow to reflect on her loss. “It was like unlocking a door,” Colley said. “She talked about how they met, how they chose their home together. It was so rich and full of information.”
Emotional conversations like those may make male advisers feel uncomfortable, but a let’s-get-down-to-business attitude can be a turnoff to clients who have recently lost a spouse. Advisers need to treat widows with patience, especially in the weeks and months after their husband’s death. Don’t overwhelm them with to-do items and press them to make financial decisions.
Advisers may wonder how often to check in with a widow. While there’s no formula that works for everyone, reaching out to commemorate milestones can be a meaningful gesture.
“The first of everything is incredibly hard,” Colley said. “The first birthday [of the late husband], the first anniversary of his death. And she may feel so alone during the first holiday season that she’s going through.”
Dignifying a widow’s experience — her emotions, anxieties and fears — goes a long way toward preserving the adviser-client relationship. Calling or sending a handwritten card on such occasions can provide great comfort. Remember to use the husband’s name. (“I know you’re thinking of Jim today.”)
“Widows are often struggling and feel like they’re operating in a fog,” Colley said. “They may have trouble doing simple tasks, so the pace of financial planning is different for them. Meet them where they are.”
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