Behavior modification is one of the most important tools we advisors can use to help our clients. After all, it’s not enough that we make a great plan for our clients — we must ensure the plan is implemented.
In helping your clients, you often encounter what I call DIPS along the way. DIPS is an acronym I use that stands for Denial, Ignorance, Procrastination, and Stuck or Stubborn. It can be challenging when you interact with clients to help them understand your viewpoint or suggested plans.
When encountering an obstacle in the planning process, my first step is to determine whether my client fits any of the DIPS categories. Are they in denial? Are they unaware or ignorant of the issue? Are they procrastinating? Are they stuck or perhaps stubborn? How do we as advisors work with clients in each of these situations?
Denial is either the action of declaring something to be untrue or the refusal of something requested or desired. One of the good things about the life insurance industry is that we don’t often face denial. Most people accept and understand that they ultimately are going to die. Where they perhaps fool themselves is when they believe it is not going to happen soon. A client’s refusing to get coverage now is essentially procrastination.
If we think about denial in a retirement planning situation, someone might believe they will die before they retire or perhaps early in their retirement, so they don’t believe they need to save a lot of money for retirement. It is important to handle this argument with sincerity, so it’s essential that you acclimate yourself with the client’s thinking, perceptions and beliefs. Perhaps no one in their family has lived past age 70. However, we might consider it ignorance if their belief is that they will die before reaching age 70.
Ignorance is the lack of knowledge or information. Ignorance is the easiest of the DIPS for an advisor to overcome. It usually signals additional education is needed. A client may be ignorant about the risks and challenges they face. It is our primary role to educate our clients and make them aware of things they may not have considered. After they are informed of their situation, a client might rethink their decision.
For example, a client may end up agreeing they should have life insurance because they have been made to understand they must have coverage in place before they need it. We must educate clients about the fact that it takes money and good health to acquire life insurance. In a retirement planning perspective, you must help clients understand that although they might think they are going to die before reaching age 70, perhaps they still should plan as if they might live longer. The reality is, education can turn ignorance into knowledge but we need to make sure clients care. If clients have the knowledge, but they still don’t care or don’t care enough, we will find ourselves battling procrastination.
Procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something. It is perhaps our biggest challenge with clients. You may want to help clients implement a plan, but find that they are not ready or motivated to act on that plan.
To overcome procrastination, we must be proactive and persistent. But at the same time, we must be careful not to cross the “pest” line. The act of being persistent often will have an end point. For example, you advise the client in each annual review that they need to start saving more for their retirement, but years go by and nothing changes. Do you stop giving this advice and accept that they won’t move forward? Or do you consider terminating your relationship with the client? Perhaps the client wasn’t procrastinating; maybe they were stuck or being stubborn, or both.
Stuck, the past tense of stick, is defined as “immovable, baffled, beaten or at one’s wit’s end.” Let’s say the client hasn’t been procrastinating over buying insurance, but instead they had “analysis paralysis.” The client didn’t know what was the right thing to do so they did nothing because they were afraid to make the wrong choice.
I once had a client who was stuck because, like his father, he had this underlying fear that if he were to buy life insurance, he would die soon afterward. He had just built a big house, and he had two young children. I kept trying to persuade him to protect his family because the risk was far too great not to. Of course, it took a while to find out he was stuck and not procrastinating. Stuck can be hard to overcome and may be confused with being stubborn.
Stubborn is having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so. It also means “difficult to move, remove or cure”.
Let’s face it: Sometimes people aren’t in denial, ignorant regarding the matter, prolonging their decision process through procrastination or even stuck — they are stubborn.
For example, you may make a great argument as to why a client should implement your plan, but they refuse to budge. This might be when we let a client go or when we decide to protect ourselves by documenting the client’s action, inaction or difference of opinion. In other words, make a plan of action or recommendation, and get it in writing that they understand your point but are not going to implement your advice.
We often see this when it comes to selling long-term care insurance. We can describe the potential need of having LTCi coverage, but clients aren’t going to budge, or at least not right now. There is no reason to argue with clients once you understand you have a difference of opinion. You must accept it and move on.
At the end of the day, it can be difficult to deal with others, because humans are complex beings. I try to understand my clients and their perspectives and beliefs as much as possible. I try to speak in plain English and without a lot of the insurance jargon that can be confusing. I try to have my clients implement the best recommendation I have for their situation, but if they don’t care to act, for any of the DIPS reasons, I document that reason to the best of my ability and understanding.
Using the DIPS acronym is essentially a checklist for me to follow when faced with planning obstacles. By visiting each DIPS category, I try to determine how to help a client move forward and make the appropriate financial decisions for their situation. Ultimately, my goal is to leave clients in a better position than how I found them.
How do you deal with the DIPS?
Robert M. Barnes, CLU, ChFC, CWPP, is president of Integrated Insurance Consulting. He specializes in business and estate planning. He may be contacted at email@example.com.