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Treat Couples as Equal Partners

April 28, 2017

This time we hear from Kerri Moriarty, head of development at Boston, Mass.-based financial startup Cinch Financial. She recounts how she developed her non-traditional approach to working with client couples.

I began my professional career as a financial services associate in 2010, right after graduating from college. When I took the job I was aware that I stood out. There were no women in advisor roles at the firm and most advisors were in their late 50s and had been practicing for 25 years.

As part of my training I shadowed senior advisors as they met with clients. In these meetings, I was immediately aware that all conversations with couples, no matter their age, were always directed toward the male as the primary earner and sole decision maker. On a personal level, I found this frustrating. I wondered why advisors were so stuck in these traditional roles, as if couples were not equal partners in planning for their family’s future together.

I recall sitting in on a meeting where the advisor was helping a couple figure out what life insurance they needed. All the focus in this meeting centered on the husband. As I sat there, watching the wife be excluded from the conversation entirely, I could even feel myself tuning out. Worse, I could see the wife rolling her eyes and wanting to get out of the meeting as soon as possible.

Based on this experience I decided that for my own practice I would not use this traditional approach. I would not enter a meeting with a couple and assume that the husband was the primary breadwinner, or that the wife had no knowledge of the household finances, or that the husband was the primary decision maker.

Kerri Moriarty

In fact, once I started managing my own clients, one of my deliberate strategies was to position the need for life insurance around the world of the wife. Whether she was the primary earner or a stay-at-home mom providing for the family and caring for the household, there would be a significant expense to the family associated with her death.

I had clients who had never considered that both parents should have life insurance. No one had ever explained to them that life insurance is for more than just replacing income. I had a lot of success convincing couples who already had policies to increase the amount they carried and to insure both halves of the couple.

Shortly into my career, retirement accounts and investable assets were added to my responsibilities. Again, I focused on the women. I found that many of the stay-at-home moms I worked with had a 401(k) from a job they had left five or 10 years ago; no one had ever given them advice on what to do with it.

One of my earliest client couples was a husband and wife who had a long-standing life insurance relationship with our company. I called them to see if they wanted to reassess their life insurance and we set up a meeting. They were a very low-key, alternative couple, and during that initial meeting I merely answered some of their questions about their existing coverage.

Then a few months later we met again. During that second meeting the husband talked about his job and his plans for retirement. I made a point to bring the wife into the conversation, too, and to talk to both of them as equals. Forty minutes into the meeting the wife finally spoke up. She said, “I’m a doctor and I’ve been working for a long time. I have a huge account from a hospital where I no longer work, and I would love to do something with it. I want to do it with you because you’ve been talking to us as equals.” She gave me her account, which was one of my biggest sales of the year. That moment validated my approach to paying attention to both partners. It won me business that I didn’t even know was there.