Financial planners spend much of their time preparing clients for an uncertain future. They cite worst-case scenarios and pepper clients with anxiety-inducing hypothetical questions. (For instance: What if you die tomorrow? What if your portfolio sinks 50%? What if someone in your family has a serious health crisis?)
So how do advisers help clients prepare for the worst and be optimistic? It’s helpful to transform anxiety into action, which gives clients a sense of control over what’s to come. Devising an action plan makes people feel as if they’re ready for anything, even calamities.
“I want to take away the fear,” says Scott Bishop, a Houston-based certified financial planner. “If people are worried, they don’t listen. It’s like when a doctor says, ‘You have cancer.’ You don’t hear anything else.”
Bishop has found an effective way to reduce client anxiety: He creates what he calls “survival guides” to help people brace for threats to their financial security. Through podcasts and articles, Bishop educates clients on how to be proactive in the face of recession or layoffs and other challenges. He urges them to research their options, ask smart questions and take practical steps to anticipate and address potential financial risks. “Don’t just worry about it,” he said. “Do something.”
Bishop calls his kits survival guides because he wants clients to confront their fears head-on and withstand whatever comes. “It is scary, so let’s put a plan in place to survive,” Bishop says. “Otherwise, people can be really complacent in their expectations,” get overly comfortable and cling to a status quo that can vanish in a flash.
To prepare for a layoff, for instance, he suggests developing a plan for managing cash if paychecks stop coming. At least six months of emergency funds is ideal.
People also need to imagine what their financial life would look like after a layoff. What ongoing expenses would they incur? What expenses could they cut (and perhaps cut them now to save money)? What are their loan options, such as a home equity line of credit?
“The last thing you’d want to do after getting laid off is buy a new car or have another big expense,” Bishop said. “So you’ll want to plan now to control your spending to make sure you can maintain your current lifestyle” if you’re temporarily jobless.
Bishop’s layoff survival guide also explores health insurance options and the cost of a monthly COBRA premium if they want to keep their employer-sponsored health coverage. He also suggests contacting the company’s human-resources representative about other post-layoff benefits. Questions might include:
- Can I cash out my unused or unpaid vacation time?
- What kind of severance package might I expect?
- Can I borrow from my 401(k)?
- Can I cash out my stock options?
Knowing these answers in advance may take some of the sting out of a layoff. This also allows for a clear understanding of what’s next, rather than panic.
“You can’t make good decisions in an emotional state,” Bishop said. “I don’t want you to worry about the next shoe dropping. It’s like fight-or-flight [response]: Can you make it better by running away from problems? Or is it better to confront them and prepare to solve them before they happen?”