For years, I’ve been saying “When life changes money changes, and when money changes life changes.” This has taken on new meaning in the past month, with the impacts of the pandemic spanning the financial markets, putting the global economy in a precarious position. There are of course, health concerns, and also political ones. There is grief for the loss of what was, anticipatory grief for what we know is coming but we don’t know when or how bad it will be, and even shame around mourning our small, individual losses, such as not being able to go out to dinner or a concert, or for our child’s senior prom that will be via Zoom.

Although this moment in time is unprecedented for all of us, what is not unprecedented is life-altering change and transition. It happens all the time. Every. Day. From divorce to the loss of a spouse to a lottery win, life goes on, and that includes major life events, both planned and unplanned. None of this stops during a pandemic. Some proceedings might be postponed, but the internal reality that major change is on the horizon or has occurred doesn’t get pushed to a later date.        

Financial advisors are in a uniquely helpful position during this time if they are well-versed in transitions. We know from studying transitions and working with clients across a wide socio-economic spectrum as well as across all major life events, that such times affect cognition, emotion and every marker of wellbeing. Not all of them present themselves as a crisis, but some of them do. We need to be prepared for both possibilities.

For every event—divorce and pandemic alike—there are external components and internal ones. There are things that need to be done that are most skillful at any particular moment, and there are ways to be in relationship to the event that are most skillful at that moment. Just as having a formalized self-care plan prepares you for times of chaos by providing you with the anchor of a routine that you already know is helpful for you, having a transitions protocol for clients provides you with a process that you know is helpful for your clients. Both might need to be tweaked during times of extraordinary crisis, but tweaking something you know well that has worked well is better than starting from scratch and in unchartered territory.

Let’s Do Some Perspective Taking
This shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Imagine you and everyone around you are thrown into a position where things, services, people you took for granted are suddenly the most valuable entities in society. There’s a massive breakdown of trust and confidence in institutions, industries and governments. On a personal level, from the ability to take a deep breath to access to toilet paper to the availability of getting your haircut to the privilege of hopping on a plane to your second home, it has all been taken away from you. Just a month ago, you confided in your hairdresser and you were energized by your friends at the gym. Now, your social support system has now been relegated to Zoom calls, which at any time might be bombed by something tasteless or worse.

Who might you rely on at this time more than ever? Who is still working to protect your future? Whose skills and who—as a person—do you need to feel confident about right now? Who might you look to and lean on? Your financial advisor.

The expectations and the pressure on financial advisors is at an all-time high. They need to get this right for their clients, as there will still be weddings, divorces, inheritances and the selling of businesses. In fact, many of these events will be impacted in some way, and the planning around them will need to shift accordingly. When we mobilized by offering education around Money Shock and our Financial Triage tool after 9/11 and then again in 2008, we saw—real time—what becomes of financial advisors and their clients when they aren’t prepared for the layers of emotions and uncertainty and anxiety that arise. The result is a degree of financial and personal devastation that could have been avoided.

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