Achieving Finance/Life Harmony
Posted by: Joseph Kuo | September 11, 2020
[Names and all relevant details have been changed to maintain confidentiality.]
Cynthia and Max moved from the Midwest to California for better career opportunities and weather. By their early 30s, Max had been promoted to VP at a successful startup while Cynthia was running a thriving accounting business from home. With two young daughters and another child on the way, Max thought this was a good time to start prioritizing financial planning for the family. But whenever Max brought up financial matters at home, Cynthia showed no interest. Nonetheless, Max hoped that Cynthia would listen to a professional advisor and hired me to work with them.
At our first meeting, Max expressed that he deeply valued Cynthia’s opinions. He wanted to collaborate more closely with her on family finances and decisions. Cynthia, however, seemed to have no interest at all. She said that she was only at my office to accompany Max, and she was okay with whatever Max decided.
It is not uncommon, in couples, for one person to have little interest in finance. However, in this case, I didn’t think that was the case, especially because Cynthia was an accountant. She clearly had her guard up, and I wasn’t sure why. Instead of trying to convince her that finances were important, I became really curious about her view of the world. We talked about the things she enjoyed and how she spent her time. In those answers, Cynthia showed that she really valued family and cared deeply for her husband and children.
So I asked her, “What would be your idea of a perfect weekend with your family?”
Cynthia paused for a moment and replied that the perfect weekend would include taking away her husband’s phone and laptop. When I asked her to elaborate, she opened up and started crying. Through her tears, she said that Max was always preoccupied with work and money. In recent years, most of their conversations would end up being about finances or planning. Given their work schedules, the times they had together were precious to her. So, when he spoke to her about finances, she wanted to move on from that topic quickly. She wanted to spend time with Max as a couple and as a family without every conversation becoming so businesslike.
In addition, when he spoke to her about finances, he spoke quickly and with conviction. After a while, she figured he had already made up his mind and only wanted her to agree with him.
When he heard this, Max was shocked. He had been so focused on finances because he cared deeply for her and the kids. Neither of them grew up with money and he didn’t want to screw things up. That’s why he made finances a priority and wanted to collaborate with Cynthia. By having direct and frequent discussions, he thought he was expressing his care and love.
In this moment, they both saw that they cared for each other and wanted a brighter future together.
They just had different perspectives on how and when best to have those conversations. These differences were what kept Cynthia from participating.
A deeper dialogue ensued where they shared what would bring them more feelings of joy and security. By the end of the meeting, they came to an agreement. Whenever they are at home, they would prioritize their time together as a couple and family. When they meet with me, she agreed to fully participate in the financial conversations.
Over the years, many people have asked me why a financial advisor needed to learn coaching and facilitation skills. I believe that a key step to successful financial planning is helping clients clarify their own visions and the “why” behind that vision. Things get more complicated when 2 people need to align their visions. Often, a couple may actually want the same things. However, their different perspectives and uses of language can cause serious misunderstandings. By holding a safe space for clients to voice their deepest thoughts without judgement, I facilitate an environment for clients to speak openly and collaboratively.
In this environment, I gently guide conversations about money to be connecting experiences rather than divisive ones.