How to Give Financial Advice to Couples: Essential Skills for Balancing High-Net-Worth Clients' Needs




Fact: A startling 70 percent of widows fire the couple's financial advisor within one year of the death of their spouse—the main reason being that the advisor had

failed to develop a trusting relationship with both partners.

You can be the exception by developing the essential...

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How to Give Financial Advice to Couples: Essential Skills for Balancing High-Net-Worth Clients' Needs

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Fact: A startling 70 percent of widows fire the couple's financial advisor within one year of the death of their spouse—the main reason being that the advisor had

failed to develop a trusting relationship with both partners.

You can be the exception by developing the essential skills needed to be a couplefriendly advisor. And Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a leading wealth psychology expert, shows you exactly how to develop these skills.

How to Give Financial Advice to Couples teaches you how to avoid common traps like subtly siding with one member of the couple, failing to plan adequately with

both partners, and sidestepping difficult financial

conversations for fear of upsetting the wealth creator.

A leading wealth psychology expert, Kathleen Burns Kingsbury reveals everything you need to know about the psychology of couples in order to serve them better. Along the way, she offers specific tips and techniques for managing the challenges inherent in advising traditional and nontraditional couples. Kingsbury reveals:

  • The top myths about couples and money
  • The five tenets of couple dynamics and how they unfold in your office
  • Strategies for encouraging the nondominant partner to speak up in meetings
  • Techniques for facilitating financial conversations and mediating differences
  • Tips for empowering couples to raise financially intelligent children

You'll learn how to develop and articulate your couple's philosophy to establish expertise and credibility, how your couple's mindset impacts your work, and how being a couple-friendly advisor will set you

apart from the competition.

This one-of-a-kind handbook is the key to unlocking the secrets to attracting and retaining high-net-worth couples now and after difficult life transitions.

How to Give Financial Advice to Couples gives you the expert insight and proven tools for navigating the unique dynamics of two people planning for their financial


"Why do 70 percent of widows fire their financial advisor upon the passing of their husbands? Kathleen Burns Kingsbury provides the answer. Providing financial advice

to couples is a primary skill that has been overlooked in this profession for too long. Whether or not you hearken to Kathleen’s insights will have a profound impact on

your business, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer." — Mitch Anthony, author of The New RetireMentality

"A must-read text for financial advisors to help them build and grow their practices. Kingsbury's advice will transform the way you work with your coupled clients, making for more satisfying and prosperous advisory relationships." — Eleanor Blayney, Consumer Advocate for CFP Board

"There are four things we were all taught never to talk about: Sex, Politics, Religion, and Money. When it comes to money, the one place where these conversations MUST happen is in your office. That's why you need to read this book—for its insights into how you can help couples start talking about money!" — Carl Richards, author of The Behavior Gap

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071819114
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/13/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,104,000
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is the founder of KBK Wealth Connection, a wealth psychology expert, and an international speaker. She teaches financial services professionals how to connect, communicate, and collaborate more effectively with their clients to increase client retention and improve profitability. Kingsbury is the author of How to Give Financial Advice to Women and the Creating Wealth from the Inside Out Workbook for clients.

For more information, visit

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Read an Excerpt


Essential Skills for Balancing High-Net-Worth Clients' Needs

By Kathleen Burns Kingsbury

McGraw-Hill Education

Copyright © 2014 Kathleen Burns Kingsbury
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-181911-4


The Financial Advisor's Dilemma

Sometimes questions are more important than answers.

—Nancy Willard, American poet and writer

Advising couples is an art, not a science. It requires an understanding of couple and family dynamics and gender differences. As an advisor, you are required to be part mediator, part facilitator, and part objective observer. You can't take sides, even if you want to, and you need to keep your own judgments and opinions as to how a couple should operate out of the picture. Advising couples is challenging and offers its fair share of advisor dilemmas.

