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Beyond Business - What is Financial Bedside Manner?

Heart outweighs money when put on a scale

We have all been to the doctor. Whether it be a quick visit for an ache or pain, an emergency room trip for an X-ray or set of stitches from a meal prep gone awry, or the unfortunate consult around an upcoming medical procedure. But for most people, what can already be an unappealing thing to do, a doctor’s bedside manner can present confidence, trust and respect in the physician, as well as in the process. (Not to mention the psychological motivation for better healing)

Sometimes it's not about advice, but heart.

As of late, I have thought about this in the realm of financial planning/advising/wealth management (or whatever the title of the the year may be). Much like a visit to the doctor, people visit their advisor looking for help. It may be reviewing their financial plan due to life changes, discussion around their portfolio, or just an annual “check up”. Or they could be visiting to share unfortunate news which warrants a philosophical conversation, not a financial one.

A veteran colleague of mine once said “when someone dies, their family’s first call isn’t always to a funeral home or their attorney. Many times it is to their financial advisor. They handle the money”. And many advisors forget this absolutely pivotal role they play in clients’ lives. This responsibility should not be taken lightly.

As a doctor’s bedside manner can be a game-changer in the treatment and healing process, an advisor’s bedside manner can instill trust, respect and help a family in some of their darkest and most stressful times.

Health and financial stability. If you have these in your life, your foundation is strong. But, according to a recent survey by the CFA institute, only 23% of individuals have trust in advisors vs. 77% that have a high level of trust in their doctors. We have work to do.

Not all of the best decisions in life would be considered the best financial decisions, by a majority advisors. Or mathematics for that matter. But the joy of money doesn’t always come from having more of it.

Humanity and Empathy Must Take Us Beyond Business. This is when Financial Bedside Manner is Paramount.

A client recently came to me looking for advice. Let’s call him Steve. Steve is a successful young man who, in his own words always said “saving money is more exciting than actually spending it”. I was aware of some family health issues that were affecting Steve’s parents (as well as his emotional status) and now he needed to grab a coffee and discuss the recent news. Steve was now a 40 year old man who had just lost both of his parents within 4 months.

He shared with me that he knows the healing process will be tough. He also shared with me that during this time of struggle and loss, he has had time to reflect on life, his parent’s lives and what life means to him.

Steve in no way received a windfall from his parent’s estate, but did inherit enough to trigger a vision of his future and what he finds to be most important. We discussed financial goals, personal goals and developed a financial plan that allows him to sleep at night, knowing he won’t need miracles to achieve what he has set out to do.

Steve witnessed the fragility of life earlier than many. He placed a high importance on experiences over a bigger bank account. He sees the experience as a lesson that many don’t learn until it’s too late.

Just Listen.

I did something that some folks in our industry don’t. I listened. I listened to what meant something to Steve. What he feels will bring him joy without disrupting his long term plan. I could have easily told him to put it all at risk, buy a bigger house, don’t touch the assets, and in turn squeezed a bit more AUM from his relationship. But that is not serving my client in his best interest. It doesn’t help healing, nor build trust. Simply put, it would have been horrible bedside manner.


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