As markets swoon, brokers become couples counselors

Sep 6, 2011, 6:01 a.m.
A couple stands at the embankment of the Volga River in Samara, about 1000 km (620 miles) southeast of Moscow May 18, 2007. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Indeed, spending is a source of much contention these days for couples in retirement or nearing retirement, advisers said.

Just recently, Rand Spero, president of Street Smart Financial, a Lexington, Massachusetts-based registered investment adviser, said he talked recently with a 65-year-old husband keen on retiring -- while his 53-year-old wife was worried that given the turmoil in financial markets, she wouldn't have enough money to live off of.

"The market volatility makes these discussions, which are by nature already challenging, even more charged," he said.

In that particular situation, Spero showed the couple their assets and their liabilities, and that resolved the conflict.

"It was fairly clear that they couldn't afford for him not to continue to work," he said.

The compromise was that the wife had to agree to scale back on some house improvements she had planned. "I told them we would revisit it in a couple of years," he said.


A hot-button issue that advisers confront often, which has the potential of being more contentious in the current market climate, is whether or not to gift an adult child money.

"This is a very tricky issue and as a financial planner it's not my job to help them decide," Spero said.

What he can do is work with the couples on a compromise. In the case of a couple squabbling over whether they should help with their offspring's downpayment on a home, Spero offers suggestions, such as making it a loan instead of a gift, or just gifting part of it.

Spero tends to work with couples on areas where they can compromise.

"Rather than take sides, I come up with an alternative," he said.

Despite their best efforts, there are cases when the disagreement is more complex than how much each marriage partner is spending or saving, Ward said.

For these instances, he has a final trick to pull out of his advisory hat.

"I have two marriage counselors in my Rolodex for times like that," Ward said.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Satran)

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