JOHN A: This is John A Warnick, and it’s just an incredible privilege and pleasure today to introduce you to Charles and Oksana. I’m gonna let Charles do the introductions, but I’ll just say they joined PPI in the second half of last year, and I’m very, very excited about what they’re bringing to the community. So Charles, take it away.
CHARLES: Hi everybody! My name is Dr. Charles Eckhart. I’m a clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara. My business partner and close colleague here, Dr. Oksana Yakushko, also a clinical psychologist, and I are excited to talk on the podcast a little bit about, hopefully, the utility of this psychological theory called Attachment theory. But briefly, we’ll introduce ourselves. We’re both clinical psychologists and wealth consultants located in Santa Barbara, California. We provide relational consulting for ultra high net worth families, family offices, and consultation for wealth advisors as well. Both of us have backgrounds in academia, having both taught and served in administrative roles at various doctoral institutions, and Oksana is also a widely published researcher into clinical psychology and psychoanalysis. As members of PPI, we are excited to participate in the podcast and hope to contribute a little bite-sized chunk of insight that may help other consultants and advisors in understanding their clients and adapting the services we offer to the worldview of the client themselves.
So coming off of the recent PPI symposium, we’re excited to talk about this concept. We think it’s relevant to understanding the psychology underlying relationships and relational bonds. Attachment theory can influence relationships. One’s attachment can influence relationship flexibility, rapport building, boundaries and the navigation of conflict. As psychoanalytically oriented clinical psychologists, Oksana and I are both interested in family and relationship dynamics. But particularly those dynamics that are hidden or unacknowledged, that can sometimes blow up relationships, make relationships very complex. And in terms of business, it can make negotiation very difficult. Or, on the other hand, when secure attachment is achieved, that can make negotiations relatively smooth.
So today, we intend to talk about this Attachment theory, which is a widely researched and research-validated psychological theory. And we believe that we can add much to our understanding of the navigation of family wealth dynamics. So, I think what we’ll do is we’ll start with Oksana giving us a little bit of the history of Attachment theory and talk about some of the very useful research that’s been done, some in South Africa. In fact, a lot of this research has been done outside of the states. But she’s gonna to talk some about the history of Attachment theory and the research that’s been done using Attachment theory to serve wealth management and consultation. And then I’ll wrap up the talk with a little bit of implications that could be useful for wealth advisors.
OKSANA: Thank you, Charles. And thank you, John A and Julie for hosting us. One of the key points of origins of Attachment theory and stress points is the importance of trust and bonds. And the idea, of course, emerged that our early relationships with our parents or the caregivers give us a secure base, a way to relate to ourselves and others, especially in times of crisis. And so, that’s one of the original and kind of through lines of this theory. But the origins of it are, in psychoanalytic theory, drawn back to possibly Freud, because he was very interested in relationships in early development. But it was a London-based psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who began work in the 40s and 50s in London. And he began to notice, through his clinical work and research, that early experiences — and not just the parents but with other caregivers — make a lifelong difference in how people relate to themselves and others. And then it got picked up by a lot of other scholars. One of them was a US-based Mary Ainsworth, who worked in Johns Hopkins Hospital, and observed numerous, numerous babies, children and parents. And she worked internationally. And she began to identify these patterns of what was beginning to be understood as secure attachment, when children and adults have this trusting relationship, and also patterns of what they began to call insecure attachment. And so one of the reasons it became interesting and well developed, it became a grand theory called and one of the scholars that withdrawn note that it’s probably one of the most researched and most utilized theories in psychology in the past 30 years. And one of the fascinating things is that’s since its beginning, since the 40s, and 50s, there have been studies that began in the 70s that continue with the same individuals, generations, generations. So it’s also one of the most recognized and validated theories, because you can now track through time about the importance of this theory. One of the quotes I really liked, “…that it’s an extensive, inclusive theory of personality and social development that covers the entire life course.
And it is focused on how people think, feel and behave in a particular way that is very based and specific to relationships.” It’s how people feel and behave in relationships, how they form trust. And one of the ways that I’m going to bring it is to the world of consulting and out of the clinical room, so even our personal relationships. It’s because Attachment theory then began to be applied to numerous other areas, certainly education, business, organizational development, career success, politics. But there’s some really interesting one: attachment to home, a home, a land or attachments to…there’s a whole area of attachment to God, and spirituality. And so, it is a very wide theory that’s been validated, researched, very dynamic scholarship. And so what the concepts are, is that early attachment, they’re called ‘patterns’ for kids, for children, become our attachment styles. We begin to see the world and ourselves in particular kind of schemas or ways. And having secure attachment gives us this very (what’s called) ‘secure base’, a safe base. And then where it matters the most is that during, especially crisis, or perceived distress, or changes or transitions, we can regulate emotions and have this sense of trust in ourselves and others in the world, that helps us manage these kinds of more challenging times. And so why it’s important, is because life is full of such conditions. And sometimes, unfortunately, we also have difficult early relationships — so other relationships — and how we can get through them is often the strength we derive from that experience of relationships. And I want to stress that, although there’s a perception that, and even early on that it’s all about, say parents. And parents are vitally important—mothers and fathers. But Attachment theory stresses that we can attach to so many good people. It’s also grandparents, it’s also teachers, it’s also our even siblings and nannies. But we have to have those experiences where we can feel trust, and we can feel that kind of secure, trusting relationship. And therefore it can happen throughout lifetime. So trusting your advisor, trusting your therapist, all these relationships take more work and take time. But it’s possible to change attachment styles. It’s possible to keep developing that secure base.
