Advisers Face Challenges When Working With Couples

In the event of a divorce or death, they could lose clients’ business.

Typically, 60% of a financial advisers’ client base is couples, and that business could be at risk if couples get a divorce or the participating spouse dies, according to a TIAA-CREF Asset Management survey of 1,000 Americans.

Forty-four percent of couples assign just one partner to handle their adviser relationship, 60% entrust one partner to make most of the financial decisions, and 41% do not include their spouse in the decisionmaking process at all. In fact, 70% of women leave their financial advisers within a year of being widowed, according to TIAA-CREF.

“The ‘couples conundrum’ translates into real risks for financial advisers,” says Jennifer Pedigo, managing director and head of institutional business development at TIAA-CREF. “Despite their best efforts to work with both members of a couple, advisers often do not have adequate insights into the remaining spouse to serve him or her as effectively as possible in the event of a major life transition. It’s critical that advisers are able to make a real connection with both partners.”

Men and women have different perceptions about their knowledge about finances. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of men view themselves as the primary financial decisionmaker, as opposed to 43% of women. While the majority of men (78%) say they are more knowledgeable about finances, only 37% of women view themselves as being more up to speed.

TIAA-CREF has developed white papers, articles, videos and questionnaires that advisers can use to learn how to more effectively communicate with couples. In “Get Closer—Solving the Couples Conundrum: How to engage both partners when you’re likely communicating with one,” TIAA-CREF suggests various ways advisers can improve communication with both spouses. When starting out a relationship with a couple, TIAA-CREF says it is important to get contact information on both. “This action will communicate very clearly that you consider the spouses as important clients in their own right—one whose interests, accomplishments, values and priorities are important to you,” TIAA-CREF says. Give both members of a client couple their own, individual questionnaire about life priorities and risk tolerance, the firm suggests.

TIAA-CREF also recommends that advisers host events for their married clients, both financial and nonfinancial, that will appeal to both partners. Some financial topics popular with couples include financing a child’s college education, claiming Social Security and paying for eldercare. Nonfinancial events could include sports, concerts, plays, charity auctions or fundraisers.

If advisers are only working with one spouse, they could explain to their clients the benefits of including their partner, to ensure their loved one will be well-positioned in the future, TIAA-CREF says. Or, if both parties intentionally choose not to attend all plan meetings, TIAA-CREF suggests that advisers invite them to an annual “family review meeting” in order to ensure “that the plan is reflecting all of the goals, needs and values of the couple.”

Advisers can access TIAA-CREF’s suite of practice management tools for working with a couple here.