How to help your clients help their aging parents

Your clients’ communications with their aging parents can have a big impact on their peace of mind as well as their financial plan. A family meeting is one way to improve communications, as described by Bob Mauterstock of Gift of Communication in “Breaking Down the Barriers: Helping Your Clients Help Their Parents” at the annual conference of the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts on May 16, 2013. As a financial advisor, you can help clients by suggesting they organize a meeting. You can even facilitate the meeting, said Mauterstock.

The family meeting can break down the generation gap and the communication gap, said Mauterstock. Your clients and their parents may not find it easy to talk. Parents belong to a generation where emotions or money weren’t discussed. They may also shun the online communications favored by younger generations. Face-to-face communication may work best for them.

Family meeting participants

The family meeting should take place face-to-face and involve both aging parents and all of their children, said Mauterstock. Don’t leave out anyone. You’ll probably find that one child is the alpha child, most trusted by the parent. In an interesting twist, Mauterstock, who is an only child, looked to his wife as their “alpha child,” needing her endorsement of his suggestions.

Also involve a facilitator as a neutral party. When financial advisors act as facilitators, they can be heroes to their clients, said Mauterstock.

Family meeting agenda

Start with values, not valuables, in your family meeting, advised Mauterstock.

Be aware that aging parents want to maintain control over their lives. Tread carefully. Anything that threatens control will cause parents to shut down.

Start with the parents’ emotional issues. They are wondering:

  • How will I maintain control over my life?
  • How will I be remembered by my children and grandchildren?
  • What do I want to get done whether I’m alive or not?

Other topics for discussion include legal, healthcare, and financial issues as well as the details and location of other key information.

Other resources

Mauterstock is the author of Can We Talk? A Financial Guide for Baby Boomers Assisting Their Elderly Parents. He blogs at Among the books in his extensive resource list was David Solie’s How to Say It to Seniors.

Lesson from sales training

Marketing that focuses on the client, not the seller, is the most effective. The following story, told by Dave Dyer about his training as a rookie salesman supports this point.

The trainer said that you should assume that the prospect you are talking to is saying to himself “What’s in it for me?” during your presentation.  Then, we had a class exercise where each salesperson had to do a presentation to the rest of the class while all the other students interrupted him with comments like, “Who cares?  So what? What’s in it for me? Why should I care about that?”

As you can imagine, the students had lots of fun giving every presenter a hard time and the lesson sure stuck with me.  The product is not important; the prospect only buys what he thinks the product will do for him.

Before you brag about your firm, services, or products, you’d do well to consider this lesson.

If you like how Dyer tells stories, check out his latest book, Steel’s: A Forgotten Stock Market Scandal from the 1920s.

Reader challenge: How would YOU answer this challenge to client trust?

Ways to grow and retain your clients’ trust were the focus of Richard L. Peterson’s presentation to the CFA Institute’s Wealth Management conference on March 22, 2013. One of the methods he mentioned was “writing or forwarding articles for clients’ benefit,” which his firm’s research found was also associated with higher rates of business growth. This activity is even more important when market volatility strikes.

Peterson said that you should prepare things to say or written content to forward when market gyrations rattle your clients. List three things you’d use, he suggested.

I imagine that some of you don’t have anything at hand. On the other hand, even the best-prepared wealth managers may be wish to learn from what their peers have prepared. These thoughts prompted me to write this challenge for my readers.

What’s on YOUR list for easing client fears about volatility?

Let’s start a conversation about this topic. Please use the “comments” area below to identify content that would be useful to share during volatile times. You can share something that you’d say, an article you like, or even mention one of Carl Richards’ Behavior Gap sketches that you might use.

If you’d like to learn more about the overall wealth management conference, see my conference notes or the CFA Institute’s social media highlights.

Speak your clients’ language in reports, urges Fortigent’s Welch

Wealth managers’ performance reporting is “shockingly bad,” said Scott Welch, Fortigent’s chief investment officer in “Talk Your Walk: Client Reporting in a Goals-Based Framework,” his March 21, 2013, presentation to the CFA Institute’s Wealth Management Conference.

