When your clients throw you a curve-ball

Financial Services

Noted securities lawyer Ellen Bessner recently published an article dealing with the issue of how to deal with unsolicited trade requests that may be considered unsuitable and how “what the client says they want is secondary to your professional obligation to assess product suitability to avoid allegations of unsuitable investments” (Bessner, 2021), I felt compelled to add a psychotherapist’s viewpoint on unsolicited and unsuitable trades through viewing the behaviours and beliefs that your clients and (and let’s be honest) you may hold around money and investments.

Let me preface by saying that I agree with Ellen’s sentiments regarding professional obligations and not letting your clients hold you hostage. I intend this article to apply a different viewpoint that may ultimately change the trajectory of the curveball you may be staring down.

One of the joys of being an adult is making decisions for ourselves. Sometimes, our choices are not well thought out, made with incomplete information, or made under duress (physically, socially, emotionally). On average, humans make upwards of 35,000 decisions a day (Krockow, 2018) which is why individuals hire financial advisors – to simplify their lives by helping them achieve their financial goals. These goals are inextricably linked to their current financial situation and needs along with their future financial objectives, needs, and wants.

Sometimes clients choose not to hear your recommendations, or they may be embarrassed to tell you that some other area of their life is not going well (marital trouble, professional stressors, etc.). Your client may have heard about a “sure thing” (#FOMO – fear of missing out), and maybe your client is lying to you. As a trusted partner to your client, in conjunction with your professional responsibilities, you have an opportunity to engage with your client with a deeper understanding which may lead to new information regarding the investment but also (and I argue more importantly) begin to know your client differently. What if the unsolicited trade was viewed as an opportunity, instead of a threat?

As a financial advisor, your role has been made infinitely more complicated by regulatory demands, rapidly changing environmental factors, combined with the additional stressor of COVID and all that it brings to the table. As Ellen points out in her article, sometimes “firing” your client or refusing to place the trade may be the best ultimate action to avoid a client complaint or conflict, but what if this behaviour was viewed through the opportunity lens of identifying the underserved need that the client has? So, what do you do when your client wants, nay insists, that you purchase an inappropriate investment for them?

First, acknowledge the client’s wishes to make the trade. This simple initial step will signal to your client that their request was heard and therefore minimize any disempowerment your client may feel. Clients feeling disempowered often respond with frustration, anger, or sadness (MIT, 2012) so listen carefully to what and how they speak to you.

Secondly, begin by asking the client what they hope to achieve, or gain, through the purchase of the investment. Identifying what the client’s hoped-for outcome is with the investment, will provide you with valuable clues as to what your client is trying to satisfy in their life. The unsuitable investment may be desired due to the projected gains realized – why does the client need/want these gains now? Why is this investment important to the client now, even though it does not “fit” within the established objectives and KYC elements gathered prior to the request?

As a psychotherapist, the concept of triangulation is used in family systems theory to understand how understanding how your clients cope with relationship and life stressors. Applying the triangulation concept to the unsolicited trade (see diagram) we see that the unsolicited investment is at the top, identifying it as an “outlying” behaviour.  This behaviour is what the client is using to reduce stress within their current reality. The solid lines represent the client’s perception of how this investment will satisfy their current reality, in other words how your client is coping with their life. Asking the client directly what they hope to achieve through this investment will indicate where the conversation should go next. The dotted line between your client and their reality suggests that it is somehow fractured or that something within the client’s current reality is causing a stress response (the unsuitable trade). Gaining an understanding of what is causing the current stress (broken line), will uncover the rationale for the trade and allow for you to respond from a place of understanding.

As a psychotherapist, the concept of triangulation is used in family systems theory to understand how understanding how your clients cope with relationship and life stressors. Applying the triangulation concept to the unsolicited trade (see diagram) we see that the unsolicited investment is at the top, identifying it as an “outlying” behaviour.  This behaviour is what the client is using to reduce stress within their current reality. The solid lines represent the client’s perception of how this investment will satisfy their current reality, in other words how your client is coping with their life. Asking the client directly what they hope to achieve through this investment will indicate where the conversation should go next. The dotted line between your client and their reality suggests that it is somehow fractured or that something within the client’s current reality is causing a stress response (the unsuitable trade). Gaining an understanding of what is causing the current stress (broken line), will uncover the rationale for the trade and allow for you to respond from a place of understanding.

Lastly, give your client the space and opportunity to speak without fear of judgement. Maintaining a non-judgmental stance can be challenging as you never know what a client may disclose. The challenge with judgements is that they are our individual perceptions of the situation, but they tend to be sneaky and insidious becoming our reality if we are not careful. If your client detects judgement, it may create an irreparable fissure in your relationship. Judgements also allow us to remain safe within our world; for example, petting that black and white “cat” may end up in you smelling bad the first time, but I guarantee you will pause the next time you see a skunk. 

Viewing the unsolicited trade as a symptom of something else that is going on in your client’s life allows you to get to know your client’s thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes around not only their investments and money but their life as well. Engaging with your clients through a different lens will, at a bare minimum, evidence enhanced due diligence when deciding what to do with the trade, learn valuable information regarding your client and their life, while not blowing up the relationship.

Remember, shift happens.


Bessner, E. (2021, November 15). “But that’s what the client wanted.” Investment Executive. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.investmentexecutive.com/inside-track_/ellen-bessner/but-thats-what-the-client-wanted/

Goldenberg, I., & Goldenberg, H. (2016). Family Therapy: An Overview, Loose-Leaf Version (9th ed.). Brooks Cole.

Khoddam, R. (2015, May 6). Why Judging Others Is Bad for You. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-addiction-connection/201505/why-judging-others-is-bad-you

Krockow Ph.D., E. M. (2018, September 27). How Many Decisions Do We Make In a Day. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/stretching-theory/201809/how-many-decisions-do-we-make-each-day

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2012, March 15). The power of being heard: Group with less power benefits more from sharing its perspective. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120315110151.htm

People (and maybe that includes you) are stressing you out.

So let’s do something about it. I help finance professionals like you solve business problems that involve people. You’ll learn why your clients do what they do, why you react the way you do and how to handle it all with less stress, less risk and more revenue. Yes, that’s how counselling and CE credits can impact you.

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