Working with Couples

When you work with married clients you’re not just working with two individuals, you’re working with a team. Recognizing the dynamics of that team – e.g., how they interact, how they understand the other’s experience, how they arrive at decisions – is crucial to your effectiveness.

So how do you do that?

To help your perspective in starting down this path, you may wish to review the 2013 Fidelity Investments Couples Retirement Study (PDF available - Fidelity Couples Survey) which analyzed retirement expectations and preparedness among 808 couples.

A select summary of results - and our take on how they can help enhance your relationships with your clients - are discussed below.

Substantial Disconnect?

A couple of important truths jump out.

One is there is a significant degree of disagreement about hugely important issues with married couples.

Two, there is a tremendous opportunity for advisors who can help couples align themselves around these issues. Doing so not only ensures more effective financial counseling for clients and efficiency for you, it is the best tool for asset retention in the events of divorce or spousal death.

In discussing this research study with my wife (and business partner), our reaction was that in most of our client relationships, the proportion of decisions that are strongly influenced by the woman - regardless of which of them created the most significant share of the wealth - was huge. The consequence being that even if the ultimate decision is called by one, the influence of the other in reaching a decision is a major factor that simply MUST be considered.

Initiating and having conversations with both people to identify and explore their basic values and decision criteria are fundamental and crucial to forging a valuable and trusting relationship.

In addition, as noted on the following graphic from the study, in particular with women, their interests regarding the three major topics could be good catalysts for beginning a discussion. Specific topics are

Recognizing how couples' decisions are so keenly influenced by the "other" (whether they realize it or not) is perhaps more important than the profiling of either individual client.

As always, any questions, challenges, or comments you wish to toss our way are greatly appreciated.