Updated Thursday, April 17, 2014 as of 3:14 PM ET
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Advising Couples over the Lifecycle
Monday, July 1, 2013
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Couple hood is fascinating, frustrating, and not for the faint hearted.  Throw money into the mix and it can be a wild ride.  As a financial advisor working with couples, it is important to appreciate the lifecycles of a couple and how you can help your clients during each phase of their lives together. 

Your job is to assist couple clients in managing money and planning for their financial future. Therefore, understanding how couples operate based on where they are in the circle of life and partnership is important.  You can choose to delve into these areas with your clients if your advising style is to go more in-depth or simply use this knowledge to inform your work.  Either way, couples change and grow over the years.  Their financial planning and investment needs differ, and you need to know where in the couple life cycle they are in order to counsel them successfully. 

Let’s look at the second stage of couple hood, committed love.  It follows the honeymoon phase where couples seldom talk about money, unless they have been previously married or come from a family of wealth.  It is not until they make a commitment that working together to manage their money becomes a focal point.  When it does, here is what you can expect.

Committed Love

In the past, a couple stood in front of their family and friends on their wedding day and declared their love publically by legally getting married.  It was the socially accepted way to enter the phase of committed love.  However, modern couples have other options these days including living together, raising a family, and remaining legally separate entities.  As the definition of committed love shifts, the couples you see in your advisory office may look different than in the past.  This makes your job as a financial advisor more interesting and challenging as the legalities and financial nuances are unique to each couple. 

At the committed love stage of couple hood, clients come to see advisors to help them figure out how to financially plan for the future.  Emotionally this is a phase of increased intimacy for the couple with money often being the next frontier in their journey.  These couples may need your assistance figuring out how to properly manage money or simply talk about what is going to work now that they are a team.

What a couple wants may change and shift over time.  Therefore, a couple-friendly advisor periodically explores how each partner views the current financial arrangement.  Ask questions such as:

  • How did you originally decide to manage money as a couple?
  • How does this arrangement currently feel to you now that you have been practicing it for a while?
  • What story have you made up about your partner’s role in the finances?

These inquiries tap into unspoken thoughts one or both partners might have about their finances.   Because committed partners are notorious for making faulty assumptions about their mates, the data needs to be collected.  By uncovering this information, you are helping your clients verbalize their concerns and clearly communicate what feels most comfortable to them and why. 

Because talking about money is often a new skill for committed couples, this is a place where you can provide tons of value to your clients.  All that is required is a healthy dose of curiosity. So sit back, ask the questions, and then just listen.

In future posts, the needs of couples at other life stages will be explored. 

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert and founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including “How to Give Financial Advice to Women” and “How to Give Financial Advice to Couples,” both published by McGraw-Hill.   For more information, visit kbkwealthconnection.com.

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