Matt Reiner in Advisor Perspectives: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Financial Wellness

A recent CreditWise survey found that inflation, the economy, and money were significant sources of stress for 83%, 69%, and 66% of respondents, respectively. Those results were remarkably consistent across surveyed populations.

Any stress is bad for physical and mental health. Even short-term stress can cause symptoms like insomnia, impaired focus, fatigue, irritability, and depression. Chronic stress can contribute to and exacerbate health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, migraines, memory loss, impotence, and dozens of other life-altering and potentially life-threatening conditions.

The economic implications of chronic stress are similarly dire, with some estimates claiming it costs the American economy at least $300 billion annually. People suffering from chronic stress are less productive, more likely to need time off to address health issues and to turn to drugs and alcohol to temporarily alleviate their stress, all of which negatively affects their ability to manage their finances.

Chronic stress is bad for physical, mental, and financial health. If financial stress harms financial health, and poor financial health causes financial stress – you can see where this is going.

Millions of Americans are locked in this vicious cycle. The question is: What are we going to do about it?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines financial wellness as “a condition wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life.” It’s broadly determined by how much people feel that they:

  • Have control over day-to-day and month-to-month finances;
  • Have the capacity to absorb a financial shock/emergency;
  • Are on track to meet their financial goals; and
  • Have the financial freedom to make the choices that allow them to enjoy life.

Anyone with adequate financial sense knows that it’s a good idea to monitor expenses. It’s easier said than done, sure, but let’s not worry about the ins and outs of crafting and tweaking a budget. The road to financial wellness takes more than just cutting back on Starbucks or bringing your own lunch to work.

The most effective solution to improving financial wellness is obvious: Employers should raise wages across the board. Wages have been stagnant on an inflation-adjusted basis for over 40 years in spite of massive gains in productivity over the same period. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like employers are interested in rectifying this anytime soon.

What can we, as advisors, do to promote healthy finances?

Are you helping clients take steps toward financial wellness?

You may already help your clients achieve financial wellness. Maybe you sit down with your clients and patiently explain financial concepts. Maybe you help your clients devise strategies to minimize their tax bills. Maybe you provide in-depth retirement and estate planning services. Or maybe you do all the above and more, in which case you can be confident that your clients are on the path to financial wellness.

You and your colleagues don’t need to handle every aspect of your clients’ financial futures to help guide them toward financial wellness. On the contrary, there are certain money challenges and stresses that are best left to other trained professionals, such as financial therapists.

Financial therapists

People who are stressed about their finances are embarrassed about them, too. Money can be an uncomfortable subject, but laying it all out and confronting challenges head on is crucial for finding a solution.

Talking about money can bring up feelings and memories about good and bad choices, failed careers or lost promotions/income, and a hundred other pain points. It’s more than most people are equipped to process, let alone sort through.

Financial therapists are relatively new, but they can help your clients unwind the negative emotions holding them back from truly confronting their financial issues. If your clients are struggling to handle their money in a rational, dispassionate way, there’s a chance that a referral to a financial therapist is the right step. You (presumably) didn’t go to school to be a therapist, so don’t feel like you have to act like one.

We must be financial advisors and wellness advocates

Financial wellness is something we should strive to help our clients achieve. It’s an elusive goal, but that makes the role of financial advisors more important than ever. That doesn’t mean delivering condescending speeches about budgeting or scolding your clients when they stray from the path; it means educating, accommodating, and reassuring your clients, plus referring them to other professionals as needed.