FA Center: Like ‘going to hell and back.’ Battling cancer gave this financial adviser skills to build trust and listen better

Derek Amey and his wife tried to have a child. When that didn’t happen, he completed a urology exam. The urologist’s office called soon after. “You need to come back in,” he was told. “You don’t need an appointment.”

It turned out that not having kids wasn’t his biggest concern. The day before Thanksgiving in 2013, Amey, then 38, learned he had testicular cancer.

“I had no pain whatsoever,” said Amey, a partner at StrategicPoint Investment Advisors, a wealth management firm in Providence, R.I. “It’s only because of the tests for my infertility issue that led to it being discovered. We caught it early enough to treat it.”

Yet the treatment was aggressive because the cancer had started to spread to his lymph nodes. Over five months, he underwent three rounds of chemotherapy.

Amey describes the experience as “going to hell and back.” He lost all his hair while grappling with the uncertainty of fighting an invasive and terrifying disease. Early in 2019, five years after his final chemo treatment, he received the all-clear sign from his doctor that marked a full recovery.

“As I look back now, it made me a much better adviser and I wouldn’t change my diagnosis,” Amey says. For starters, he has developed a deeper level of empathy when he confers with prospects. He works with many young professionals who have never before hired a financial planner. He understands the anxiety and fear they may bring to the initial consultation.

“When I meet them for the first time, they may be afraid or embarrassed like I was,” he says. “They may come here carrying baggage and be anxious about it.”

Now 46, Amey has more than 13 years of experience as an adviser. He has learned how to support newcomers while delivering straightforward direction about changes they need to make to build their financial future. “I know what it’s like to receive devastating news and know it will be OK in the end,” he says.

He’s also attuned to the importance of building trust from the outset. From his experience as a cancer patient, he appreciates the power of first impressions.

“You’re putting a lot of trust in an oncologist you don’t really know,” Amey says. “But you have to decide in a short period of time” whether to put faith in the expert’s care. Similarly, he realizes that new clients need to decide to place their trust in him. And his actions and behavior can influence their comfort level.

Early in his career, Amey says, he dealt with the imposter syndrome. He sometimes questioned his bona-fides to offer financial advice. “How was a 37-year-old expected to tell a 60-year-old about retirement when I’ve never retired?” he said. To compensate, he used lots of jargon and overeducated clients without letting them direct the conversation.

After his cancer diagnosis, Amey became more attentive to others and less concerned about showing off his technical expertise. Rather than talk too much, he paused and looked for nonverbal cues to gauge whether clients seemed interested and engaged.

He also learned to speak plainly and face sensitive issues. “My oncologist did that well,” Amey says. “He was completely honest all along the way. He communicated with me even when the news was bad or there was the potential for bad outcomes.”

When market volatility rocks clients’ equanimity, Amey follows the same playbook. He reassures them while acknowledging risks and perils. “For those prone to panic, it’s trying to get ahead of their concerns,” he said. “It’s saying, ‘Your financial plan allows for a 30% market correction without a long-term impact.’”

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Also read: ‘I need to take care of myself or I won’t be able to keep doing this.’ From hard knocks, a financial adviser now helps families with special-needs challenges

This post was originally published on Market Watch

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