The power of narrative in financial planning

... and how I came to work mainly with female clients

In my many years as a lifestyle financial planner, I have supported countless clients through this pivotal point and concluded that each case is different. That’s an exciting prospect in my line of work – each case involving different needs, questions, feelings, and solutions. No two clients are the same, with some engaging early on, at the point of separation, others just as they start the mediation process, and some only seeking support when the financial settlement comes along.

Just as clients have different start points, they also have different priorities, wishes, and goals for themselves and their family. A huge part of this is their level of financial understanding. Some have little knowledge of financial products or services and how they contribute to their current situation, while others have high level understanding, and simply want a sounding board for their ideas.

With services and client differences in mind, the value I bring as a financial planner is in storytelling. Providing a narrative to what is otherwise a seemingly impenetrable idea. I demystify financial products and services, providing cashflow models to illustrate my clients’ financial situations. And, when applying this to the experience of divorce, I am able to factor in the “what ifs” of divorce and settlements which can otherwise so easily take us by surprise in.

Financial coaching

One of my favourite parts of working with clients is financial coaching. I feel privileged to listen to life stories, talk through fears, and provide solutions, all while taking some of the burden off my clients by managing their money team. In other words, handling the relationships between legal and financial advice as well as divorce coaching. This aspect of financial planning for divorcees is invaluable. There is nothing more powerful than your client knowing you and their team “have their back” during such an emotionally charged and pressurised period. It is this direct impact on client wellbeing which had me drawn to the financial planning profession.

Acting as a financial coach means being the calm, realistic, approachable, and trustworthy person your client needs.

Gender and finance

Working with women specifically was never a conscious decision for me. Over the years, I simply recognised that women often want the support of another woman who can empathise, relate, and guide them through the labyrinth of divorce.

I’ve found that many clients are looking for someone they can see themselves in; someone that “looks like me”. As a female financial adviser, I recognised that I could be that for clients, offering direction and a listening ear for issues they may not be comfortable discussing with a male adviser. This is particularly common in acrimonious splits and emotionally charged negotiations.

It is surprising just how different the fears of men and women can be when it comes to finance and divorce. While men seemingly worry more about areas like access and future arrangements for children (particularly in the case that they are the spouse who moved out of the family home before the settlement was finalised), women worry more about security. How can they meet even their most basic expenditure? What will their new day-to-day life look like? Can they afford school fees and holidays like they used to?

In my experience, I have found that women are most concerned with having knowledge, clarity on their savings, investment plans, pension income options, and mortgage after divorce. This concern is increased if their ex-partner was the bread winner.

Some women come to me feeling helpless. With tears in their eyes, they are panicking about the future, and exhausted by the divorce process. Together, we go through it all in detail. We review expenditure, create plans for now, during proceedings, and in their future.

Having covered every aspect of life and finance from protection and health to child support and liabilities, or new home affordability and mortgages, they leave me feeling in control, clear on what must be done, and confident in their ability to succeed. That is without a doubt the most rewarding part of my job.

A huge part of my role is supporting my clients in their interactions with solicitors, during mediations, in researching and reporting. All activities which are integral to their arriving at a fair settlement. In this sense engaging with a financial planner is no longer a fancy add-on: it is an essential part of the process, saving time, money, and, most importantly, stress.