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If you lose your job, what emotional and professional support should you expect from your financial planner?
Ideally, the planner’s first response would be, “Tell me more about what you’re experiencing. How can I best support you in this moment?” Since every client’s situation is different, there’s no way an advisor can know what you might feel, need, or want. If they say, “You must be feeling scared,” for example, you might take their assumption as reality instead of sharing what you do feel – which might be anger, sadness, relief, or something else.
You might be too overwhelmed to even know what you feel or how to talk about it. Even then, the advisor’s role is to listen without giving advice, interrupting, minimizing your feelings, assuring you things will be okay, or talking about someone else’s job loss experience.
The advisor needs to “be” with you for as long as that is needed, waiting for the appropriate time to ask what information you need or if you would like some feedback. If the planner launches into detailed data and logic before you’re ready to take it in, ask them to wait or slow down so they won’t have to repeat themselves later.
At the same time, it’s important for your planner not to withhold or ignore vital information because it might not be good news. That's like a doctor not telling a patient they have cancer because it might upset them. It’s important for the planner to be sensitive in communicating, but as your advocate, the planner has a fiduciary duty to let you know the facts in a prompt and appropriate manner.
You’ll want your advisor to have reviewed your financial plan and the strengths and weaknesses relating to the job loss. While you don’t necessarily need a lot of details immediately, you do need a truthful answer to, “Am I okay?” The next steps and amount of detail you need will depend on the reality of your financial situation and emotional state. When you are in a place to hear it, you do need to have the data.
Suppose, for example, you are panicked and thinking you need to slash expenses, sell your home, and move in with relatives – but you are too overwhelmed to remember you have a fully funded 12-month emergency reserve. You might not be able to take in the details, but you need the planner to summarize the information and remind you that you have plenty of cushion.
On the other hand, you might be joyful and excited about losing your job, because you’ve always wanted to start your own business. Yet the planner knows you have no emergency reserve and no cushion. You may need to slash expenses, sell the house, and move in with relatives – something you likely won’t want to hear. You may need some time to absorb reality before the planner jumps in to help you consider formulating a plan.
You may also need to hear that the planner can help you take whatever action you suggest, even if they consider it unnecessary or unwise. Arguing with or challenging any immediate panicky ideas you come up with is not helpful. A calm and supportive response from the planner is more likely to help you be more open to hearing about other options that may be more in your best interest.
Finally, if the conversation seems to become more about the planner’s feelings than yours, say so. You need and deserve the planner to be aware of and in control of their emotions so they can be fully present to listen and respond to you in a helpful way.
Rick Kahler, MS, CFP®, CFT-I™, CeFT®, CCIM, is founder of Kahler Financial Group, a Rapid City, SD-based fee-only Registered Investment Advisor.
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