Article April 21, 2020

Dealing with distressed clients: 6 tips from psychologists

Financial service advisors are having to deal with anxious and distressed clients—without getting stressed out themselves. How do you handle these situations? As always, nothing beats professional advice.

“My clients really need to talk,” one financial planner said. “Some days, I almost feel like a psychologist. But I’m not one!”

On top of this, advisors may have their own personal and professional problems to deal with.

It’s not surprising that at the end of the day, they feel a sense of powerlessness, perhaps even a little depressed. Psychologists are trained to cope with the negative emotions of people who come to see them, but financial service advisors are not. Here are a few recommendations from professionals to help you better manage the situation.

Just listen

If you feel you can’t do anything to relieve your clients’ anxiety, you’re wrong. According to psychologist Joseph L. Flanders, simply listening has a positive impact. “In some cases, it can even be 80% of the solution,” he explains. “When someone is worried, having the opportunity to express themselves and talk to someone, simply to connect with another human being, is very therapeutic. Listening makes a big difference to them.”

Recognize that this is a difficult situation

To reassure clients, it’s important to first recognize that these are difficult times. Rose-tinted glasses won’t help. They need to face reality, then assess their options. “You can’t trivialize this situation. At the same time, you don’t have the answers to all the questions. So it’s better if you acknowledge your limits and say that you’re going to stay vigilant and let them know if there are any changes,” recommends psychologist Rose-Marie Charest. Providing information and contacting them regularly are good practices to follow.

Give the big picture

When we’re anxious, we tend to focus on one thing or one aspect, almost like we are wearing blinders. Financial service advisors should try to help their clients broaden their perspective so they become aware of all possibilities. “A person may not recover their stock market losses, but by helping them see all the options open to them, they’ll be in a better position to make good choices, instead of making rash decisions on a whim,” says Ms. Charest. “In this regard, we need to be educators: to simplify and explain.”

Keep in touch

Advisors know their clients well. So they can quickly identify clients who are more sensitive to change and stress, whether due to their personal, professional or financial situation. Pay special attention to these people. Keep regular contact with them, show them that you’re staying alert, and inform them of developments.

Remain a credible source of information

In uncertain times and when a lot of people pass themselves off as experts, clients need to be able to rely on a credible source of information. You are the right professional to provide reliable, verified information on financial security and stock markets. Relay this information to your clients, and encourage them not to stay glued to the Internet or 24-hour news channels, which tends to further increase anxiety.

Build trust

As a financial services advisor, the relationship of trust you have built with your clients over the years is key. It is more important than ever right now and must be maintained despite the crisis. This is actually an excellent opportunity to strengthen the relationship, by showing that, not only are you reliable, you are going to help them get through this and overcome these difficulties too. “This period will come to an end, but until then, you can do a lot for your clients: in particular, reassure and support them,” Ms. Charest concludes.

Refer to the CSF’s InfoCOVID-19 section for more information