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February 2020
Barbara Nusbaum

Advising from the Space In-Between: Bridging Your Client's Internal and External Money Lives with a Learning Conversation

So what does it mean to “advise from the space in-between”? It means you are aware of, speak to, and bridge your clients’ internal and external lives.

Dr. Barbara Nusbaum
Clinical Psychologist, Ph.D., expert and speaker, specializing in the intersection of money, psychology and life. Dr. Nusbaum works with individuals, families and organizations on the impact of the emotional/psychological side of money.

She has appeared as an expert for The New York Times, CBS News, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Money Magazine, and DailyWorth.

True Story: Sonja resisted working with a financial advisor for years. She didn't trust "them." She grew up in a family with a strongly held belief that outsiders couldn't be trusted with your money. Her family immigrated to the US and built a modest but significant real estate portfolio. But Sonja's assets, real estate, work and family inheritance were barely being managed.

Flash forward. Now, twice a year, Sonja drives from New York City to Boston — 4 hours and 3 states away — to meet with her financial advisor, Nancy. Between visits, Sonja speaks with her frequently, consulting before any and all major and minor financial, and even personal, decisions. And Sonja follows their collaboratively designed plans to a T.

What is it about Nancy that makes her one of Sonja's first calls?

As a psychologist interested in how money and life intersect, it's clear to me that Nancy's success comes from her integrating Sonja's internal perspective on, and her external experiences with, money and life. Based on understanding both of these aspects of Sonja, Nancy deliberately centers her advising in the space in-between. Nancy knows that, to successfully work with her clients, she needs to integrate their internal life with external money plans. 

Nancy's skill at advising from the space in-between resulted in Sonja getting more and more comfortable bringing Nancy into her "life-team." Nancy worked with Sonja to create her "money genogram," a visual family tree that helped her understand her personal money patterns and her family's history and patterns around money behaviors, beliefs, feelings and relationships (see my previous article).

Through this process, Sonja better understood how her internal beliefs prevented her from working with an advisor and advancing her life goals. Once aware of these blocks, she made different, and better, life choices.

So what does it mean to "advise from the space in-between"? It means you are aware of, speak to, and bridge your clients' internal and external lives. Clients come to you with their internal lives around money, including feelings, thoughts, values and past. This internal money life shapes their outside money lives — their money decisions, plans and actions.

A valuable tool to use to bridge the internal and external life of your clients is the "learning conversation."1



Learning Conversations

A learning conversation is both a tool and mindset; it's a conversation that bridges your client's internal and external money worlds, linking your client's money feelings, beliefs, values and past with current and future financial plans, decisions and actions.

Advisors are well-trained in helping clients develop plans focused on investments, products, financial analyses and suggestions of when to invest, sell, etc. This information is invaluable to clients as part of advising conversations.

The learning conversation tool enhances your financial expertise by helping you and your client better understand what is going on internally for the client around money. Using the learning conversation will deepen your connection and relationship, facilitate collaborative planning, and help the client take action.


Collaborators vs. Experts

In a learning conversation, the advisor is not the expert. The advisor brings expertise, for sure, on products, analyses and planning; the client wants and needs this. But with a learning conversation, the advisor deploys a collaborative mindset, with the advisor as the expert on finances, and the client as the expert on his or her life. With a collaborative, two-directional approach, the advisor and client approach the conversation as equal partners, with curiosity and valuing each other's thinking. This differs from the advisor role of directing factual information and product offerings to the client, and feeling pressed to convince him or her of the merits of a plan, a purchase or an action.


Growing a Plan Together

A learning conversation helps you and your client enter a planning conversation, looking to learn and listen to each other's points of view. It's a conversation that assumes there is not one correct solution or plan. Your goal: grow a plan together. By asking about a client's internal experience, advisors and clients use this to build the external plan together. Actively listening to the client's feelings, thoughts, values and past will give valuable information to both advisor and client in developing an action plan that best fits.

It will also more deeply connect the advisor and client, like Nancy and Sonja, and lead to success for the client and for advisor. Simply put, it's not "my plan" or "your plan" that works best, but "our plan," the collaborative plan.


The Basics of Learning Conversations

A learning conversation is a mindset, created by particular questions. Here is a list of potential questions to use with clients. There are plenty to mix and match, depending on the client. They don't need to be mastered. Be curious about them, experiment with them and learn from them. Read through the questions, print them out, and take a look at them before your next client meeting. Then try out one or two.

These questions will help advisors work, like Nancy, from the space in-between, linking your clients' internal and external money worlds. Hopefully, you will see that once you start to use them, they will help both you and your clients create stronger, more satisfying relationships, and help make you a valuable part of each client's life.


Six Keys to Effective Learning Conversations

  1. Link internal and external money lives. The advisor works with genuine curiosity about the client's internal life, his or her feelings, thoughts, values and past, life, values, and money past.
  2. Create a truly collaborative, two-directional mindset. The advisor welcomes a collaborative process, with genuine valuing of the client's points of view and expertise. There is not only one expert.
  3. Cultivate genuine curiosity. The advisor asks questions, being genuinely curious about how the client feels, thinks, values and lives out his or her past around money and other life issues.
  4. Engage with empathy, deliberately. The advisor acknowledges the client's feelings and thoughts about what is important in her life, about the planning process and about the ideas presented in the plans (see my previous article on Empathy)
  5. Suspend judgment and criticism that can come with one person being the knowing expert. Both advisor and client have genuine value to contribute.
    Grow plans together. Creative, effective planning comes from each person treating their own, and the other's, views not as truths but as ideas and possibilities. A plan is built together, combining what comes from both.



The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.

Hartford Funds is not responsible for, and does not validate, any information, opinions, assertions, or statements expressed within these articles, or the identity or credentials of the individuals communicating through the site. Some of the articles may contain links to information created and maintained by other, unaffiliated organizations and individuals. Hartford Funds does not control, cannot guarantee, and is not responsible for the completeness, accuracy, timeliness, or the continued availability or existence of this outside information or the information presented herein. This material is intended for use by financial professionals or in conjunction with the advice of a financial professional.