For those in the financial services profession, working with grieving families is part of the role. It’s sometimes tricky navigating the quagmire of emotions that can accompany the loss of a loved one.
You want to help and offer comforting words. Yet, death is one of the hardest subjects to broach with a client. It can be easy to slip into platitudes, and many people are terrified of saying something offensive.
Two financial therapists discuss how to respectfully support grieving clients and their families.
“I think so many times — especially when I was young — I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing so I just kind of avoided people who were hurting,” said Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT, director of the Personal Financial Planning masters program at Kansas State University and a member of the Financial Therapy Association (FTA) board of directors.
But, McCoy said, “The key to helping someone who is grieving is approaching them and being there, rather than avoiding. I think the more ways you can be present the better.”
“Everyone grieves differently,” McCoy said. “Sometimes grief brings up more than just sadness. It brings up anger or even relief if it was a long period of suffering.”
She recommends practicing active listening to determine what your clients need most while grieving. “Really taking what we call a ‘not knowing’ stance of seeking to understand what kind of support your client needs is essential,” she said.“Just really being open to reading your client’s cues and being there the way they want you to be there for them.”
In other words, don’t assume you know what’s best. Your personal experiences with grief and how you express it may be very different from how your client mourns. Asking “How can I best support you right now?” can go a long way.
Forms of support
Meghaan Lurtz, MS, Ph.D., a lecturer on financial psychology at Columbia University and past president of the FTA, suggests sending a heartfelt email and or a handwritten card. Take the time to let the client know you are there for them in any way they need.
“Food is never a bad thing to send,” Lurtz said. Delivery services, such as Uber Eats, can be a very useful tool in such situations.
Making a charitable donation in the name of the deceased is a wonderful way to show that you care, especially for a cause that is near and dear to the client.
McCoy expanded on this, advising advisors to let clients know they’re taking care of what they can, such as necessary paperwork. “You, as a financial professional, have so much ability to give them tangible support at this point,” she said.
Grieving is a process that is a part of all our lives, whether we like it or not. It is part of the role of financial professionals to support clients in grief, in whatever form they need. Ask how you can best support the mourning, read the social cues, be ready to back off, keep an open heart and you’ll be ready to support your clients when they need help the most.
For more ways to emotionally support clients
- Mourning lessons
- How to help clients and team members who are struggling emotionally
- Courageous conversations
- Empower women after a spouse dies