Imagine you are sitting in your office with a new couple prospect: a husband and wife who have been married for 10 years and have two children, ages five and seven. They came in to find out how you can help them save enough money to send their children to college and still live the lifestyle they currently enjoy. The husband, the CEO of his own company, does most of the talking, and his wife listens attentively. You assume that she is in agreement with what her husband wants for the family, but you don't ask her directly. You sense that he calls the shots, and you don't want to rock the boat so early in the process. The meeting ends, and you feel pretty confident that this couple will retain you to help them with their financial plan and college saving strategy. A week later, you follow up with a quick e-mail and find out that they decided to work with another advisor. When you ask why, the husband tells you that his wife didn't feel included in the conversation. He states, "She just didn't feel like she could trust you, but I thought your recommendations were spot on."

This is one of many scenarios where you, as the advisor, face a dilemma when meeting with couples. How do you balance her needs with his needs and then also factor in what makes sense for the couple? Do you let the verbally dominant spouse run the meeting? Do you encourage the quiet one to speak up? How do you quickly assess how the couple operates around money and then work with that dynamic? What if one client is more financially literate than the other? Do you cater to the one who is more financially savvy or bring the bar down to accommodate the less literate partner? The questions are endless.

Finding the answers is no easy task. As a financial advisor, you are forced to quickly assess the best tack to take with couples, often without having adequate training in understanding and working with couple dynamics. Chances are you were coached to pay more attention to the male wealth creator than to his wife. The historical belief is that the husband makes the financial decisions for the family and the wife really is not that interested in money management and investments. Although this may be the case with some couples, especially those who are from older generations, it is a risky assumption to make.

Over the past decade, there has been a shift in gender roles in families, making it no longer a given that the husband is the one who is making and managing the money. In 1970, women in the United States contributed 2 to 6 percent to the family income. Now the average American wife contributes 42.2 percent. Furthermore, almost 40 percent of U.S. wives outearn their husbands. Women make 80 percent of household buying decisions, including whom to hire for financial services, even if they do not overtly demonstrate this power in the meeting. Don't be fooled by appearances. A woman may be polite and gracious in a meeting and then, on the car ride home, veto her husband's decision to hire you. Although he may call you to let you know she is the one who doesn't want to work with you, he may be relieved, as he really wants an advisor who will take care of his wife if he dies first. If you don't connect with her as well as him, he may question whether you are the right advisor for the job.

How do you solve this dilemma? The answer lies in learning to develop a relationship with both partners simultaneously and remaining an objective observer of the couple's dynamics with regard to communication, task completion, and money management. Few advisors are trained in these skills or encouraged to develop this type of expertise. The result is that 70 percent of widows fire the couple's advisor within one year of the death of their spouse. What this alarming statistic shows is that the financial services industry is failing to support not only the women they serve, but also the men in the lives of those women. Something is amiss in the advisor–couple relationship if such a high percentage of female clients walk out the door so soon after their husbands or partners are no longer with them.

In my book How to Give Financial Advice to Women: Attracting and Retaining High-Net-Worth Female Clients, I explain that women feel overlooked and discounted by the financial services industry. They don't feel they are being seen and valued as real partners in the management of the family finances. This leads to resentment and a belief that financial advisors cater only to men. Although historically, this may have been the case because the men held the wealth, this is no longer true. In recent years, the industry has started to stand up and take notice of the economic power of women, but it still has a long way to go. Many financial firms have launched initiatives to reach out to the "women's market." This strategy, while well-intended, offends female clients, as these women want to be seen as unique individuals with diverse needs, not members of one big homogeneous group. The idea of a "men's market" sounds absurd. So too is the idea of a "women's market." Other firms mistakenly have decided that female clients' dissatisfaction is an issue to be delegated to women advisors only. This approach ignores the data showing that most women want trustworthy, credible financial advisors and gender is a factor for only a small percentage of these clients. Finally, most financial advising firms have given very little thought to the special needs of women in couples. Given the fact that a large majority of female clients hire financial advisors jointly with their partners, it is vital to develop, implement, and train advisors in best practices for effectively advising women in couples too.

