Money holds a great deal of power over us. For many, it is a symbol of worth, competence, freedom, prestige, masculinity, control and security. No wonder most of us have such a hard time talking about ours.
The psychological taboo of discussing money in this country had been identified and recognized as far back as the early 1900s by Sigmund Freud, among others. He wrote that “money questions will be treated by cultured people in the same manner as sexual matters, with the same inconsistency, prudishness and hypocrisy.”
Recently an article from USA Today on the subject caught my attention. It concerned the anxiety most people feel when approaching financial advisers. The article was spot on, in my opinion. As an investment advisor myself, rarely does a week go by without my sitting down with an individual or couple to discuss their finances. Sometimes I feel like a therapist.
For the most part, at the beginning of most of my meetings with new individuals or couples there are few smiles and an air of tension. By the end, however, the sun has come out and the atmosphere has radically changed.
“You are not at all what we expected,” said one couple recently.
I asked them why.
They confessed that they had been feeling a great deal of anxiety over revealing their finances to a stranger. It was hard enough, they confessed, to talk about money between themselves, but they worried what would happen if they shared this highly personal information with me.
“Everything you share with us is strictly confidential,” I explained and I meant it. “Our privacy code is so strict that I won’t discuss your information with anyone, even your spouse, without your permission.”
In this case, the discussion allowed both of them to share a burden they were keeping to themselves with someone competent to help them work out their finances. We were able to pinpoint the problem areas in their finances and suggest several remedies.
Another client admitted that he feared that I would immediately judge him for either not saving enough or not making enough money. It turned out that he had done a magnificent job at both and I told him so. The point of hiring someone like me is to figure out how to save more or make more with the money you do have. There is no room in this business for judgment of any kind.
Others worry that by coming to me they will reveal their lack of knowledge of investment, finance and/or money management. No one likes to appear stupid and for many, finance might as well be written in Sanskrit. I do not expect anyone that comes through my door to be familiar with the subject. Why do some people think that because they may be an expert at whatever they do for a living, they must also be a whiz at finance?
So, how do I personally make prospective clients feel more at home with me? For one thing, I never “dress up” for my meetings. I left my three piece suits, silk ties and wingtips behind when I left the canyons of Wall Street. It helps that I live and work in a rural community where few wear suits and ties. I dress like my client because it helps break the ice, puts me on an equal footing and dispels any image that I “come from money” just because I am a money manager. Besides, that’s the kind of guy that I am, and any number of pin-stripes never helped me make money for my clients.
I also avoid “financial speak” at all costs. I talk like I write, in plain American, without pretensions or ten dollar words that no one understands. As for appearing stupid, I know you’ve heard it before, but in regard to your finances ‘there are no dumb questions except the ones you fail to ask.’ The moral of this tale is simple–seek financial advice at your earliest opportunity. In the majority of cases your anxiety will disappear almost immediately and the help that you may obtain will be good value for the money.