Reporting is more important than you think

Welch cited statistics showing that reporting is important for both high net worth and institutional investors. On the institutional side, where the statistics are more straightforward, the following ranked among the top 10 service-related drivers of client satisfaction:

  • Clarity of investment reports
  • Timeliness of investment reports
  • Reporting capabilities of website

Even more impressive was Fortigent’s experience with reporting, as reported by Welch. He discussed a case when his firm had, for example, $2 million of a $10 million portfolio, but provided consolidated performance reports on the $10 million. Within 24 months, his firm routinely captures 100% of assets in cases like this. The ability to offer advice on the entire portfolio is unbeatable, he said.

Use behavioral finance in reporting

Welch suggested that advisors take advantage of the lessons of behavioral finance. You should redo your reports in a way that speaks to the way that clients think and feel.

With clients who have enough wealth, Welch suggested dividing their portfolios into goals-based buckets and reporting performance by bucket. Welch’s pyramid, adapted from the work of Ashvin Chhabra, starts at the bottom with a layer of Personal Safety/ Minimum Wealth/ Lifestyle Maintenance, followed by Market Participation, and topped off by the Aspire level. He also described the Aspire level as “This is money you can roll the dice with.”

Some advisors tell clients they they’re managing their assets to achieve goals, but then they give clients performance reports organized by accounts, not goals. If you’re doing that, you’re not really delivering goals-based investing, in Welch’s opinion. “All you’re doing is you’ve slicked up your sales presentation,” said Welch. Instead, you need to make your reports align with your clients’ goals. This would be easy if each account were dedicated to one goal, but that rarely happens. Still, there are technology solutions out there, said Welch, although he did not name names.

Part of the solution involves adding another level of categorization to data. Go beyond security and asset classes to use super-classes in line with the pyramid’s three levels, suggested Welch.

The benefits

Use goals-based reporting to communicate and you’ll have better, deeper conversations with clients, said Welch. This will also improve your client retention.



Email vs. call vs. meeting with clients

Should you email clients or use some other form of communication?

In my opinion, it depends on client preferences, the nature of your communications, your strengths as a communicator, and your schedule. My thanks go to @Tbmanning who raised this issue in response to my question about email challenges for advisors.

Ask for client preferences

Ask your clients what type of communication they prefer. It’s great service to provide information in the manner they desire. Of course, if you have many phone-loving clients, this may not always be practical.

Consider the nature of the communication

The flurry of advisor phone calls during the 2008-2009 market downturn reflected the importance of “live” interactive communications about serious topics. On the other hand, you can’t get a form signed on a voice call, so send the form electronically or pull it out in person.

Play to your strengths

If you’re a smooth talker with horrible spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills, then you should favor the phone. On the other hand, if it’s hard to raise your voice above a whisper, go for written communications.

Work with your schedule

I know advisors who have 300+ clients or are so highly scheduled they can’t communicate until late at night. If you’re one of those advisors, you’ll need to favor emails or U.S. mail more than your peers.

YOUR tips?

If you have tips on picking the right form of communication, please share them in the comments.


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Your investment performance reports are failing you

Sending inadequate performance reports to your firm’s clients can hurt your client retention, says Philip Lawton in Middle Office: Managing Financial Institutions in Turbulent Times

Too many numbers is a common flaw. Clients also need narrative explanations, says Lawton. In my experience, some people can quickly grasp the significance of a chart or table. Most people will benefit from explanation, especially an explanation that highlights the most important data.

Charts that are “busy and unattractive” are also a problem, Lawton says. He suggests that you hire a graphic designer to work with your performance analysis to fix this.

“…over time, ill-designed reports and poorly delivered explanations may damage relationships and erode trust,” concludes Lawton.

Jan. 22 comment by Philip Lawton:

It’s hard to get performance reporting right, but seeing it—and helping compliance officers see it—in the context of client relations can make a difference. Retail clients may be relatively unsophisticated, but institutional clients are typically very busy, and both need clear, meaningful communications. Performance reports must, of course, be complete enough not to be misleading, but too many numbers tend to elicit too many words of explanation; the result may be frustration and, ironically, incomprehension. That’s not the desired outcome!

Marketing communication notes from #fpaexperience

Here are some highlights from sessions I attended at FPA Experience 2012, the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference, in San Antonio, Texas. You’ll notice my notes focus on marketing and communication, even when that wasn’t the speaker’s focus.

