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Engaging the Silent Partner

Engaging the Silent Partner

Both partners need to participate if you are going to develop a financial plan for a couple

Roughly one in four couples share in their financial decisions according to a recent UBS Investor Watch study.[1] For the rest, one partner or the other tends to take the lead—or the couple makes separate decisions. That’s a potential problem for advisors, since a financial plan based on input from just one partner may not adequately reflect the couple’s shared goals. “It’s natural for couples to want to divide and conquer when it comes to planning and decision-making,” says Kathleen Burns Kingbury, Easton, Mass.-based author of How to Give Financial Advice to Couples. “In order to create a successful financial plan that meets both of their needs, however, advisors need them both to contribute.” Consider the following you can make sure the couples you work with both have a say:

1. Invite both spouses to the table

“Asking both spouses to your meetings seems like such an obvious suggestion,” says Burns Kingbury, “but a surprising number of advisers just don’t do it.” And when you extend an invitation to a couple, it’s important to explain why having them both there is so valuable. In order to help them make the best decisions for their family, they need to be in the same room.

2. Maintain a balanced conversation

Getting couples into the same room is a good start, but it’s often not enough on its own. There can be a tendency for one partner to dominate the conversation. One way to deal with that potential imbalance: use body language to focus on the less dominant partner. “Shift your body and eye contact to give them a physical cue that the focus is now squarely on them,” says Burns Kingsbury. She also suggests asking the same questions of both partners. “Even if one spouse merely echoes what the other said, you are making an effort to show them that their opinion is valued.”

3. Change up the setting

Some spouses may become disengaged during review meetings, not because they aren’t interested in their financial future, but because those meetings can become tedious. In that case, advisors might consider inviting couples to a social lunch where discussions of money or investing are off limits. Shifting the setting, energy, and tone of the meeting can allow you to engage with clients on a more personal level. You can then use the trust developed in those less formal meetings to help facilitate easier, more productive discussions about finances during your next review.

Failure to engage the silent partner can cause a lot of problems for advisors, including the risk of losing clients during times of family transition, such as death or divorce. Burns Kingbury adds that in some cases, the silent partner may even be the one responsible for driving the decision-making process once the couple is in private. “Engaging less-dominant partners takes time but it’s worth it,” Burns Kingbury explains. “And it’s an advisor’s job to take the lead.”

[1] UBS Investor Watch. Q2 2014. Couples and Money: Who decides? (


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