How money coaching helped an adviser to overcome his lifelong money blocks

Posted 18 June 2024 by Dennis Harhalakis

As an established and successful financial adviser, Graham was good with money – both his and his clients. He enjoyed helping clients meet their financial goals and made sure they were fully supported.

He was available whenever his clients wanted to discuss any aspect of their portfolios. “I probably do too much,” he joked when we first met, “But I want to make sure my clients feel they’re getting real value from me.”

But deep down, Graham had a worry that wouldn’t go away. He felt deeply uncomfortable asking for money and would do anything to avoid having a discussion around fees. He actively avoided any situation that might lead to conflict, and this led him to heavily discounting his fees upfront in the hope that his clients wouldn’t challenge him. His worst nightmare was being asked to justify his charges.

We form money beliefs at an early age

We started our coaching sessions by looking at the money messages that Graham got in his childhood. We form our money beliefs at an early age, and money messages aren’t just what we were told about money, they mainly come from the behaviour of the people around us. These messages drive what we believe we can do, be or have with money. And those beliefs drive our behaviour.

In Graham’s childhood, most interactions between his parents around money involved conflict. His father travelled a lot for business and his mother was extremely anxious about running out of money. This led to many angry and emotional phone calls as she begged him to send money to pay for bills and daily expenses. The arguments continued even when his father was at home, and his parents separated when he was still young.

Although his father always supported them, the divorce made the financial situation even more difficult. All interactions were fraught, and Graham fell into the role of peacemaker, go-between and rescuer. Part of his self-worth got tied up with being of service and putting others ahead of him. And in his head, money discussions always led to conflict.

Forty years later, Graham is a successful financial adviser, but the emotion of this early money behaviour still sits within him, and the possibility of any sort of money conflict fills him with dread.

In coaching, change starts with awareness

Once we’d identified the origins of Graham’s money discomfort, we could now look at ways to deal with it.

The first step was to think about how we could change fee discussions from being about conflict and discomfort, to being an opportunity for Graham to talk about what he actually did. What that meant was that it could now be seen as a positive thing and welcomed, not dreaded. It would also help clients to feel they’d been heard and instantly reduce any tension around the issue. After all, it’s not necessarily easy for them either. There can be discomfort on both sides.

So, we start with an open acknowledgement of the issue:

“Thank you very much for raising the issue of fees. It’s not easy, and I’m pleased that you feel comfortable enough to do so. It would be awful if you're sitting there thinking ‘What does he actually do?’, and ‘What am I paying for?’ So, it's really nice to be given the opportunity to explain a little bit more about what goes on and ensure you feel comfortable going forward. Would you mind if I took a few minutes to explain how it all works?”

This simple reframe has turned the energy of the situation from one of potential opposition to one of exploration and connection. For Graham, this is no longer an attack on his self-worth and a reminder of past conflict. Now he can relax and talk about what he does without feeling like he has to justify it. Welcoming the fee discussion robs it of its power to make him feel uncomfortable.

Clients too can relax

For the client, they now feel seen and heard. They know that their concerns have been acknowledged and that Graham will be open and transparent with them, rather than defensive. They too can relax.

With fees no longer a source of dread, it was also now possible for Graham to raise the issue himself rather than hoping it wouldn’t come up.

“You’re probably wondering about the fees, so would you mind if I took a few minutes to explain how it all works?”

The next step was to develop some positive affirmations for Graham and the value he brings. He could build those into a daily practice and use them before client meetings.

And lastly, we worked on some scripts and scenarios for him to practice what he would say, and consolidated them with role-play exercises.

Graham is no longer trapped by the echoes of his past pain. Fee discussions have been turned from conflict into collaboration. What was once feared is now welcomed.

In our last session, Graham summed up the heart of the issue for him and what coaching had achieved. “What really changed for me is that I now feel we’re on the same side, rather than opposing sides.”

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Dennis Harhalakis

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Dennis Harhalakis