Advisers are used to tackling issues that are uncomfortable, such as what happens to the family finances upon divorce or death.
But what do they do when a client is struggling to cope with bereavement through suicide? It is something Serenity head of financial life planning Jeremy Squibb knows a fair bit about.
One of his clients became widowed in 2013 when her husband, a paramedic that Squibb had known for years, jumped from a cliff after suffering with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Since then, Squibb has been helping Nel Wilton (who has given permission to mention her name and circumstances) regain a sense of purpose through financial life planning and fundraising in her late husband Del’s memory.
They recently organised Bandtastic, a brass band concert raising money for the Cornwall Search and Rescue team, which spent two weeks looking for Del, and the mental health charity Carrick Mind.
Squibb says: “After I came out of the concert there was a guy who said ‘I need to talk to you urgently’. He told me about various things he’d seen in his 40-year career and he’d not told his wife any of it. He felt he could share it with us. That’s really something.
“Nel was telling me a lady came up to her and told her that her father had taken his own life. The family never talked about it, so she’d spent 30, 40, maybe 50 years not being able to talk to anyone about it.”
Squibb recalls how challenging and highly emotional it was to convince Nel she had a life to live after Del’s sudden passing.
“I said to Nel: ‘Would Del want you to spend the rest of your life unhappy?’ We had to do a lot of life planning, thinking of what would make her get out of bed in the morning. They had always planned a trip to Borneo together and we knew that was the key thing; to free that regret and move forward with things.
“But some people are very quick to judge that she shouldn’t go on holiday or smile in a photograph taken at the place Del died. They didn’t see she was in floods of tears 30 seconds before the photograph was taken.”
Advising for awareness
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows suicide is the biggest killer in men under 50 and Squibb is passionate about mental health awareness, particularly among men who bottle up their worries because they are “too hard, too tough, too macho” to talk to someone or ask for help.
He points out that advisers especially should not neglect their own mental health and that it is important they have someone to talk to. “It’s not uncommon to hear about advisers under business stress, having breakdowns or working themselves into the ground. Our industry is still relatively macho. To put your hand up and say ‘I’m struggling’ is not really the done thing.”
Squibb has just enrolled on a mental health and suicide awareness course and says the advice industry needs to recognise that clients have real lives and real emotions.
“If we tune into their feelings of vulnerability, that opens up a different dialogue and they understand that we get them a bit more. It’s not about reading people; it’s about feeling comfortable with other people’s emotions. Training in Kinder life planning can help with this. It’s almost the duty of advisers to go and seek out training such as this.”
Training for tact
Squibb’s training in George Kinder’s concept of financial life planning has shaped his belief that a deeper motivation often underlies what clients think will make them happy. The role of the financial life planner is to help clients figure out what that new car or dream chalet in the Alps really gives them, and explore any alternative that might allow clients to fulfill that dream now rather than having to wait or save for the next 10 years to get it.
Squibb discovered financial life planning about seven years ago after reading about The Kinder Institute in a magazine. He had moved into independent advice after becoming disillusioned with the product-centric nature of his job as an adviser in a bank and had always seen merit in ongoing relationships with clients.
Financial life planning seemed to embody everything he believed in. “I thought it looked fascinating: to work with people, focus on what’s important to them and try to get the money to fit, rather than if you haven’t got the money how are you going to live based on that? That just encourages the pursuit of more and you’re selling to people’s greedy egos.”
At the time, Squibb found the £3,000 cost of the five-day Kinder course prohibitive. But then he heard Serenity founder Tina Weeks speak at a Personal Finance Society conference about how financial life planning had transformed her business. “So I enrolled on the two-day course. Everyone advises you to do the five-day course but I thought I could do the two days and if I didn’t like it, it was only £700 After I did the two-day course I was buzzing. I’d never encountered meditation before and there I was doing meditation. It wasn’t what I expected.”
Squibb did the five-day course three months later and has since helped George Kinder run a few of the sessions.
“I still come across people who say they’ve done the Kinder training but they’ve only done the two days and that’s just an insight. The training takes you as far away from the business environment as you can be. It’s at Gaunts House [in Wimborne, Dorset] and, in some rooms, you have to wear slippers. You’re warned when you go home that your partners haven’t been in this microcosm and you come back a changed person,” he says.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
There’s no such thing as a unique sales proposition, but there is a unique salesperson. It’s from my friend Terry Mullins, who wrote The Reluctant Salesman.
What keeps you awake at night?
Seagulls, especially on bin day.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
The advent of robo-advice. It’s going to shape the future of advice so the costs will come down and clients will come to people for advice, not to put plans in place.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would..?
Ban any implementation of product related income so clients pay advisers a fee for the relationship, not assets under management.
Any advice for new advisers?
Be aware of your emotions and own mental wellness, and build strong relationships with clients, not their money.
2013-present: Financial life planner, then head of life planning, Serenity Financial Planning
2004-2013 Financial life planner, Kelsall Steele Investment Services
1993-2004: Financial adviser, Lloyds Banking Group