Retirement Planning

Coping With Financial Anxiety

Education helps ease clients’ stress

Consumers facing rising levels of financial anxiety can often find relief by working with financial planners to improve their financial literacy.

Many Americans were already feeling financial anxiety and stress even before the COVID-19 pandemic heightened economic pressures, according to a 2021 study by the Global Financial Literary Excellence Center (GFLEC) at George Washington University and FINRA. The study built on a 2018 survey that found 60 percent of Americans were anxious when thinking about personal finances, and 50 percent became stressed while discussing their economic situations.

“The greatest anxiety about personal finances was expressed by single women and young adults, demographic groups that have been hit particularly hard by the current crisis,” the study stated. “Over the past year, their financial struggles have likely been further exacerbated and their anxiety and stress levels worsened.”

Helping people reduce their financial anxiety is particularly important as they face major life decisions, according to Brian Carney, CFP®, co-founder of RiversEdge Advisors, LLC, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Carney said clients come to the financial planning firm with such questions as, “Should I retire, or should I sell my business?” or, “When is the right time to sell my business?” These types of questions require modeling and analysis to gather enough information to help the client feel completely comfortable in their decision.

Carey photo“If they ask whether they can retire now, we run their financial plan,” he explained. “We may find that they cannot live on what they have now and may need to wait until they are 68. Now we can refocus our attention on that goal and devise a strategy to make sure they can retire at 68. Situations like that can really paralyze a client and give them a ton of anxiety about their overall financial situation. But once we know the facts, it’s easy for us to pivot and help them find a strategy to address their alternate goal.”

The FINRA-GFLEC report found that financial stress and anxiety are often linked to a lack of financial literacy, which can be addressed by improving consumers’ financial knowledge. Carney noted client education plays a large role in the RiversEdge process.

“There is no lack of information available about financial matters,” he said. “Money can be overwhelming and intimidating for people. Our ‘superpower’ is helping our clients by taking highly complicated ideas and making them very simple, straightforward, and easy to understand.”

Financial advisors who are overly-technical and speak in industry jargon can ruin a client’s experience with the industry. Carney said he feels the top issue in financial services is using jargon and talking over a client’s head, which can be intimidating.

“I think full and complete transparency of everything that’s going on in the client’s account is something that could help shift the industry as a whole to a more formal experience,” he added. “Also, the client should know exactly how much they are paying their advisors to know whether they are providing value to justify their fee.”

Most clients simply want to feel empowered, he said, which results from understanding the strategies created to address their needs. His firm provides clients enough data and analysis so they feel comfortable they are making the best decisions to meet their goals.

“Our firm is dedicated to providing financial planning to people and helping them figure out a strategy to achieve their goals,” Carney explained. “Certainly investments plays a role in that strategy. However, we really want to focus on the financial planning aspects.”

Many of the firm’s clients are business owners whose companies range from startups through long-established enterprises. He said the firm helps owners craft strategies around lowering income taxes through retirement plans or cash balance plans. Reducing their corporate tax burden also helps owners achieve their personal goals.

Retirement planning for both business owners and individuals requires customized solutions tailored to meet each client’s unique circumstances, Carney said. People need different advice based on their personal situation if they will retire at age 62 versus 65, for example. A financial planner’s guidance significantly impacts their decision on when to retire, plus their future success and financial independence.

Increasingly, technology plays a significant role in financial planning and investment management. Without the right technical tools, it is difficult to provide custom solutions for each client.

“If a firm isn’t investing heavily in technology, they will fall behind,” said Carney. “We have a large tech budget so we can use a wide variety of different software tools to efficiently provide a customized approach for each of our clients. When you use old-school Excel spreadsheets, there can be a lot of human input issues. Being able to build a robust technology stack helps us streamline things and integrate data from multiple technology platforms. That is huge for both providing quality advice and enhancing the client experience.”

The proliferation of investment apps, financial planning tools, and robo-advisors has brought many of those capabilities to the general public. Carney said that while there a number of people who do not need to hire a financial advisor because they can manage their own money and are comfortable using those digital platforms, there are three reasons why many continue using the services of a financial advisor.

“Number one, people don’t want to manage their money or their financial plan,” he explained. “Number two, they don’t know how to do it. They may read a lot of articles but they get confused about exactly what they should do, so they need a professional to help guide them. And third, for some people, it is a combination of the other two reasons: they don’t know how and they don’t have to learn how if they work with a financial professional.”

Ultimately, a successful client engagement comes down to building personal relationships.

“First and foremost, we want to work with people that we like,” Carney said. “We will not work with people who we think are going to be difficult. We want to work with someone we might like to have a beer with and not even talk about business. Our personality match is really more important than any financial measures we could determine.”

For more information on RiversEdge Advisors, visit


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