Making A Connection
Some advisors find psychiatrists and psychologists a solid niche market.
By CAREN CHESLER
In a commercial for Faberge Organic Shampoo back in the 1970s, a woman with shiny brown hair says, “You’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on.” As she says this, the screen splits into two images of the woman, and then four, and then eight, and then 16, to illustrate the effects of viral marketing. The concept is based on the notion that a customer tells an average of three people about a product or service he likes. Financial planners who advise psychiatrists and psychologists have seen the concept first hand.
“I’ve gotten volumes of clients through referrals,” says Julie Murphy Casserly, who owns a wealth management firm in Chicago.
Casserly says about 10% of her clients are psychologists and psychiatrists, and they have sent her so many referrals that about a third of her entire customer base has come from them. One such therapist, for instance, realized she had issues with money that were hindering her ability to save, and once she saw that, she realized how many of her patients were in a similar predicament.
One patient earned $280,000 a year and yet kept racking up about $50,000 in debt, putting herself into a hole out of which she would have to climb. The therapist sent the patient to Casserly. Having written a book entitled, The Emotion Behind Money: Building Wealth From the Inside Out, Casserly was familiar with the phenomenon.
“If you have a single woman in her mid-30s, for instance, and she’s dealing with, ‘Why aren’t you married yet? What’s wrong with me?’ she is emotionally spewing all over the place, and one of the biggest places this manifests itself is in an unhealthy relationship with money,” Casserly says.
Casserly says few advisors address the emotional aspects of money. She, on the other hand, is aware of that link and helps people transcend their emotions so they can begin to build wealth. “That’s why I resonated with this therapist,” she says.
With 100,000 psychologists and about 41,000 practicing psychiatrists in the United States today, some advisors have targeted this niche, particularly because it is fertile ground for referrals. Casserly isn’t just sent individuals. She sometimes winds up with married couples, who she says can be particularly tricky because you’re then dealing with two peoples’ money issues and the tangled web that can create.
One couple included a man who is a top litigator in Chicago and makes a lot of money but can’t seem to hold on to it, while his wife is very conservative about money and hates how much her husband spends. Casserly met with the couple and determined where they really wanted their money spent. She then brought in a bookkeeper as an objective third party, to make sure the money was spent accordingly.
“He’s great at creating the cash, but he’s not good at holding on to it, and that clearly comes from his background. His parents were entrepreneurs, and it was always feast or famine,” Casserly says. “When you have a married couple, there’s a lot of acting out. They both bring emotional baggage from their parents.”
William Glassner, a financial planner in Cedar Knolls, N.J., says the referral stream from psychologists and psychiatrists is so strong that he began with just one couple 25 years ago, but through referrals, about 15% of his clients are now such professionals.
Glassner, who is also a managing executive with Royal Alliance, a New York-based subsidiary of AIG Advisory Group, says over the years, he has come to see personality traits and idiosyncrasies common to this group, and being mindful of them has helped him develop this niche. For instance, therapists have very little time for money matters—usually a couple of minutes here and there when they aren’t seeing their patients—so if you’ve set up a phone appointment, it’s of utmost importance to be prompt. The call should be made and completed within that time frame, Glassner says.
Many psychologists and psychiatrists also are not very focused on money matters, so they need to be called periodically, perhaps quarterly or semiannually, just so you can maintain contact. Without those occasional touches, you can lose this type of client, he says. Glassner says about 75% of his clients don’t seem particularly focused on their finances. With his therapist clients, that number is 100%.
“They’re just not very interested in their money and finances. Their eyes glaze over pretty fast,” Glassner says. “You can tell when you’re losing them, and it’s usually sooner in the meeting than in the general population.”
That can work to an advisor’s advantage, as it sometimes means they’re more reliant on their advisors. But he says it’s always more interesting when the client takes a little initiative.
Glassner believes this client base also likes a low-key approach. He’s straightforward about fees and doesn’t try to push financial products on them. He’s also honest about what he can deliver in terms of performance, an approach that he says puts him at a disadvantage with other segments of the population but serves him well with this one.
“There are some advisors who are more sale-sy, and I don’t think that would go over very well with this clientele,” Glassner says. “With this group, if you give them a line, they would see right through it.”
Glassner says he also tries to make a bit of small talk whenever he calls them. Psychologists and psychiatrists spend long stretches of the day interacting with no one except their patients, and all they’re doing is listening. Sometimes they crave normal social interaction, he says. One of his clients, who is a social worker, came into his office with her husband, and Glassner says he launched immediately into a discussion about the couple’s finances. The woman stopped him and asked if they could relax and have some friendly chitchat before talking about money.
“Some people who work all day long in an office with others might want to go for a hike on their time off. With this group, some [of these types of clients] have said they make a point of spending some time with people on their day off,” Glassner says.
When it comes to financial products, this population has the same needs as others, since most of them have the same business model: one- or two-person offices, a fair amount of income and few expenses—perhaps a receptionist or office manager, a telephone and rent, which some share. The result is they like defined benefit plans or 401(k) plans that allow for large contributions. This can be a small boon for the advisor, who gets to take that money and invest it. With their more traditional clients, advisors don’t usually get a piece of the retirement savings. The client typically puts that money directly into his company’s 401(k) plan.
Despite that allure, a lot of financial advisors avoid catering to M.D.s and Ph.D.s. They’re viewed as difficult, and they often skip appointments, says Michael W. Halloran, a wealth management advisor in Jacksonville, Fla. Halloran hasn’t been discouraged. About half his practice is M.D.s, a segment he has actively courted, and some 5% of them are psychologists and psychiatrists.
Such therapists are much slower to make decisions than, say, surgeons. The advisor may throw out a concept, and the surgeon will come back with a “yes” or “no” relatively quickly. The therapists will take a lot more time to make a decision because they’re more analytical and want to do their homework first.
They’re also harder to read, Halloran says. With a surgeon, he can tell whether he’s connecting. Therapists, in contrast, are trained to not react. They’re not sending out any messages, Halloran says.
“They would be good poker players,” Halloran says. “I have colleagues who say they won’t work with psychologists or psy-chiatrists because they say, ‘I don’t know if I’m connecting,’ whereas they’ll say they like to work with surgeons and ER doctors because they make quick decisions.”
Halloran, whose practice is affiliated with the insurer Northwestern Mutual, says one of the more popular products he sells to his therapist clients is disability overhead expense policies, which kick in if the therapist is unable to work. It would pay the rent for the therapist’s office space and his phone and electric bills, as well as the cost of his staff.
Halloran also tries to sell his therapists health insurance, noting that if they don’t provide their staff with benefits, they’re likely to experience high turnover. Unlike Casserly, however, Halloran doesn’t see a large referral stream coming from this group. They’re reluctant to refer their patients, and many don’t socialize with colleagues of the same profession, so they don’t even have anyone to recommend.
“I get more referrals from my physicians,” Halloran says. “Unless they know the person on a personal basis, I’m not going to get a referral.”
Given his reliance on insurance products, Halloran says he might have a hard time working with clients who are seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist—particularly if they’re being treated for depression. He says insurers are reluctant to extend long-term care or life insurance coverage to people who are depressed and on medication.
“They’re going to charge a lot more because they’re afraid of suicide,” Halloran says. “Every time I put in an application that has the word ‘depression’ on there, I know I’m going to have trouble with underwriting.”