Here's why you want your clients to better understand their relationship with money

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There’s a common cultural myth that says people don’t talk about money. I disagree; I think we talk about money all the time. Just not enough about what I describe as “the missing pieces of the money conversation.”

Here’s what I mean: You talk with your clients about their personal and financial goals; their appetite for risk (and what type); and the financial decisions they need to make to meet their short- and long-term goals — investing and otherwise.

These talking points are, indeed, critical. They also happen to focus mostly on the mechanics of money. In other words, the “safer,” less emotional dimensions of money.

But I believe if you got your clients to also focus on the oft-overlooked and more nuanced, emotional dimensions of money you could serve them even better. These are the invisible elements that impact one’s results, one’s feelings, and one’s experiences with (and because of) money. These put a spotlight on their relationship with money.

And you don’t have to be a financial therapist or financial behaviorist, like me, to do this.

“If you got your clients to also focus on the oft-overlooked and more nuanced, emotional dimensions of money you could serve them even better,” writes Jacquette Timmons.

As an advisor, you already ask your clients questions about their personal and financial life. This gives you intimate access into what role money plays in their lives, and puts you in a unique position to talk about the missing pieces of the money conversation: transparency, power, and intimacy. You can tell a lot about your client’s relationship with money based on these pieces.

Your starting point is the financial plan you’ve created for them. Even if you don’t work as a traditional financial planner or advisor, you likely designed a plan to close the gap between their present and their future.

Each dimension of this plan exposes where there’s a need for them to be more transparent, to express or share their power, and to practice more intimacy — and with whom.

As an example, let’s use questions related to the four things anyone can (broadly) do with their money, regardless of where they are on the income and wealth spectrum: earn, save, invest, and spend it.

On the surface, these questions may seem parochial. But they are from it.

1. What conversations about your salary or pricing are you not having? Why? Does it feel awkward?

Embedded in their answer is the degree to which your client feels comfortable being transparent with friends, colleagues, and professional peers. Same when it comes to their comfort with negotiating. Not to mention if they feel proud of or self-conscious about what they’re earning.

2. With whom do you share your savings and investing targets? How do you choose these people, and what influences how much you disclose? Do you share the current balances or market value of your holdings?

This will tell you the degree to which your client is not only transparent, but also practicing financial intimacy and who their financial partners are. Their answers also reveal whether they are saving and investing from a place of fear or hope. (By the way, I think you can be transparent and not intimate with someone. But it’s hard to be financially intimate and not also be transparent.)

3. When do you share how much you paid for something?

From this answer, you’ll be able to glean clues about their sense of control and power (are they exercising or abdicating it?), and maybe even if they are secretive.

Aside from their conversations with you, their answers (or lack thereof) to questions like the above reveal where they feel awkward or safe talking about money, and why. You’ll also learn if they need to be more direct (or share less) with a specific partner or family member.

Their answers provide insight as to the motivations and emotions that drive their behavior and choices, as well as where self-shame and judgment may be getting in the way.

The reason you want your clients to better understand their relationship with money is so they can identify ways to improve it. These questions facilitate a conversation that also helps you to be an even better financial professional on their behalf.

Likewise, by helping your clients discover more about their relationship with money — via the dimensions of transparency, power, and intimacy — you end up doing the same for yourself.