"Even if clients aren’t older or cognitively impaired, our industry is very confusing,” says financial advisor Emily Drake.

But with senior clients, who have an increased likelihood of memory, comprehension or other health issues, clearly communicating financial planning concepts may be an especially daunting challenge for advisors.

It’s important to know all the other professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, who work with your clients, as well as their family members and relatives, says Drake, partner and senior advisor at Fairport Asset Management in Cleveland. That way, if there are ever communication concerns, advisors can bring in others to help clarify information going in any direction.


Above all, keep it simple, advisors say. Rather than overwhelming clients with mountains of paper they’ll never read, offer them summaries – and make sure they understand them.

If there are complex topics, break them down into several parts, says advisor Lauren Locker. Pause at the end of each part to recap what's covered – and to make sure that the client is with you at each step of the way.

It can be helpful to ask a client to verbally summarize the major takeaways at the end of any conversation. So it doesn't sound like a quiz, Locker suggests advisors say they just want them to go over the points "to be sure we're on the same page."

In larger presentations, such as a complete financial plan, it's often best to split the meeting into several parts, on different days, with no single segment running longer than an hour, says Locker, whose New Jersey firm, Locker Financial Services, set up an "ElderLife" unit in 2008 to deal with financial issues of the aging.


Always try to plan meetings for times when older clients are most alert, Locker adds. For seniors, that's often early in the day. Advisors can help to focus concentration by eliminating office distractions, says Locker. "A calm, neutral but welcoming, setting works best," she says.

Visual reinforcement of important points can also be helpful, especially for clients with hearing impairment, says Ryan Wilson of the AARP's Public Policy Institute. Just make sure that the print is large enough and uncluttered.

Be conscious of the age of staff members who meet with clients, says Drake, who is 56. "I rarely go to a meeting alone," she says, "but I wouldn't have two 30-year-olds in front of an 80-year-old – I think that would be a challenge."


An older client's gender is also something to take into account in client meetings. Drake says that the majority of her surviving spouse clients are women, and their outlooks tend to be different from those of male clients.

"Most women think they’re going to be bag ladies no matter how much money they have," says Drake, who explains that once she demonstrates how they won't meet that fate, they become more comfortable. They are also less interested than men in specifics of their portfolios, says Drake, preferring instead to focus on the larger picture of their financial lives.

Drake, who is also a longtime board member of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland, says that the interest of older female clients in discussing more holistic concerns gives her greater opportunities as a financial advisor.

"I probably get more satisfaction out of working with older women," she says, "just because it's really fun to be in the personal relationship and to help them more in long-term planning."

Paul Hechinger is a New York-based freelance writer.

This story is part of a 30-day series on better serving seniors.