Don't be mistaken. This is not just a women's issue. Men are being left out of the conversation as well. The women I interviewed for this book often complained that their husbands wouldn't go to the financial advisor with them. I also heard from financial advisors who were frustrated, but complacent, with only meeting with the wife. Yes, there is a big problem in this industry when it comes to effectively advising women, but it is only part of the picture when it comes to the failure of the industry to advise couples effectively. This is actually an equal opportunity problem that is not gender specific.

Couples often give good reasons for not showing up together. She needs to work late. He is busy coaching the kid's soccer team. Yes, couples are busy. They often use the "divide and conquer" method of getting things done on the home front. This means that, at some point in time in their partnership, they made an agreement, either overtly or implicitly, to split the tasks. Often this division of labor is based on the skills of each member. For example, my husband fixes all the computer problems in the house, and I handle all the healthcare issues. Why? Because he is very tech savvy and I have a background in healthcare. Did we sit down and make a concrete plan as to who would conquer various tasks in our lives? No. But like most couples, we naturally fall into patterns based on our strengths.

The same phenomenon happens in couples when it comes to managing money. The spouse who is the financially savvy one typically takes the lead. This person, man or woman, tends to talk more in financial meetings and is your primary contact. You may be thinking, what is the problem if it works? The problem is that financial decisions ideally are tied to life goals and aspirations, and one person cannot do the talking for two. Also, when it comes to money, partners are often not honest with each other. An article in Kiplinger's magazine reported that 80 percent of Americans admit that they keep financial secrets from their spouses and significant others. When you are communicating to one spouse, how can you be sure the information is being accurately portrayed to the other when so many clients struggle to be truthful about finances? And even if they are honest with each other, your intent can be easily lost in translation. A couple-friendly advisor requires both members of the couple to be present for these discussions. One without the other is not sufficient.

The other reason couples may not want to meet with you as a team is exactly why they should. Talking about money and finances can be emotional. Many spouses avoid these conversations outside of your office, so why not in your office as well? This is where you can provide value. The number one stressor in many couples' lives is making, spending, and managing money together. Fifty percent of all first marriages end in divorce, many of them because of financial stress. Therefore, couples need to be strongly encouraged to work together financially, to show up at your office as a unit, and to learn to make financial decisions jointly. Although you are not a marriage counselor, you are often the one and only professional who talks to the couple about the sensitive but important topic of money.

Working with couples requires a different skill set from giving financial advice to an individual male or female client. Individual client communication is linear. You ask a question, the client answers. The client speaks, you listen. Easy! However, couples' communication is complicated. Two individuals are talking and sharing a story, each with unique perspectives, money histories, and ideas about what financially makes sense for them individually and together. Sometimes they agree. More often than not, their opinions diverge. Take retirement, for example:

* Fifty-three percent of couples approaching retirement don't agree on the age at which they will retire.

* Forty-seven percent of couples approaching retirement don't agree on whether they will continue to work in retirement.

* One in five couples don't agree on or don't know where they will live during this phase of their life.

Although this is only one aspect of financial planning, it does highlight how working with couples requires an advisor to carefully gather data about how each member of the couple feels about his or her financial future. You must work to help the couple find a solution that both members can live with.

When done well, this type of guidance is invaluable for couples. It increases intimacy in the couple and the likelihood that your recommendations will be successful. It is also a great way for you as an advisor to differentiate your practice in a crowded marketplace. It is unfortunate that many advisors don't work with couples effectively, but it is also a business opportunity for those who do.

Becoming a Couple-Friendly Advisor

Let's face it. It is easier to advise one person than two. What the person in front of you wants is what you provide. You conduct an interview, review the client's financial information, and develop a financial plan and investment strategy to achieve his or her goals. Done!

With a couple, the practice of advising is more complex. You have two people in the meeting, two perspectives about money, multiple life visions, and two risk tolerance levels. Sometimes they overlap quite a bit, and sometimes they don't. Each question has at least two answers, and often the financial solutions lie somewhere in between the answers. Some couples will be forthright and honest when they communicate with you in a meeting. Others will be reluctant to share their opinions for fear of upsetting their partners. It is no wonder that many in the financial services industry prefer to work with just the husband or the wife. It certainly is less challenging.

