Some memorable exchanges with clients

I’m always pleased when clients are comfortable enough to let me in on parts of their personal lives. Sometimes I may be able to offer some useful advice; most often I just listen supportively.

One client (who will remain nameless) told me that a sexual harassment claim had been made against him at work. “I’m so upset by this, I can’t sleep anymore. I haven’t said anything to my wife.”

“This is outside my area of professional expertise,” I told him. “But I think you should tell your wife.”

“You’re probably right,” he replied. “That’s what my therapist told me, too!”

FORMER COLLEAGUES

A colleague from a previous job (before I became a financial adviser) called about financial planning. “But I need to know that you won’t tell anyone in my office that I’m seeing you. I don’t want my co-workers to think I’m so bad with money that I needed professional help.”

I assured her that of course I would keep everything she told me — including the fact that she had come to me — confidential.

About six months later, someone else from the same office called for an appointment. “But I need to know that you won’t tell anyone in the office that I saw you. I don’t want my co-workers to think I’m so rich that I needed help managing my money.”

THINKING OF MOVING TO INDEPENDENT LIVING FACILITY

Rose started with me when she was 85. She was dynamic and fun to work with. Her husband had died almost 15 years before. She ran a small business out of her house. She had taken the furniture out of her dining room and put in worktables, and a few employees came to work at her house.

She was thinking of cutting back and moving to a local independent living facility where several friends already lived, and she asked me to help her evaluate the financial aspects of that move.

We met several times. I determined that she could easily afford the buy-in and monthly fees. We worked on filling out the financial application, which I thought she was going to submit. Then she called and asked to come in again. She was now thinking of staying in her house or moving to a condo.

We were in the middle of modeling those options when she said, “I think I know you well enough to tell you this.”

I had no idea what was coming next. I gave a general reply along the lines of, “I’m always happy to listen.”

“Well,” Rose said. “I’ve met a man. Actually, I’ve known him a long time; he and his wife were friends of my husband and me. She died around when my husband did. He’s a few years older than me. He and I had just been friends but lately we’ve gotten a little romantic and I don’t know where it will go. If we get married, then of course my living arrangements will change.”

“I wouldn’t live with him without getting married, though,” she continued. “I guess I’m just old-fashioned in that way. Not to say I wouldn’t have sex with him, just that I wouldn’t move in with him!”

I hunted for something to say in response to that. “That’s … exciting!”

In the end, Rose did marry him. They bought a lovely new condo together, with space for her to continue her work (though without the desks in the living room for her employees). She had more money than he did, and she was concerned that his potential medical and long-term care expenses could deplete the inheritance she wanted to leave to her own children. I sent them to a trusted insurance broker to consider long-term care insurance or life insurance (or a combination of both) for him to protect her assets.

They lived together for 10 years, until his death. She died a few years later.

WORKING WITH A SOCIAL WORKER

A social worker client made what was perhaps the most touching comment. She was close to retirement and worried whether she would have enough money. By the end of our initial meeting, I knew it was going to be tight. I thought I could help her, but I felt she really couldn’t afford my rates so I decided to bill her very lightly.

At our next meeting, I showed her my analysis and gave some recommendations on investments and Social Security claiming strategies that could improve her outcome. I also gave her my bill.

I had quoted her an hourly rate for planning, so I couldn’t discount that, but I managed to omit enough hours to keep the total charge around $950, which was a substantial discount. Still, I was anxious presenting my statement, fearing it would still be a lot for her.

She took out her checkbook and started writing me a check. As she handed it to me, she said “Best thousand dollars I ever spent.” I was relieved … and delighted.

[MORE: Ask follow-up questions to better serve client needs]

Michael Broad is a financial planner and investment advisor in Newton, Massachusetts. Got a good client story or problem you’d like to see in a future column? Email Michael Broad.

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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.

Andrew Vincent
Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He's also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.
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