Last April, I shared with you the story of my elderly client, Mrs. Weebler. A 75-year-old widow, she is a small investor who doesn’t add much to my financial bottom line, but her wonderful stories and grateful smile add millions to my spiritual bottom line.
Her husband died without providing enough financial support for her, and she lived on a $600 monthly Social Security check.
It is my responsibility—and my privilege—to work with her and the other 14 elderly widows I am proud to count as my clients—especially in this day and age when we hear so many sad stories about the elderly being ignored or neglected, when what they truly need is a team of compassionate, ethical professionals working on their behalf.
The window opens
Let me tell you why I love working with the elderly: When I started in the business, I wasn’t much different from most rookies. I did a lot of cold-calling and wasn’t always selective about who I would take on as a new client, because I needed all that I could get to build my business. Surprisingly, it turned out that many of the elderly clients I gained through this process had accumulated quite a bit of money. (I didn’t know that back then—I was just eager to add clients to my book.) Some depression-era clients had been managing their money cautiously, and when I reviewed their financial situations, most were very surprised at the amount of money they had accumulated over their lifetime.
On the other hand, those who had less of a nest egg were very appreciative of having someone who could show them how to live off the small income and savings they did have, and that they didn’t have to worry about depending on family and friends.
They always say “thank you.” That means a lot to me, too. And they can be fun. Many of these clients grew up in a different era—when life wasn’t so hectic and people were more trusting and giving. They have been able to bring back some of the “good old days” by telling me stories about how things were back then.
Some depression-era clients had been managing their money cautiously, and when I reviewed their financial situations, most were very surprised at the amount of money they had accumulated over their lifetime.
Sure, with those cases, it may not have been as financially rewarding for me as with other cases, but it was (and still is) a great feeling to know that I helped bring them peace of mind in their golden years. I noticed that, as a result, they gained trust in me and began to tell friends, neighbors and family members—which developed into more business for me.
Find time, build trust
Some advisors find that senior clients slow them down a bit and they don’t have the time to talk or meet with them. This is how I handle it: I plan my meetings with them so far in advance that I won’t be rushing them when we do meet, and we can spend a little more time in a friendly conversation after talking business. The other thing I’ve found is that they are, in fact, very conscious of my time and often ask me, “Do you have time for this right now? Don’t you have more important things to do?” I reassure them by saying, “You are very important to me, and this is time that I have set aside for you so we can talk and have the time together.”
It bears repeating: If you are going to work with the elderly, you sincerely have to care. Don’t give them lip-service; they know when you’re doing that. Many of the things I’ve read about working with elderly clients point out that advisors lose clients because they just don’t make them feel like they’re worth anything to them anymore. The elderly, like all of your other clients, need to know that someone cares about them and that they can trust that person. As some get older, and at times, more confused, they need a trusted advisor more than ever. So many times I replay in my head the words I hear coming from the sweet little old ladies: “Please don’t ever quit this business because I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Now, how can I possibly put a price on that?
I believe that is a huge incentive for you, the broker or advisor, to go out and do as much as you can for senior clients. When an 89-year-old widower who just lost his wife after 60 years of marriage says he has confidence in you because you care about him and not just his money, that’s inspiring—and you try to do whatever you can to live up to that.
Try working with elderly investors and you will find that the experience will open a network of opportunities for you, and a window of happiness and gratitude for them.
Richard J. Gladney is a senior vice president and managing partner with Gladney Consulting Group of Wachovia Securities in Providence, R.I. He is active in many philanthropic organizations, including the United Way and Make-A-Wish Foundation. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.