In Memory of My Dad, Alfred Munro Flaxington
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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As most who read my work know, I have been focused on the “human element” in our profession for my career. While the profession mostly deals in numbers, the black and white if you will, of the financial elements and the legal aspects, underlying all of what financial advisors do is the human side. Unfortunately, most education and training focuses on the technical side.
For this week’s column, I hope you will indulge me in a bit of selfishness. I lost my dad, Alfred Munro Flaxington, this past weekend. We had an extremely close relationship and while he has been ill and we are happy he has been released from his pain, it is a difficult experience, as anyone knows who has lost a parent – or any loved one. I’ll take the opportunity to outline some learnings that will be helpful to financial advisors as reminders while you work with your clients in wellness, knowing we can never predict what could be coming next:
- Be a resource for the children and grandchildren of your clients. I know this one sounds like a clear-cut, “Of course!” But my parent’s advisor never once reached out to my sister and me. When I wrote my book, The Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors, my dad was so proud of me that he sent a copy of it to his advisor. Upon receiving the book, the advisor contacted me to say if I ever needed anything, he could help me. Of course, by this time I had my own advisor, and all our estate planning was done. I wish I knew the person now so I could be of more assistance to my mom. I had to ask her for the advisor’s contact information, but she is reeling and trying to figure out all the titling. My dad was a CPA and my mom a loan officer in a bank. They are not naïve when it comes to financial considerations, but my mom’s pension is going into an account that has my father’s name on it and so it is only because of a close relationship with the banker that my mother has been able to access her own money.
The lesson: Stay close to the extended family even if they don’t use your services, and be sure the titling and ownership on important accounts is checked on a regular basis.
- Talk with your clients about sharing their death plans as early as possible. My father was a very private person who didn’t socialize a lot and had few close friends. His family was his entire world. As such, he wanted to be cremated and, as a navy veteran, buried in the naval cemetery about an hour from where we live. No wake. No funeral. Nothing. My sister and I found this difficult to deal with, because we have many friends who would love to come and give us condolences. It’s been hard for the survivors to live with his wishes. I had to pay a lot of money to arrange for a family service at the funeral home to pay our last respects. This was planned at the last minute and was very expensive.
The lesson: If we could have had an advisor who pulled the family together to talk about pros and cons of planning, we would have all felt good about what’s next. As it is, I feel as if we are betraying what Dad wanted, but we need to bring closure and the grandkids all want a chance to be together and mourn in a more formal way. What’s the “right thing”? Who knows, but talking about it in advance would have been extremely helpful.
- Help clients gather all their important documents in one place. Especially as people get older and become forgetful, this becomes so critical. My mom is super organized and has already been on the phone with the insurance company. But my father paid all of the household bills, so she is dealing with the naming on everything and is finding getting a hold of client service people and dealing with 1-800 numbers very challenging. If she could have had some guidance on what needs to be organized and what to consider in advance, this week would have been a lot easier for her. Financial advisors see all the problems upon death and can share things to watch out for in advance.
The lesson: Organize a “list of considerations” for clients or “what to know upon death.” I wouldn’t have expected her advisor to do all of this, but help guide them with what to think about. It’s such a stressful time that having clarity on what you need to think about and consider would have been so helpful.
- Bring up the elephant in the room. My dad was one of those proud, smart and very active people up until his late 80s. He was on my roof fixing holes when he was 86 years old, so he was not someone you would think would have ever asked for “help.” But getting sick during COVID and going to the hospital a couple of times turned things quite significantly. In the last years, he was essentially home bound and then in a hospital bed at home. I don’t think my parent’s advisor knew any of this. If he called and asked my mom, her response would have always been, “We’re fine.” But if you asked her the tough, open-ended questions, she would always tell the truth. It’s important to push. My mother’s era didn’t like to talk problems. Even my sister and I had to learn to read her tone of voice. If she said they were “fine,” that was code. It meant she was worried about something, so one of us would drop everything and run over. If she had a lightness in her voice and started to tell us a story, we knew things were going okay. My sister and I were there each and every week, sometimes multiple times, but we still needed to read the tone if we called because she never wanted to worry us. Her financial advisor never got to know her well enough to know when there was an elephant that needed to be addressed.
The lesson: Style matters in communication. Even if you think your client knows you and trusts you, listen for what’s underneath what people are saying and sometimes not saying. Even if you think you know everything about them, ask good, open-ended questions to learn more about what’s going on. The “silent generation” is called this for a reason; they stay silent and don’t like to share their troubles and concerns. You have to ask for them to open up. Pushing, in a kind and supportive way, is caring.
- If you don’t have a relationship with the children and grandchildren, reach out anyway. I am so fortunate to have many friends and business associates who have been kind, caring and very supportive. I have a very close-knit family and feel surrounded by love. But I have still not heard a word from mom’s advisor asking if we need anything. I wonder what it would be like if I didn’t have a close network and mom didn’t have such an organized approach to her financial life. Would the scammers be preying on us? My mother has the presence of mind to make the decision not to include the grandkids’ names in the obituary because she knows too many stories of lonely older folks being scammed. But what about those people who are alone, lonely and not savvy? Financial advisors can play the role of that glue, the person who provides guidance in many minor areas that clients may not even think about.
The lesson: Talk about the difficult things like writing an obituary or making donations in place of flowers (our homes are overrun with beautiful flowers right now, but I’d prefer money being sent to the causes we all care about instead). Reach out with some guidance on how to beware of scammers, communicate your wishes and let people who care know what to do to honor the deceased. There is nowhere to get this information. Be the guiding light.
- Remind clients that time is elusive, and you never know how much you have. Planning for things to come, retirement or travel or life after work is great, but who knows what will happen next week? My daughter and I went to see my dad on Friday before we drove her back to college seven hours away. We had no idea it would be the last time we’d see him. But I always made sure my kids are there for my folks as often as they could be. My son happened to be bringing coffee to my parents when my dad passed, so he was able to be with my mom and help her with everything. While not everyone lives close and can do these things, don’t live with the “things to come” mentality. I have taken my own children all over the world because I want to experience things before I am too old to do so. Traveling in retirement once I am older and alone just isn’t as appealing. Is it more expensive to take three grown people along with me? You bet. But is it a heck of a lot more fun to travel with them and make lifelong memories! My parents were not wealthy, but they took my sister’s family and mine on two amazing Alaskan cruises while they were healthy enough to enjoy it with us. These become the memories the five grandchildren will cherish for a lifetime. Once my dad was unable to leave home, everyone would gather and share how much we enjoyed these trips. He would sit there and smile knowing he had brought that about for everyone. He had his mental faculties up until the last minute of life. Sharing those memories was super important to him.
The lesson: While I know you want to grow your firm and keep the assets, and it’s celebratory to see your AUM and revenue increase, please encourage your clients to spend their money on important things. Ask them what would be meaningful now, not just in retirement but in their working lives. Help them see that while they may love their work (I know I love mine) taking time to be with family, to spend money on people they care about and to do things they will look back on with love and appreciation is truly priceless. Thankfully no one had to tell our family how important time is. Sharing it with loved ones cannot be replaced, but I guarantee neither my parents’ nor my advisor gave us this guidance. It was losing extended family members along the way very, very young that helped us see time is not controllable. But what you do with it is.
The best lessons come from the school of hard knocks – my favorite institution – so I hope sharing some of these personal experiences from this past week will encourage you to take a look at your approach and consider if there is anything else you could be doing to support your clients, especially during a difficult time of transition.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. The firm has won the Wealthbriefing WealthTech award for Best Training Solution for 2022 and 2023. Beverly is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. She is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.
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