While working primarily with one member of the couple is more clear-cut, it means that you are getting only half of the story and building a relationship with only one person. You run the risk of not really understanding the financial needs of the couple and making a recommendation that is less effective or, worse yet, inappropriate. You also are in danger of losing the couple client when one of them leaves the picture, either through death or through divorce. Finally, routinely meeting with only one person in a couple raises questions as to whether and how you can fulfill your fiduciary responsibility to the one who is not in the room.

The answer to this quandary is to become a couple-friendly advisor. A couple- friendly advisor is defined as a financial services professional who understands couple dynamics and is able to balance the financial needs of each individual member of the partnership with those of the couple as a whole. Being a couple- friendly advisor requires learning about the psychology of couples and how to work with the dynamics that are inevitably present when advising intimate partners. It also means mastering the communication skills needed to effectively facilitate couple financial conversations so that you can design strategies that serve all parties involved. Finally, it means being comfortable working with traditional couples as well as modern families that may have lifestyles that are vastly different from your own.

The good news is that advisors who skillfully and routinely advise couples find this work very rewarding. It can be deeply satisfying to witness a couple learning to talk more openly about money or figuring out how to resolve their differences to achieve a common goal. In a society that still finds talking about money taboo, being able to assist clients in understanding their money histories and how these impact their current financial habits is gratifying. Often you discover that this is the first time the couple has really discussed what money means to them and shared their thoughts and beliefs with each other. This ultimately increases the intimacy in the couple and the bond of trust and loyalty they feel toward you. At times it requires more effort, but the return on investment is very high. It would be wonderful if the knowledge and skills needed to become a couple-friendly advisor were widely taught in the field. But they are not. Therefore, I have written this book to teach you the skills needed to be successful at advising couples and to hopefully start a movement toward training advisors how to be proficient in this area. Some of this information may confirm what you know to be true intuitively. Other parts may be new to you. By reading the forthcoming chapters, you will learn how to include your female clients in the conversation, how to facilitate meaningful dialogues about money and wealth, and how to assist your couple clients with a variety of financial and life challenges over their lifespans. In the end, you will no longer find meeting with couples more work than meeting with individual clients. Instead you will think, "I can't imagine doing it any other way."


Practicing in a couple-friendly way is not only good for your clients, but good for your business. By attending to both partners' needs in the meeting and including both in the discussion, you decrease the risk of alienating one of the partners, especially the female client. At the same time, you increase the likelihood that her partner will trust you to help her should this person pass first. When a couple hires you and trusts you, you acquire more assets—his, hers, and theirs. Not only is this approach client-centric, but it is also likely to increase the longevity of your business.

Your Next Step: Your Couple-Friendly Quotient

How couple-friendly is your current advising practice? Find out by circling "True" or "False" in the following list. To get an accurate assessment, mark your responses according to your current practice, not based on what you think is the right answer. At the end, find out how to score this assessment to reveal your couple-friendly quotient (CFQ).

Excerpted from HOW TO GIVE FINANCIAL ADVICE TO COUPLES by Kathleen Burns Kingsbury. Copyright © 2014 Kathleen Burns Kingsbury. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents




Section I: The Psychology of Couples          

Chapter 1: The Financial Advisor's Dilemma          

Chapter 2: Myths About Couples and Money          

Chapter 3: Advising and Couple Dynamics          

Chapter 4: The Modern Couple          

Chapter 5: Couples Across the Life Span          

Section II: Essential Skills for Couple-Friendly Advisors          

Chapter 6: Build a Solid Foundation          

Chapter 7: Balance Gender Differences          

Chapter 8: Uncover Money Mindsets          

Chapter 9: Manage Conflict          

Chapter 10: Facilitate Lasting Change          

Chapter 11: Empower Couples to Raise Financially Intelligent Children          

Chapter 12: Special Issues in Advising Couples          



Couple-Friendly Resource Guide          


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