The lessons about money that your clients learned in childhood can haunt or help them years later, according to Molly Ward, a financial advisor who serves on the Elite Producer Group board at AXA Advisors.

One client makes $150,000 a year, spends $175,000, and is desperately unhappy about his financial satiation. Another makes $90,000 a year, spends $75,000 and is content. What drives these clients is called “money scripts—patterns that were developed in childhood and now drive the client’s behavior, Ward said in a recent interview with Financial Advisor magazine.

“Money scripts are what our brains default to when making decisions about money,” she said. “An advisor needs to know his or her client’s money scripts in order to help them make wise decisions.

“A money script can be positive or negative,” Ward added. It can keep a Midwestern financial conservative, who was raised by parents who had no credit cards, from running up credit card debt as an adult. Or it can enable a profligate mother, who constantly overspends, to instill good money habits in her two children.

“If a client has stock he inherited from his father 50 years ago and will never sell it—that is a money script,” she said. The children will inherit that stock and maybe they can sell it and enjoy it.

“I have seen brilliant, professional people suffer from making bad financial decisions because of influences from childhood,” Ward explained. “For instance, I have a client who does not think saving is relevant because his parents died young and he thinks he will die young. Obviously, he does not know that.

“Circumstances from our past are powerful” influencers in adulthood, she added. “We can have the best investment advice for a client, but it is not going to matter if they have a money script that points them in another direction.

“As advisors, we may have to translate our clients’ negative money scripts into better behavior by making them a ‘money map’ that relates their finances to something they want or want to do,” Ward said.

In addition to understanding their clients’ money scripts, advisors can help build a relationship with clients by helping them develop good money habits in their children.

“If a client has kids, help them see what they are teaching their children about money” because that will determine the children’s money scripts when they are adults, she said. “Not many advisors go into this, but when we first meet clients, we ask them what is their background in money: How did they grow up with money?”

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