How to have difficult conversations with clients

This article is part of
Guide to advising clients with mental ill health

She explains: "Just because you have helped someone with bipolar disorder before it doesn’t mean you are now an expert in how they think or feel. It is essential that you adapt yourself to suit that person’s needs.

"You may need to have an in-person conversation, they may want to chat solely by email until they are more comfortable or they may not want to chat about their mental health at all."

Listening actively is a core soft skill for financial advisers, so there would be no difference between listening to a client without any known mental ill health and listening to a client who has disclosed a condition. 

However, it is also wise to focus on your tone and language when it comes to those clients who have disclosed a vulnerability; there may be clients who find it hard to grasp long sentences, convoluted language and jargon and who could get lost in the conversation as a result. 

Ms Knowles says: ""To try and put people at ease, it is a good idea to focus upon the language and tone that you use. Actively listen, avoid the word ‘suffer’, use open questions, ask them to clarify anything that you are unsure you have understood correctly."

A big no-no is simply to summarise terms and conditions of policies to clients without considering the impact of the wording. For example, saying 'commit suicide' may have negative connotations for someone with a known mental health problem and could create anxiety during the conversation. 

She advises to consider phrases such as 'suicide attempt' or 'attempt to take your own life'. 

And while such tricky conversations may not come up frequently, if the client is asking about writing money into trust or looking into life insurance as part of a mortgage, these words and phrases might well come up as part of the fact-find process. 

The duty of an adviser is not to avoid such conversations as these are important to making sure the client gets the right policy for them, so Ms Knowles also advises to prepare clients gently for the questions that are about to come up.

"I take the stance of apologising for how intrusive they may seem and assuring them I am only asking what is necessary, so I can find the right insurer for them. I also say that if the questions become too much, we can stop at any time and I can also arrange for them to chat someone to support them if they find the process triggering."

Behavioural finance

It is also important to consider the behavioural aspects of financial planning. Understanding behavioural insights and how clients interact with their money is important for all clients, according to Barry Neilson, chief customer officer at Nucleus.