The Client Connection

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clientconnectionThe Client Connection – How advisors can build bridges that last (2009) by Olivia Mellan and Sherry Christie

It is surprising how the first few chapters talks about family relationship, such as mother and daughter, son and father. This book focuses more on the role of a financial planner who embraces the role of therapeutic educator from “exterior finance” such as traditional financial planning to “interior finance” life planning, financial counselling etc.

Female clients often bring another person to every discussion with you : their mother. A mother can have a tremendous influence – constructive, destructive or both – on her daughter’s money cycle. Girls tend to pick up Mom’s money messages and adopt them wholeheartedly to be like her or reject them outright.

One day a mother needed to pay a delivery man and was low on cash. Mom went to daughter’s room, broke the piggy bank and took the money. When the girl protested hysterically about her lost savings, her mother not only shrugged off the loss but made fun of her for being so emotional. Then and there, the daughter vowed that no one would ever take her money away from her again. To make sure of this, she spend it as quickly as she could.  Only with dedicated self-awareness work as an adult was she able to turn this message around and begin finding ways to save money that felt safe to her.

To resolve a dysfunctional relationship, it’s important for each person to become more aware of her own defensive fears, expectations, and longings. Instead of looking for the individual to meet her every desire, she has to learn to take responsibility for her own needs. By lighting the load they’ve put on each other, they can develop a more equal relationship.

Some fathers refuse to give up authority even if their son’s expertise in a particular area is greater than his own. Part of your task is to help sons like these claim their own authority despite their father’s failure to acknowledge their gifts.

There are situations where one child in the family bears most of the burden of care for an elderly parent. The caregiver often resents his or her siblings, whose lives aren’t impacted by this heavy responsibility. If it is impractical for the other siblings to contribute time in equal measure, the other siblings could pay the sibling who is the primary caregiver. After all, the family would otherwise have to hire someone to provide the service.
Sterotyping can alientate clients – or get them more on board with you. It’s about how you communicate. There can be a surprising upside in teaching people about gender-related sterotypes. Example men shop by going out to kill a shirt. They wear till it dies, then go out and kill another shirt. For women, shopping means gathering – a scarf for a niece’s birthday, great shoes on sale for themselves, something else to give a friend’s next Christmas. At this point, people are usually chuckling as they recognize themselves and other men and women they know. By introducing sterotypes in this unthreatening way, I think there is potential to prevent or mitigate countless martial fights between women who shop and men who think it’s an incomprehensible waste of time.

There is also racial and religious stereotypes. For example, suppose a Jewish couple seeks your help in planning how to send their four children to first class private colleges and graduate schools. After analyzing the situation, it is clear to you that they will not be able to completely fund their kids’ education unless they forgo their own retirement. You might feel comfortable explaining this straightforwardly. But a caution flag would go up if you know that according to centuries-old cultural traditions, education is an all important in a Jewish family, and parents are considered responsible for ensuring their children are well-educated no matter what the cost. To avoid stigmatizing the couple as failures or bad parents, it would behove you to exercise extreme patience and sensitivity in communicating with them. For instance, you may say that paying the full tab on higher education would well lead to their becoming a burden on the kids in their old age. Far better for the children to apply for grants, loans and work study programs that could help them learn responsibility.

Where you sit in your office can also be a factor in working more effectively with clients. Woman prefer that you sit across from them so they can look you in the eye and talk about the issues. If you’re dealing with a man, sit down next to him shoulder to shoulder and spread out the materials such as charts and graphs in front of you both.
When you lack an understanding of a client’s history, traditions and often language, you need to work harder at building a bridge so that client feels respected, heard and understood. While it is true that people of different ethnicities have differences in the way we perceive and deal with money, a simple truth is that most people have similar financial goals. They want to be able to live in a safe and healthy community, they want to provide for their children and ensure they have opportunities to live their dreams, and they want to retire with dignity knowing they will be able to enjoy their senior years with sufficient financial resources to meet their needs.

There are distinct differences between clients of Muslim, Jewish, Indian, Japanese or Chinese origin. For example, in Arab cultures, taking care of extended family members is a top priority. They are expected to share the profit from commercial activities with members of their family. In addition, Islam reinforces the social safety net by obliging Muslims to care for widows and orphans and provide charity to less fortunate members of the community.

