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What Do Current and Future Widows Need from a Financial Advisor?

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss.  The second is remaking a life.”

 -Anne Roiphe

How can you become a champion for widows and a leader in both financial and grief literacy?  Grief leadership is needed now more than ever!  The language of loss was never part of our education yet, learning to authentically communicate in life’s saddest times can build or break down any relationship. 

With Covid, baby boomers aging and the alarming statistics surrounding widow survivors, how can you wait to learn the best practices in connecting with widows so you attract and retain them as life-long clients?  Widows represent one of the fastest-growing market segments for financial planners.  Widows, as a group, are expected to control trillions of dollars in assets within the next 30 years. They need your help and expertise, now more than ever.   I know I did.

I lost my husband to brain cancer when I was in my thirties raising five children.  I was fortunate to have had a husband that planned well financially.  Unfortunately, this money came from life’s ultimate cost.  He had a life insurance policy, money set aside for the kid’s college and his pension.  However, I had very little understanding about long term financial planning.  Many women are not an equal partner in the financial long term planning, even though most do maintain the household finances.   I didn’t go to these meetings and did not have a relationship with our current financial advisor.

When you are a widow, it is like someone dumped a 10,000 piece financial puzzle in your lap with half the pieces missing.  You don’t even know where to start and can’t find the corner or side pieces.   If you didn’t have an equal part in the financial planning with your financial advisor prior, you don’t even get the picture on the puzzle box.  It is so hard to grieve with so many financial tasks looming.  So basically, if you don’t have a trusted and knowing relationship with your advisor prior to the death of your spouse, why would you start one?  It is like getting married on the night of your first blind date.   You simply won’t stick with this advisor.   

What are you doing now with your current female clients?  Could they be tomorrow’s widow?  We live in a death denying culture even though it is happening everyday.  If you serve women, it’s time to get out of the hushed corner and learn to talk about death, loss and how to rebuild in a very holistic approach.   “Widowhood” is a gender-neutral term for an individual whose marriage has ended because of the death of a spouse. 

However, it is so associated with women because the data is overwhelming.   Here is the sad, sobering news:    

  • The average age of widows is 59.4%…..and she will live at least 15 years on her own.
  • 70% of all married baby boomer wives will experience widowhood
  • 80% of men die married
  • Half of the women over age 65 in the U.S. are widows
  • There are 2800 new widows daily

And then….

  • Many women will be dual inheritors (parent and spouse)
  • At least 70% of widows fire their advisors after the spouse dies

So what can you do now?  From the research, a widow’s experience and a 20 year teachers’ perspective, this is the route best taken:  C.  A.  R.  E.

Communication   (SAY)

Action                  (DO)

Relationship        (BUILD)

Empower            (GROW)

Widows want a holistic approach beyond the numbers.  We want a boutique experience that is tailored to us and our changing needs.  It is not a one size fits all, Amazon approach to buying.  

Communicating

Communicating with widows starts with honing your interpersonal and empathetic skills that lead to deeper connections. We weren’t taught what to say when someone dies.  Our body language tells the story when we don’t feel confident.   A widow needs an advisor that has strong listening skills and demonstrates competence and confidence in grief literacy.  Workshops or training where role play, script practice, and the do’s and don’t of what to say is essential.  If you want to bring your “A” game, saying sorry isn’t enough – it’s been done.  What to say other than, “I’m sorry.”

Action

Let’s talk about what to do.  Action wins every time!  From caring acts and small gestures to getting paperwork organized into now, soon and later are a few things to start considering.  Should you go to the memorial service?  What should you send to the grieving family?   Throughout the year, how often and which dates are the most important to your client.  As I write this, June 3rd is looming.  It is the day my beautiful husband died.  Even after 15 years, it is still so, so hard.  I really appreciate it when people reach out and say the name Jon, and acknowledge the day.  

The paperwork is paralyzing, the decisions daunting and we really need a partner to assist in anything financially related.  There are death certificates, credit cards, passwords, email accounts, life insurance, health insurance, and so on.    Does your company have a bullet list of priorities for the first week, month, 3 months, 6 months after a spouse dies?  Widows do not want a long handbook.  They want a user-friendly shortlist that they can take home.

Relationship

Third on the CARE list is relationship, which in my opinion is the most important.  Widows want you to know them and they want to know you! They need to feel understood, valued and respected no matter what level of financial literacy they possess.  They are not your late client’s wife.  They are your client and they always were.  Create a better client profile for her.  Do you know where she grew up, the age/names of the children, activities, interests, education, family nearby and so on.  I still just roll my eyes at how many times my advisor made mistakes about the names, ages and number of children I have.  This can’t happen.  This won’t get a referral or a second chance at maintaining me as your client.   My world ended, the kids are all I have.

Empower

Lastly, how can you empower your client and help her grow?  There are three key areas that empower her.  Financial education, opportunities to engage with other women/widows and provide resources that she will need moving forward.  Widows want to learn about financial literacy yet oftentimes it can come across as condescending.  Meet them where they are in their understanding of long-term planning.  They also want workshops or events that build community, are socially engaging and fun. Have you considered a short workshop every other month with easy take-home materials?  Finally, a way to empower widows is to provide resources for other trusted professionals, widow support groups and grief literature.  I feel having widow-approved trusted professionals in all areas is vital for this very vulnerable population.  I’m reminded of the first time I bought a car as a widow.  I paid too much, did not negotiate, bought the extended warranty and basically picked it out based on the color.  In fairness, the color was called cashmere!    

So many lessons over the past decade on my own.  The people, professionals, family and friends that are still in my life did one thing.  They showed CARE and did more than what was expected.  

 If you are willing to do more than you are paid to do, eventually you will be paid to do more than you do.

– author unknown

This article is written by Kathi Balasek

 Kathi Balasek is a corporate coach, podcast host, empathy and grief communication consultant, speaker, educator and founder of One Well Widow Podcast. She teaches people how to improve their communication skills to better connect with bereaved humans!

We will ALL experience grief and loss. Grief leadership and communication are critical right now!

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