What Are You Afraid Of?

One of the most difficult situations I’ve experienced in my life was the sudden homelessness of my 88 year mother – driven from her longtime retirement sanctuary in Sanibel, Florida by Cat 4 Hurricane Ian on September 28. For her, truly paradise lost.

Modest spenders, my parents lived off of four annuities and a New York State pension – all benefits from my father’s long academic medical career. They lived below their means and managed to add a bit to their bank account every month for years and more after my dad passed away in 2016.

If you asked my mother at any point in her retirement what she might be afraid of, she would answer, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to live in my home”. She battled the idea of a CCRC on the mainland when I pressed them to have resources for long-term care. My dad thought it was a great idea. He got in trouble with her….but she finally relented with the hostile promise she would never live there.

My mom’s view about the CCRC has changed twice. First when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had a convenient place to receive the care he needed. Second when she realized she will not re-occupy her house. Many of her friends and neighbors are not so lucky – too many lacked home insurance and many more have insufficient resources to fund their longevity.

If We See Something, We Have to Say Something

I watch and interview advisors as they navigate the current marketplace and I am always impressed with the ones that can say really tough stuff to clients but do so in a way that is not offensive.

Walk a Day in Client Shoes

Ponder for a moment a situation when you got good advice you didn’t exactly ask for. Someone stepped forward and gave you advice on a tough topic or in a tough situation. Something you didn’t want to hear or hoped was not true because you sort of knew it was.

Who was it? Trust plays a huge role in providing effective advice on any subject and trust is built on history. History of knowing the person – a relative, family member, a friend – or a professional whose advice has been good.

Get Good at Bad News

How did the person communicate? Did you get a text? “Steve, your insurance coverage is completely inadequate and your asset allocation is all wrong”. Thanks, right? No, they probably talked with you – live – and invited your response. You might have walked away in a huff – but you probably didn’t. Their demeanor was probably serious – but didn’t have to be if you have a good sense of humor.

What did you do? If a trustworthy source communicated openly with you, you probably at least thought about taking action. And you now know there’s an action that someone who cares thinks you should take.

Now we have the headset for asking, “What are you afraid of?” Done right, asking what someone fears is the first step to making them feel safe.

What you say is less important than how you say it. Most communication is non-verbal. Your experience has to be known to be respected. Why you? Why follow?

Have an Opinion

If you are empathetic – and informed – you have the gift of credibility. A great friend and manager used to say that the secret to effectiveness is:

Be available.
Be concerned.
Be informed.
Have an opinion.

Advising clients is not a passive activity. In our world, advice is both a noun and a verb. The best advisors have earned the right to have an opinion.

Fear is Good

Fear – it is said by scientists – is actually a good thing. It energizes the body, sharpens the mind and prepares you to confront what you fear. Being afraid of something doesn’t mean you won’t do anything.

The best advisors channel their clients’ fears into actions. Those fears are often the stimulus to take new steps to match with changing conditions. Like drops in the market or an unexpected health event. A new client fear is actually a call to action – an opportunity for advisors to add value.

Fear Prefers Company

Have your best stories at hand. Ask permission to tell clients about other clients like them, says storytelling master, John Diehl. Bad stuff doesn’t really play favorites – it gets around like wildfire – or mold. It has the 1-2 punch of either a bad impact or bad timing. Or both. Either way, you’ve seen it before with other clients and the newly impacted folks can find some comfort in your experience. So share.

The bottom line is that retirement will always be a new journey for every new retiree. You are the guide by their side who may not see the pothole in the road but you know it’s out there. And you know what to do when it flats the tire.

The real fear most vexing to clients is that many – maybe most – are afraid they will never find you.

Related: Out With the Old Bull, in With a New Bull