Client engagement, according to Julie Littlechild

Truly engaged clients are the clients who will refer business to you. While 84% of clients in Advisor Impact’s surveys say they are comfortable making referrals, only 2% provide referrals to people who actually make it into your office to meet with you, said Julie Littlechild, CEO and founder of Advisor Impact, in her presentation on “Cracking the Code: Tactics That Drive Engagement and Growth.”

The best and most frequent referrals come from clients who see someone with a need for financial advice that you can meet. At least this is how I interpreted Littlechild’s words.

Littlechild got me thinking that consistently blogging about a financial challenge specific to a narrow target audience is a good way to guide referrals. Your blog helps your clients identify the problems you’re best at solving. Plus, your blog posts will boost your credibility with your new prospects.

For more on research by Advisor Impact, see Littlechild’s article, “4 Ways for Advisors to Better Engage Clients,” which originally appeared in the October issue of Investment Advisor magazine.

Tailor your written communications, says Zywave CEO

Advisors are missing opportunities to deepen their connections with their clients, according to Jim Emling of Zywave in “Expanding Your Firm’s Potential with Compelling Communication.”

Advisors need relevant content delivered at the right time via a medium that will reach clients, said Emling. This is a common sense approach that isn’t often practiced, he added. This is a big issue for advisors’ Generation X clients. More than 40% of them are less than “very satisfied” with current communications from their advisors, according to Emling.

Here are some of Emling’s ideas for boosting your communications:

  1. Send communications driven by life events like having a baby — When Emling’s wife had a baby, he “never heard a peep” from his advisor.
  2. Send a series of communications focused on specific client goals, such as managing a problem with debt.
  3. Send communications that go into more detail on new ideas introduced in meetings — Emling had no idea what ILITs were when his advisor introduced them in a meeting. He would have appreciated a follow-up explaining ILITs in writing.
  4. Figure out your clients’ pain points so you can focus your communications on those topics.
  5. When you target younger clients, you may also need to target different referral sources.

By the end of October 2012, Emling’s company is launching Advisor Briefcase, software to help advisors deliver targeted communications.

Engaging women in money discussions

The need to engage your clients and prospects ran through many of the sessions I attended at FPA experience. I was intrigued by Elizabeth Jetton’s discussions of the need to find better ways to empower and engage women. Jetton is a co-founder of Directions for Women.

Engage women with you, so they can see the value of your guidance and you can increase their financial literacy and well-being, said Jetton. She uses circle gatherings of five to 20 women and conversation cafes of larger groups to foster interactions where everyone, even an expert, shares stories.

During her discussion of these techniques, Jetton made some comments that relate more broadly to communications:

  1. Stories help people learn. When a story is told, the whole brain focuses.
  2. Don’t ask people to process more than three to four pieces of information at once.
  3. People use their guts to select you as their financial advisor, and then they rationalize it.
  4. Clients like to hear advisors’ stories and to know that you’re human and imperfect.

I think #3 speaks to why blogging, social media, and showing some personality in your writing are so important.

In case you’re interested in learning more about circles, either Jetton or Directions for Women plans to publish an e-book, Guide to Circle for Advisors.

FPA Experience through my eyes

Here are more of my blog posts inspired by FPA Experience:

3 ways to speak plainly while giving financial advice

I love plain English.  So I was delighted to find a section called “Speaking in Plain English” in How to Give Financial Advice to Women: Attracting & Retaining High-Net-Worth Female Clients by Kathleen Burns Kingsbury. I’ve known the author since at least 2010, when she guest-blogged for me about “Five Tips for Delivering Bad News to Clients.”

Kingsbury suggests three ways to improve your in-person communications with clients.

1. Work with a partner

Work with a partner, suggests Kingsbury, following a method suggested by Jennifer Moran of Daintree Advisors. If you present to the clients while your colleague observes, your colleague can “be on jargon patrol” and watch for signs of client confusion, she says.

Your partner’s polite request for clarification of jargon, “allows the client to save face.” It’s probably a bit awkward for your colleague to attend strictly as an observer, but you could switch roles for part of the meeting.

If you attend enough meetings using this approach, I imagine that you’ll gradually improve your use of plain English.

