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Playing Money Mediator

Clients can be happily married and still disagree about their investments. Here's how to "broker" the conflicts.Tim is an aggressive investor. He wants high-risk, high-return stocks, tech stocks and dot-com stocks. He dreams of earning 23 percent to 30 percent a year.Jane, Tim's wife, is much more cautious. She wants to invest in blue-chip stocks, bonds and Treasury bills. She is quite happy with

Clients can be happily married and still disagree about their investments. Here's how to "broker" the conflicts.

Tim is an aggressive investor. He wants high-risk, high-return stocks, tech stocks and dot-com stocks. He dreams of earning 23 percent to 30 percent a year.

Jane, Tim's wife, is much more cautious. She wants to invest in blue-chip stocks, bonds and Treasury bills. She is quite happy with a return of 7 percent or maybe even 9 percent.

Tim and Jane are meeting with their broker and the fireworks are about to start.

"Because of her, I've missed a lot of the game," Tim grumbles. "She's indecisive. I've run out of patience waiting to get her blessing on a lot of great opportunities."

Jane counters, "When it comes to investing, he's impulsive, reckless and irresponsible."

Suddenly, the broker is not only trying to manage a diverse portfolio, he's also in the uncomfortable position of arbitrating a family's serious money squabble. What's a rep to do?

Dissolving Discord For starters, don't take sides, says Kathleen Gurney, an expert in the study of psychology and money.

Gurney, founder and CEO of Financial Psychology Corp. in Sonoma, Calif., says the couple needs to work out the issue on their own. But the broker can facilitate that discussion to a point.

"Discuss compatible traits first, stressing what they have in common, and then point out their differences, which might surface within their comfort levels and the risks involved," Gurney says.

A good way to work it out is to let both partners win. "For example, a couple might agree on a goal or overall strategy but each partner could maintain a small percentage of the portfolio to match [their style]," Gurney says.

That's what Tim and Jane (not their real names) did as clients of Kelly Kennedy, a branch manager at Raymond James Financial Services in Denver. Sixty percent of their portfolio was entrusted to Kennedy with discretionary power to invest in areas of "moderate risk," while each partner took 20 percent to do with as he or she chose. Kennedy says both are pleased--Tim is now happily investing, while Jane is actively researching the safe, stable sectors.

In an effort to ease the "showdown" in front of the broker, Gurney developed Moneymax, a profiling system that identifies which of 13 traits drives a person's money management style ( Some styles are achievers, hunters, money masters and safety players. The program is available to reps through a licensing agreement. Gurney claims Moneymax can help a broker understand the risk tolerances of the two married people so all three can approach investing options without judgment.

"Generally, people don't deal rationally with money," Gurney says. "The arguments are not typically about money but about some underlying emotional issue. Direct the conversation to their financial goals. A broker shouldn't have to be a therapist or referee."

Even so, Kennedy usually finds that one partner tends to be dominant. However, the couple must find common ground. "You need to build a financial plan that combines both attitudes without going to either extreme," she says. "Try to meet in the middle."

A Salomon Smith Barney broker in the Southeast says the first thing he does with married clients is have them write out a list of specific goals. Then, he brings together a portfolio based on the clients' objectives, risk tolerances, time frames and other factors.

"When you have a couple that disagree, you've got to get them to agree on something," the SSB rep says. "Usually retirement at a certain age and a specific income with a guaranteed annual raise is a good start."

Determining those basics and building a portfolio accordingly is a strategy that satisfies both partners. It ensures that certain goals will be accomplished, which makes the conservative person happy. And any money beyond that is seen as "gravy," which the aggressive partner likes.

"You must meet that standard before you start restructuring the portfolio to meet anynew goals," the SSB rep says. "I always refer back to the clients' original statement on goals and objectives before I let them take on more risks."

Setting Up Separate Accounts Jill Bradley, a First Union Securities managing director and broker in Louisville, Ky., uses a questionnaire based on modern portfolio theory to determine risk tolerance and asset allocation.

"If they're serious about going forward with an investment portfolio, they are going to have to agree--either safe or sexy," Bradley says. "I can mediate and present options, but it has to be their joint decision. If they cannot agree on levels of risk, they won't have a joint account."

Maintaining separate accounts is certainly not a bad thing. Bradley notes that about 40 percent of her clients have separate accounts. "They're popular among the wealthier," she says. "But still in many cases, it's 'he says, she says.' He wants only stocks. She wants only bonds."

Bradley knows what she's talking about. She and her husband, Mike, a broker in the same office, maintain a joint investment account and separate retirement accounts.

"It keeps the peace because we can invest any way we want without seeking input from the other," Bradley says. "And we disagree on where to put retirement funds. But when it comes to making a [nonretirement] investment with the Jill-and-Mike money, we need a consensus."

"When two people have philosophical differences that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, you need separate accounts within one portfolio," says a PaineWebber broker in the Midwest. "They can compare notes and agree on goals, but there should not be a co-mingling of moneys."

Keeping the dollars apart can help keep the couple together, the rep says. "If one partner is aggressive and takes a businessman's approach and the other wants to put it all in a bank or CD, you'll need separate accounts just to have a sense of calm in the marriage."

Regardless of the number of accounts the money is divided into, the PaineWebber rep is sure to remind clients of the fact that it's shared money. "Remember, your partner owns half," he notes.

A couple with differing risk tolerances should have three separate accounts--a core account, a fixed-income account and an aggressive stock account, the PaineWebber rep says. "That way, if the aggressive side of the portfolio blows up, we won't lose the entire client relationship," he says.

While the situation of disagreeing spouses seems somehow troublesome, it's really not unlike a typical investment discussion with any client. As the PaineWebber rep says, "It all comes back to the question: What are your goals ... and what is the most comfortable investment strategy for you to achieve them?" The only difference is that the "you" includes two people.

Ideally, you want to design investment portfolios for clients like Ozzie and Harriet. However, you can end up dealing with couples that more closely resemble Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in "War of the Roses."

Yet if a couple is serious about creating a joint account, they will have to come to an agreement. There are ways you can facilitate that process. Here are some suggestions from brokers and a psychologist experienced in dealing with disagreeing marriage partners:

* Parrot back what you hear them saying. "I believe you said you'd like me to notify both of you when ... "

* Don't make decisions for them that may backfire. Instead ask, "How do you want to deal with ... "

* Make sure everybody is communicating--both partners to each other and you to both partners.

* Don't discount the woman's role. She's probably the one in the family that writes the checks and pays the bills each month. She needs to be involved in investing.

* Focus on the couple's goal. "Your team's ultimate goal is ... " And refer to it often.

* Don't take sides. Listen.

* Remember, silence is powerful. Use open-ended statements and one of them will talk.

* Spend quality time upfront with a couple. Getting to know them may give you some insights into their money differences.

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