Coronavirus pandemic, market volatility, health risks to life and isolation has deeply affected clients in the retirement risk zone, creating anxiety that can overrule rational thinking. Advisers are therefore grappling with a range of challenges on the client front. One of the biggest challenges is trust.

It’s not unusual for clients to experience threat triggers singularly; however they are currently exposed to confluence threats to life, well-being, freedom and future financial security.

Naomi Abbot, Director of Conscious Presence, recently presented at the Allianz Retire+ webinar, Crucial Conversations and pointed out that a variety of triggers can overrule rational thinking and impact trust. She provides some very interesting insights into the neuroscience of brain function and techniques that can help advisers and their clients overcome obstacles caused by fear and anxiety.

Naomi says, ‘In a business sense, people are well equipped to attend to task as we use ’The head’. But in these times it’s important we connect from ‘the heart’.

Good, purposeful and effective conversations start with a foundation of trust. That trust is seeded in the connection made on an emotional and personal level, through sharing ideas, emotions, listening and understanding. So it is important to recalibrate the purpose of client meetings, to address tasks, while providing focus on the human side of what clients are experiencing at the moment.

Trust can help you remove barriers and obstacles that may impede important conversations or the willingness of clients to engage with or understand crucial information.

Navigating distrust and the irrational

Distrust can disrupt your clients’ higher order thinking, and create barriers to rational thought, openness to accept advice, process logic, digest insights, and understand concepts and strategies.

Distrust originates in the primitive area of the brain Amygdala, responsible for flight or fight in responses to threats to physical safety. However in modern society the threats are many and varied. There is a good chance your clients are currently experiencing a few of them simultaneously.

The SCARF model, created by David Rock from the Neuroleadership Institute, demonstrates how these threats can manifest:

  • Status – changes to income or purpose
  • Certainty – of access to resources, means, balances
  • Autonomy – loss of freedom
  • Relatedness – negative interaction
  • Fairness – inequity or injustice

“Allianz Retire+ research shows, 37% of single, separated, widowed and individuals rated social isolation and loneliness their biggest worry. And, 54% monitor investment performance more closely.”

In extreme circumstances your clients can be experiencing a combination of these threats triggering the release of cortisol.  Cortisol can impede the higher order of thinking controlled in the prefrontal cortex, overruling the more rational thinking and trust normally associated with:

  • Wisdom
  • Integrity
  • Strategy
  • Empathy
  • Foresight
  • Insight

Everyone has been deeply impacted by Coronavirus and, as Naomi says ‘we need to approach every interaction with empathy and compassion’. Take into account your clients’ fears and stress.

Breath of fresh air

In times of stress how do you restore calm and more rational thought? The answer is simple, with a few controlled breaths. While these breathing exercises are not for everyone they have been shown to facilitate good physical and mental health, and can provide you with the capacity to reduce and manage stress.

The best way to ‘down-regulate’ your stress response is through mindfulness, with a breathing and visualisation exercise. Imagine a square. Take a breath while counting to 4, tracing an edge of the square. Hold that breath for a count of four, again tracing another edge of the square. Utilising the same visualisation, exhale for 4, then pause for 4 until you inhale.

This simple breathing technique can be used in client meetings, business pitches and negotiations, presentations, at home or in social situations, to transition from stress and anxiety, to a more focused and present state of mind. Advisers may also consider teaching this skill to their clients.

If you project a sense of calm your Clients may consciously or subconsciously align to your state of mind and become more receptive and present in the conversation.

Trust me I know what I’m doing

Despite the need to address immediate, work related tasks such as discussions around investment portfolios, there is an overriding need for client and adviser meetings to be more personal to foster trust.

Judith E. Glaser’s, of Benchmark Communications, TRUST model defines key strategies to enhance engagement and trust with your client:

  • Transparency – tell your clients you’re calling to see how they are and how they feel
  • Relationship – connect with your clients on a human/emotional level
  • Understanding – take the time to understand your client’s needs, emotions and perspective
  • Shared Success – what do your clients need from you and what will you ask of them in return?
  • Truth Telling – how are you communicating/ working together, what are their concerns and what else can you help them with?

Regardless of how you engage with clients, there is a need to rebalance conversations away from business tasks alone. Focus more on the relationship and build on deeper connections through listening. Not listening to respond or answer, but listening to connect with empathy.

Ask the right questions and listen to answers intently.

  • Ask your clients, how they feel right now?
  • Ask them what’s concerning them?

During these challenging times, your clients’ irrational thoughts can seriously undermine their ability to digest complex concepts, strategies or advice that may be in their best interest. With your clients’ trust you can have difficult conversations, provide reassurance, support, and exchange ideas on how the right portfolio can deliver retirement income, now and into the future.

Allianz Retire+ can help you navigate these crucial conversations and provide the insight you need to understand retirees’ hopes and fears, and provide the tools and information you need to create effective retirement portfolios.

This article sets out general practice management topics and insights from the Allianz Retire+ Crucial Conversations webinar series held in June 2020. Statistical research quoted in this article is sourced from the Allianz Retire+ Next Chapter research conducted in August 2019.