Given the politically toxic discourse running through the U.S. nowadays, almost any relationship is at risk — including interactions between financial advisers and their clients.
You’d think that clients with extreme political views would keep such opinions to themselves. But some share these opinions with their adviser, and often that doesn’t go over well.
Before the contentious 2016 presidential election, advisers may have engaged in political arguments with clients and reached a respectful we-can-still-get-along impasse. It’s much harder now.
For example, a Colorado-based adviser recently expressed frustration over clients who spout misinformation. “I’m done turning the other cheek in the name of business,” he said in a Twitter post. “There is no place for this nonsense in my life. It’s not my job to be one’s sounding board for one’s crazy theories.”
Or is it? The Colorado adviser said he’s tempted to send a mass email to clients demanding that they stop talking politics with him. But his spouse and staff think he should let it go and not punch back.
Sonya Dreizler, a consultant and former financial planner, cautioned the adviser not to send the mass email. Instead, she urged him to identify his end goal and then strategize on how to get there.
If the goal is to change minds, then Dreizler, co-founder of Choir, suggests one-on-one conversations in which the adviser opens up about his personal experience. But she acknowledges such an approach is exhausting and might not work.
Another option would be to draw a line in the sand and fire such clients. After all, a fiduciary’s role does not include indulging a client’s conspiracy theories.
“It’s important for advisers to understand the core values they hold as a person and as a company,” said Sarah Cain, vice president of coaching and consulting at the Carson Group in Omaha, Neb. “That will give you the confidence and space to say, ‘This is what I believe and what I stand for.’”
Advisers can set ground rules for client interactions. Establishing clear boundaries from the outset probably won’t solve the problem for good. But it might minimize the frequency and severity of rancorous exchanges.
“If it’s negatively impacting you, your team or your other clients, then you have to address it,” Cain said. “You always want to do that respectfully.”
Cain proposes crafting polite but firm language that reduces the odds of such conversations arising in the first place. For example: “We try to maintain a non-political tone in our office. So I ask that we not discuss political topics.”
Calibrate your response to fit the situation. If you can shrug off the antics of a vocal client — or you deem that client too valuable to jettison — then brace for impact. Whenever that person calls, you and your team will need to shove aside the dread and keep your composure.
“One question is whether the client is a little annoyance or really affects someone on your team,” Cain said. “Sometimes, the client might be saying things that are hurtful. Standing up for your team can be a morale-builder.”
If a staffer has lost a loved one to COVID-19, for instance, it can hurt when someone denounces the pandemic as a hoax. Yet it’s rarely productive to try to change someone’s mind, especially because certain people tend to harden their views when challenged.
You may still feel compelled to try. Rather than strive to win them over, Cain suggests an exploratory gambit such as, “I feel differently about that. Are you open to hearing another perspective?”
On the off-chance the client shows genuine curiosity, make your case in a calm tone of voice. But don’t expect much.
“It depends on the spirit with which you approach the conversation,” Cain said. “If it’s not to change their mind but to exchange information and broaden each other’s perspective without judgment,” that can lead to an eye-opening dialogue.