2013 Super Women’s Summit Keynote Amy Florian: Overcoming the Awkwardness of Grief

Amy Florian was just 25 years old when she lost her husband, John, in an icy car wreck. Suddenly the widowed mother of a 7-month-old son, Florian found herself surrounded by dozens of well-intentioned people who had absolutely no idea what to say or how to act around her.

“When John died, I needed to trust many service providers,” Florian writes on her company website.
“Some mumbled platitudes and handed me a tissue before quickly moving to the comfort zone of business. Others ignored the death altogether. In almost every case, their awkwardness around me was excruciating for both of us, and I came away feeling like little more than a number in their contact list.”

Since her husband’s death, Florian has worked with more than 2,500 grieving people to help them heal from life’s crushing losses, and she consults with businesses, professionals and individuals across the country. After earning a master’s degree and Fellow in Thanatology (the highest international level of certification in the field of grief studies), she began her own consulting and coaching business, Corgenius, focusing on training people in the health care and financial services professions by taking a secular, “grief happens to everyone” approach.

Florian said she expanded her grief counseling beyond the usual hospice, health care centers and churches after a financial advisor friend asked her to coach him through situations with clients who were having a tough emotional time.

“I coached him through a couple of examples, and he immediately started introducing me to his colleagues, believing every financial advisor needed to know what I had to share,” Florian said.  From there, most of Florian’s business has come from word-of-mouth referrals given by attendees at her sessions.

Florian stated that 70 percent of widows switch their financial advisor within three years after their husband’s death.  Most financial advisors believe this is because the advisor didn’t build a relationship with the living spouse before the death. Florian believes there is a different reason.

“My proposal is that even more important than the relationship you build ahead of time is the level of effective grief support,” Florian said. “If she comes in for the post-funeral appointment and is amazed at how different you are from everyone else (including family and friends ), if you know what to say and do, if you seem to understand and can help her be comfortable with her experience, then she is far more likely to trust you and keep you in charge of her financial wellbeing. In fact, why would she leave? When you walk people through the toughest times of their life, you gain a client for life.”

Florian was chosen to speak at Securities America’s Connect! National Conference Super Women’s Summit in Washington, D.C., June 2013. Janine Wertheim, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Securities America, regularly attends conferences in search of inspiring content to share with women advisors at company-sponsored events.

“Amy’s name kept coming up when I asked about top women speakers they would recommend,” Wertheim said. “After reviewing the content on her website, I felt the topics she discusses really resonate with me not only from a business perspective but personally as well. Grief touches everyone somehow, someway. Having someone with expertise in this area coach us on how we can be a blessing and a positive force in helping someone through a difficult time is a valuable lesson.”

Florian likes the fact that everything she teaches about supporting clients during transition and loss can help attendees both professionally and personally. They learn to effectively support their clients, family, and friends, and they learn how to help themselves. They understand the swirling emotions, the foggy thinking and the common fear that the survivor’s future happiness died with their loved one.

“Grieving people think they’re crazy, but I tell them they’re not crazy; they’re just grieving,” Florian said. “They can get through this, and even though it doesn’t seem possible at the time, they can come out as a better person on the other side. Grief is hard work, and grieving people need to be patient with themselves. Sometimes they just need to keep breathing, keep doing whatever they can and ask for help when they need it.”

Florian said many clients and advisors may find it very hard to ask for help. She notes, though, that getting help is not a sign of weakness. It reflects a positive decision to heal and to find a way to put the broken pieces back into some kind of order.

“Many people are afraid this topic is sad or depressing,” Florian said. “It’s not, because I teach with a good dose of humor. Besides, the thing that is truly sad and depressing is when you don’t know what to say and do to help people when they need you most. When you understand the grief experience and you confidently say and do things that truly help, it is inspiring, life-giving and fulfilling.”

Florian said she has met many people who share her passion for helping others, including financial advisors who have been through traumatic experiences themselves and have learned through those experiences.

“I share not just one person’s experience, but the experience of more than 2,000 grieving people with whom I worked in the past two decades, plus a deep education in death and grief studies, and my own time working in financial markets, all delivered with the passion that comes from my heart,” Florian said. “Most financial advisors say what they love about their job is that they are truly helping other people. I equip them to do a better job of that, while at the same time helping their business by retaining clients and gaining referrals.”

Most businesses are largely dependent on the relationships owners build with their clients. Florian believes advisors can be very good at personal interaction skills, but if they aren’t prepared for those tough times, they will stumble over the words, not know what to say and eventually alienate clients.

“If you set yourself apart because you know how to ask non-intrusive, inviting questions, you know how to listen and you know how to offer support without intruding into a client’s personal life, you not only build trust and loyalty, but you will gain referrals,” Florian said. “Because I facilitate support groups, I see how those referrals and relationships work. People talk to each other, and the one thing they want to know most is who they can trust in the most vulnerable and difficult times of their lives. Is that you?”

To learn more about Amy Florian or Corgenius Inc., visit http://www.corgenius.com/.

*This article originally ran in Securities America’s Connect! Magazine 2013.