By tapping into the psychology of why many clients resist financial advice, planners can help them conquer self-defeating beliefs that may block financial success.

Brad Klontz, a Hawaii-based psychologist, co-author of Mind Over Money and co-founder and CEO of, gave a talk this past weekend about a variety of tools planners can use to lessen client resistance.

Klontz, speaking at the annual FPA conference in San Diego, also outlined a number of tactics that many planners currently use that actually cause clients to erect mental roadblocks.

The overarching concept that planners need to grasp is that emotions -- not logic -- drive clients' financial decisions, he said.

"If you expect people to be motivated by the facts, you're the one who's irrational," Klontz said. "Your challenge in overcoming resistance is speaking the language of the unconscious mind."

Clients typically come to a planner with ambivalent feelings about wanting to save for later, and a planner's questions and jargon can make the planner a catalyst for inner conflict. And then the client's inner adolescent reacts and resists the planner's advice, Klontz said.

When encountering mental roadblocks to financial advice, planners should ask one of three types of questions, he said. To overcome clients' feelings that they're not important enough to accept the advice, planners should ask, "Tell me what happened to make you feel like things need to change?"

To address clients’ feelings of incompetence, planners should ask, "How about a time when you have successfully overcome a challenge of this magnitude?" To overcome the idea that they are not ready, according to Klontz, planners should ask, "What are you ready to do now?"

"You are helping them do the 'change talk,'" themselves, Klontz said. "When the helper is the one doing the 'change talk,' that's when they resist."

Planners must also learn to speak the language of the "animal" part of the brain that is nonverbal, concrete and sensory -- the part that makes the financial decisions, he said.

It's good to "show" rather than “tell”  in order to tap into the concrete nature of the animal part of the brain, Klontz said.

For example, hold up a tape measure and say that each inch is a year in the client's life. Ask the client how old they are, and then abruptly cut off the number of inches that coincide with their years -- and the tape measure immediately shrinks before their eyes. Then ask at what age they expect to retire and cut those inches as well.  Show them the piece reflecting the number of years they have left to save for retirement -- a fraction of the original size of the tap measure -- and the client's animal brain will react viscerally to the concrete visualization.

In fact, the more a planner can get their clients to visualize their goals with concrete images, the more committed they will be in achieving those goals, Klontz said. He suggested getting them to put up pictures of desired goals on their walls, such as a beach house or exotic places they’d like to visit.

Other strategies that use concrete thinking include having a client name their savings account -- 34% are more likely to save in that account if they do, according to Klontz.  Also, he suggested creating a digital photo age progression -- the kind of montage that can be done with good graphic software -- to the age at which the person will retire. That tactic can cause savings rates to rise dramatically, he said.

Planners should also recommend that clients revisit their savings program on bi-monthly basis -- those that do are 20% more likely to meet their goals, Klontz said.

Clients also respond better to a planner who returns all their phone calls promptly or gives them a personal cell number, because it shows the client is important, Klontz said. Clients need that reassurance, because it's part of the basic "tribal" mentality that rules the animal brain. People want to feel like they belong and that they are not being left behind, particularly by the leader of the tribe -- in this case, their planner, he said.

"It's all about creating that relationship -- where you setting the stage for people to grow, because they want to grow," Klontz said.




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