The Jewish had no concepts of retirement. They would dismiss as meshugah (crazy) the idea of quitting work once they reached some abstract milestone. Play golf for the rest of their life? They wanted to keep working until they died! In the meantime, they gave generously to Jewish organizations and invested in Israel Bonds.

The Indians have a huge appetite for saving. They tend to put money aside without compartmentalizing it for a purpose such as education ore retirement. Investment choices are usually conservative. Indians are cost conscious, but not misers. The Chinese have a deeply entrenched and historically justified sense that the world is unsafe, hence they have a high saving rate in a defense against uncertainty. Though the Japanese tend to be risk-adverse, many have learned the advantages of diversifying.
An advisor should obviously not take for granted the savings and spending behaviour of a Muslim, Jewish or Asian-American client. The best approach to working with clients from a different culture starts with complete awareness and openness to learning or what Zen practitioners call a “beginner’s mind”. To help open you mind and heart, you can consider the following advise.

1. Be ready to learn, not just to teach.
2. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
3. Develop a longer term perspective.
4. Let clients know you’ve heard them.
5. Avoid making assumptions.
6. Practice tolerance, but know your limits.
7. Don’t be a stranger.
How do people change ?

Stage 1 : Precontemplation
This is the denial stage : the client hasn’t yet admitted that a problem exists.  If you ask pointed questions or suggest actions that the client can take to change a behaviour that she doesn’t see as problematic, you will probably be seen as a “bad guy”. This is a time for gentle exploration, consciousness-raising and information gathering about the issue at hand, with the goal of encouraging her to move to next phase.
Stage 2 : Contemplation
At this point, the client is thinking, “Maybe I do have a problem with spending but I am not ready to do anything about it. I work hard and aren’t I entitled to enjoy life a little?” If you want to intervene effectively, you need to ask consciousness-raising questions. Try to help clients look at their habit or behaviour and being seeing whether or not it serves them well. Example you can help ask questions :

  1. Why am I behaving like this?
  2. What are my underlying needs?
  3. What is the effect of this habit on me? on others?
  4. How would others around me react if I change?
  5. How would I feel if I changed?

Empathy, warmth and conservative input from others can be helpful during this phase. But emotional arousal may sometimes mean shock a client out of complacency. Example an overweight person in denial whose doctor inform her that extra pounds would shorten her life.

Stage 3 : Preparation
Emotional arousal and self-reevaluation continue in this phase and commitment to action begins. The client acknowledges the existence of a problem that need to be addressed and resolved. At this stage, he or she is getting ready to do something about it, much as athletes visualize or rehearse a move in their heads before committing themselves to act.
Stage 4 : Action

This phase involves beginning a new behaviour or eradicating a negative habit. Your client can exercise environment control example cut up some membership rewards or cancel catalogues. It is helpful for clients to reward themselves for sticking to it.

Stage 5 : Maintenance

At this stage, there must be regular consultations to ensure they are moving towards their goals. For instance, a program for a now-recovering overspender might include weekly Debtors Anonymous meetings and coaching, counselling, or therapy to explore more deeply the roots of the problem. She might put a photo of a dream retirement destination in her wallet to remind herself why she is brown-bagging her lunch etc.

Stage 6 : Termination

Not everyone reaches this final stage, which occurs only when the change has been so deeply incorporated into one’s life that it can maintained without vigilant work.

You need to develop a personal anti-stress strategy. These anti-stress strategies can help.
Activity 1 : Move – search you own best form of exercise.
Activity 2 : Meditate – do it regularly.
Activity 3 : Write – many kinds of daily writing help relieve stress.
Activity 4 : Connect  – spend quality time with people who are closest to you often help ease stress.
Activity 5 : Give – being charitable.
Activity 6 : Be with beauty – spending time in beautiful places is a wonderful way to combat tensions.
Activity 7 : Create – nurture your creativity.

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About dailytools

I live in Singapore. Out of impulse, I decide to try out wordpress blog, despite having always blog my daily readings on http://bealovecat.blogspot.com for over the past 2 years.

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