Advisor's empathy most important, say widows

Advisor's empathy most important, say widows


If you serve married couples, eventually you may have a client who’s a widow. This can be a particularly difficult challenge: most advisor-client relationships do not survive the death of a client’s spouse and sustaining a relationship may depend more on empathy than financial knowledge.

If an advisor wants to serve a newly widowed client, “first and foremost, be a good listener and learn to get comfortable with tears,” says Kelly Willis, vice president of marketing and client relationships at Newport Private Wealth.

Willis, who is a trained grief group facilitator, leads the firm’s support services for widowed spouses, helping them overcome their financial fears, get clear on their needs, decipher financial jargon and navigate the process of working with the firm’s wealth advisors.

“I position myself as the clients’ trail guide during the process,” she told WP. “For advisors in general they have to be first and foremost good listeners. A widowed spouse may not even want to talk about money for the first conversation or two; they want to tell their story because that is healing.”

Willis began her mission of financially helping widows after losing her own husband at an early age and finding herself adrift.

“I was widowed in January 2011. At that time I had been in the wealth management business for 18 years as a marketing and communications professional – when I lost my husband I felt shipwrecked, particularly from a financial point of view,” said Willis. “This was surprising to me because I have an MBA; I work in the wealth management business and have a high degree of confidence around money. During our marriage I took primary responsibility for financial affairs.”

“I started thinking ‘oh my gosh, if this is what it is like for me with my connections, my confidence and my experience, what must it be like for someone else who is stepping into this role for the first time, or stepping into this role that they had shared and are now undertaking alone?”

Since then, Willis has dedicated herself to helping her firm’s widowed clients manage the process of financial adjustment and rebuilding after loss. Having the skillset and empathy to serve grieving clients can help you serve them better and maintain the relationship. Widows are a large segment of the market and on average are younger than most people expect.

According to Census Canada data, the average age of widowhood in Canada is just 56 and around 45 percent of Canadian seniors are single. There are 1.8 million widowed people in Canada, 1.45 million of them women, according to 2012 census data. “It is a large group of people who have had a very traumatic life experience and at a much younger age than people understand,” said Willis. “People who still have a lot of living left.”

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