On Doing Better for Sudden Money Clients

It was tough for me to read “What Happens When Your Client Suddenly Wins Millions” by Olivia Carville in Financial Advisor magazine (online, and also here). Haven’t we moved forward at all? Are we really still blaming clients for messing themselves up when they experience a sudden money event? Are we really still saying, “Windfalls are tough, people do silly things, and they don’t listen to me. And then they blow the money. I gave them good advice, but they didn’t take it.”

We know better, so we should do better.

It breaks my heart to read this kind of attitude coming from my beloved profession 18 years after Sudden Money: Managing a Financial Windfall hit the shelves. It’s high time for the financial services industry to take some responsibility and learn about the human dynamics of financial change. New Rule: You can’t meet the human challenges of dramatic financial change with a technical change model, and then blame the client when it doesn’t work. I challenge any advisor – regardless of their years of experience and success – to take a life-changing sudden money event in stride. Although I’m sure you have financial literacy, you probably don’t have transitions literacy. And you probably don’t even even realize you need it.

Dealing with sudden money is really about adapting to change.

This is something I grasped only after I wrote Sudden Money. It took years of research in other disciplines to get to the root cause of the many  difficulties sudden money clients were having: adapting to change. Anticipation of a life-changing event, experiencing the actual event, and integrating the event into your life can involve a monumental amount of internal work. And when that work isn’t addressed because no one notices it’s there – screaming to be done – all kinds of things can go sideways. Or worse.

Transition struggles touch every part of human life.

One of the six modules of our Core training at the Financial Transitionist Institute is dedicated to the study of the various struggles (as well as aspects of Flow) that sudden money and other clients-in-transition experience. These struggles affect cognition, communication, identity, and ability to do the simplest daily tasks. They result in social isolation, the breakdown of relationships, mental and physical fatigue, depression, and sometimes a feeling of utter hopelessness during what could be a high point of their lives. Clients deserve better than what they are getting when it comes to preparing for and adapting to major life events. This shouldn’t be treated as some kind of esoteric, niche-y area. Every single client of yours will experience a major life event–a transition event.

Every. Single. One.

Retirement. The death of a spouse or partner. Divorce. Inheritance. The sale of a business. A liquidity event. A legal settlement. Do you have any clients who have not or will not experience at least one of these events? Life is change and it’s about time we do more than pay lip service to that reality. It’s time to provide clients with a safe space and a knowledgeable guide. It’s time we say, “Tell me about your experience” and then listen to their response with generosity and curiosity and without judgment. It’s time to place the client’s human experience in the driver’s seat, and take our cues from them rather than imposing our directions and timelines on them. If you’re ready to learn what makes times of change so challenging for clients and how to most skillfully work with them, join our one-of-a-kind community by applying for Core training. And if an introductory workshop is more your speed right now, you can do that too. Either way, clients-in-transition aren’t going anywhere–unless they’re leaving you for an advisor who better understands what they are experiencing.