2. Record some client meetings

Sometimes it’s not practical to bring a colleague to meetings. In that case, ask some clients if you can record meetings. Phrase your request carefully, so you don’t alarm them. “Explain that the purpose of the tape is to improve your communication skills and that it will be kept in confidence and promptly destroyed after it is reviewed,” says Kingsbury.

Later, listen critically to the tape. When you notice jargon, think about how to explain those ideas better the next time.

To take Kingsbury’s approach one step further, I suggest you test your plain English explanations on family members or friends who are not experts.

3.  Empower clients to stop you

“. . . empower your clients to stop you when you use words or concepts they are unfamiliar with,” suggests Kingsbury. In an email to me, she provided some suggestions about how to word the request.

In the financial field we use a lot of jargon. While I try not to do this in client meetings, sometimes I forget.  Please let me know if there is anything we discussed that you don’t understand or that you would like me to explain again.

Another way is to say,“We covered a lot today and I have a bad habit of talking in technical terms. I know you are very smart, but I want to make sure you understood what I covered today. Is there anything that you would like to go over again or have me explain in non-technical language?



Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Kingsbury. At a quick glance, this book looks like a practical resource for advisors to women. It’s scheduled to become available on September 7, 2012, but you can pre-order on Amazon.

Nice analogy for asset allocation

A good story or analogy can boost the power of your communications. It will linger long after the rest of your conversation fades.

I like the following example, which I found in “Tuning up implementation of modern portfolio theory” by Scott MacKillop:

Now let’s talk about combining managers in portfolios. The legendary football coach Knute Rockne said: “As a coach, I play not my 11 best but my best 11.”

This is how we should build portfolios.

I’m no football fan. I won’t even watch the Super Bowl. But this quote resonated with me because it makes the point that it’s how  your players—or portfolio holdings—work together that’s more important than how the players perform individually. For example, you’ll typically be better off with a well-diversified portfolio of complementary holdings than with a bunch of top-performing stock funds.

I threw my copy of Investment News, where this appeared, into a file in my office so I could share it with you.

As you write about how you manage money, look for analogies like this that concisely convey a lot.


Note: This post, originally published in 2012, was expanded on Dec. 9, 2022.

POLL: When is it okay to write “equity market” instead of plain English?

I change “equity market” to “stock market” tens of times every three months when I edit asset managers’ quarterly investment performance reports. Am I doing the right thing? The answer isn’t as clear as I, accustomed to clients who invest solely in stocks, initially thought.

Equities vs. stocks

Some of my wise colleagues on LinkedIn gently reminded me that equities include both publicly traded investments – meaning “stocks” – and privately traded investments, such as private equity or venture capital. So, there are times when “equity market” is more accurate than “stock market.” If market strategists’ comments cut across these investments, they might prefer the term “equity market.”

Plain English is easier to understand

While “equity market” is technically correct, I prefer to use plain English. I figure most of the time “stock market” is inclusive enough. For example, a friend pointed out that many stock mutual funds may use derivatives, which are not “stocks” in the narrowest sense of the word. However, I figure the portfolio manager’s market commentary isn’t going to dig down to the level of derivatives, so it’s fine to refer to it as “stock market” commentary.

Even if a writer digs beyond stocks, I’d prefer not to use the term “equity.” After all, many Americans’ only association with the term is “home equity.”

SEC chairman’s high standard for financial disclosures

I’m railing against “equity” because, as I said in “The Levitt Test for financial risk disclosures,” I agree with the following statement by former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt:

For the language of financial disclosure, we need to raise the standard from “potentially understandable” to “impossible to be misunderstood.”

I wish I could offer you a sleek, plain English alternative to “equity market” that incorporates more than just stocks. My first thought is to list the forms of investment under discussion, such as “stocks, hedge funds, and private equity.”

If you have a better idea, I’d like to hear from you.

Please vote in my poll

Please vote in the poll that appears in the right hand column of this blog.

Question: When is it okay to write “equity market” instead of plain English?


  • Never
  • Only when the corporate style guide requires “equity market”
  • Only when your discussion includes more than stocks
  • Whenever you please
  • (Add your own answer)

What’s the scoop outside the U.S.?

I’m mainly familiar with U.S. practices. A European LinkedIn colleague told me that in the United Kingdom they use “shares” instead of “stocks.” I welcome any comments on practices outside my home country.