Using Better Communication to Combat COVID-19 Concerns

Using Better Communication to Combat COVID-19 Concerns

The American College of Financial Services
July 6, 2020

In the age of COVID-19, shaky markets and uncertain investments have led to anxiety across the spectrum of financial planning clients. While many professionals have been forced to go digital and respect social distancing through virtual conferencing applications, the tools for good communication in times of turmoil are universal and can help advisors calm their clients’ fears and work toward a constructive future.

In an April 30, 2020 webcast from The American College of Financial Services on crisis communications during the pandemic, WMCP® program director Michael Finke said many financial professionals may be looking at COVID-19 as a problem to be solved, but what it could be is an opportunity to deepen relationships with clients. 

“People are concerned about their health, their immediate cash flow needs and their hard-earned savings,” he said. “A number of financial advisors I know say they've gotten more appointments over the last two months and they've gotten over maybe the last six months. And that reinforces the idea that these are the times clients care most about the messaging they’re receiving from their financial advisor.”

But what’s the best kind of message to communicate to clients during a time of such raw emotions? Public speaking guru Deirdre Van Nest talked about the three-step process she employs with her clients.

“The first step is really reflecting inward and asking yourself, how do I want to show up and lead during this time for my clients? And it's really about who you are and who you're being, because if you want to try to reassure people or get them feeling okay, but you're all frantic and scared, that energy is going to show up in your conversations. So what I do is, whether I'm sending an email or I'm doing a client call, I tap into some more positive energy and I remind myself to forget about what just happened in your life five minutes ago: this is the energy you want to bring to the table.”

Van Nest asked what most advisors want their clients to know and feel in this difficult time, and Finke replied they want to assure clients they have their finances under control and that everything will be okay. However, Van Nest says this might not be the right first move.

“The second step is to use what I call ‘affirming empathy,’ and this is a step that a lot of advisors miss," she said. "The tendency when someone comes to us with a problem is that we just want to make it all better. And if you jump into that mode right away, you'll miss a vital connection opportunity.”

As part of affirming empathy, Van Nest stressed that advisors shouldn’t seek to sugar-coat their projections for how big events like COVID-19 could impact clients’ finances in a negative way; rather, they should acknowledge potential problems and discuss realistic steps forward to build a better bridge between themselves and clients.

“What you're going to want to do is bring them back to the long-term goals and talk about how you’re going to get there," she said. "I might use stories or analogies, with a historical perspective woven in. I call it ‘transformational’ or ‘results-driven language.’ You want to focus on that long-view vision.”

Christine Benz, Director of Personal Finance at Morningstar, also weighed in on the discussion, saying a key part of giving advice to clients right is taking time to listen to their concerns, as many professionals tend to spend more time talking to their clients than letting clients talk to them.

“Sometimes advisors just need to hush,” she said. “When we look at good communicators, one recurring theme is a tendency to indicate they've absorbed what's going on in their communities. All you really have to do is say it back to them. I know it stinks to miss graduations. I know it's terrible to not be able to see your elderly mom. Just talking about some of the things you've observed and that goes a long way toward helping people feel like you’re on their team and taking part in whatever they have going on in their lives.”


Giving You the Confidence Knowledge Provides


At The American College of Financial Services, we’re working to bring you the latest information from the foremost experts in the field as we all face this once-in-a-generation crisis together. For more of this conversation featuring Michael Finke, Deirdre Van Nest, Christine Benz, and David Blanchett, watch the full webcast below from April 30, 2020.