So, I want to shift a little bit to think specific because there has been fascinating research done (for example) for wealth management. One of the studies was done last year. As Charles mentioned, a lot of it is done internationally. And it’s Spies and colleagues, and they are based in South Africa. They interviewed 1,230 wealth management customers. And what they found in their statement is that attachment style was empirically confirmed, so found to be key and has direct effect on customer retention. That the more securely attached the customer was, the more securely based they were, they had a committed relationship with their advisors. And the less secure they were, these are the people who don’t retain, they fire and fire and fire, or they feel a lot of dissatisfaction in the relationship; nothing is enough, there’s not enough done, and so forth and so on. So their study is — and maybe Charles will come back to it with like, just really applied ideas for what to keep in mind — when advisors and others managers can keep in mind and be able to think through what do they see and perceive in relationship to sense of trust relationship, and so forth with people they work with.
Another interesting study I want to mention is that in 2021, Santos did a study with high networth families, specifically family enterprises, and was looking in ways how attachment patterns influence passing on the wealth, so generational wealth transfer. So they were interested that we behave often in such situation similarly, the way that we behave in our families, called it kind of kinship dynamics. And then it was Hedberg and Lou Chuck. What they found, for example, that people who have family enterprises, who, for example, have more anxious attachment styles, tend to pass their both wealth or business transfers make them in a way that emphasizes their control. So it’s people who feel they need control, even after they pass on, that they feel uneasy about, they feel not trusting of the next generation or others who can help them. So they need to emphasize all manner of control. It’s hard for them to depend on others. Whereas, people who have more secure attachment, they have a much more fluid way of looking at the whole team, trusting people managing resources, and there was a lot of a very different experience of that transfer of wealth based on attachment style.
Lastly, I want to emphasize this. Charles and I also, in our clinical practice, work with families where concern is often about the next generation. So, rising Gen individuals, concerns about children, concerns about how they see wealth, how they (I know people don’t like the terms entitlement) but they worry about children being materialistic, entitled, or uninterested, and so forth. There were several studies done that actually, in families that can emphasize really good bonds and trust, regardless of wealth, and including highly affluent families, these kinds of relationships can help children actually be quite grounded in terms of how they perceive themselves and the world, and money and so forth. And it isn’t families that have a lot more unease and anxious attachment and problematic attachment where such, the wealth becomes kind of a power card. And it becomes much more about fighting in a relationship. It’s one way to fight parents about it, or be like it’s entitled, or materialistic, or uneasy about the world and themselves, than just wealth itself.
So lastly, I’m going to say that someone in Netherlands, Strike’s work, who uses the term ‘Most Trusted Advisor’. And what he says is that Most Trusted Advisors are people who use the subtle (what he called) advice and tactics, who are very emotionally attuned, and who think about what is the relationship of trust? What is the dynamics in these kinds of advising relationships? And so we also, in working with people, there’s probably two sides to it, is what our kind of comfort in relationship is as advisors and what people we work with, and how can we pay attention and assess it? So I’m going to stop there with that summary, and pass the buck to Charles to just speak really practically about how to apply this theory.
CHARLES: Excellent. Thank you. Before I go on with my stuff, I want to emphasize this idea that is so compelling and provocative to me, which is, given that money has meaning imbibed in it, that along with capital comes a Trojan horse of all kinds of family mythology and meaning and symbolic messaging. And the research that Oksana is citing here is suggesting that entitlement is not about consumptive spending. Entitlement has much less to do with financial modeling of consumptive spending, or much more restrictive consumptive spending. It has much more to do with the attachment trust and bonds that are formed in relationships. And according to this research, when we see somebody who’s struggling with this idea of entitled or exhibiting some level of entitlement, it’s very helpful for us to think about how maybe that comes from something symbolic in the family, something having to do with the way connection, bonds, trust, love, are communicated or not communicated, and having much less to do with people’s exposure to luxury, or something like that. So, I wanted to hammer on that a little bit, because I think it’s so valuable.
JOHN A: So, just gotta say, I really appreciate your making that point. It just strikes me that parents too often focus on the material gifts and the structures, and don’t realize there’s a gift of themselves — I call it ‘the gift of you’ — and how they make those gifts. It just makes sense to me. And now I am hearing all this research to support it. So that’s very helpful. But it just makes sense to me that as we, parents and grandparents, seek to give positive emotional support, love, and all of the aspects that would be associated with that, that the success of the financial plan, the estate plan is going to be amplified, versus those where it’s more grounded in a focus where the parents and grandparents are so materially focused, and they’ve taken their eye off of the importance of trust and bonds and the positive emotion.
CHARLES: Sure. In my view, it’s a very positive news. The idea that the greatest protection of the stewardship of wealth is building close, solid, trusting relationships with next generations. Oksana, I appreciate you walking through some of the origins of Attachment theory. Want to be sure we do not underplay the significance of the theory, given the volume of research that’s been done that very much supports these conclusions. When we’re discussing Attachment theory for financial advising, our central proposal for advisors is the following: Understanding attachment theory gives some extra tools for sophisticated advisors, and can greatly benefit retention, trust and the quality of the working relationship between advisors and clients. So for the purpose of today, in this bite-sized little snack, I’m going to try and talk about some differences between securely attached insecurely attached clients and wealth advising. Oksana and I will put a small white paper on our website that will explicate some of the stuff and give a little bit more in-depth view as to how we might suggest advisors specifically work with various attachment styles. But for the purpose of today, let’s just think about how we can assess and then what we might do to learn about our client’s attachment styles.
So first, to assess attachment styles. While it’s not a perfect system, we can learn a lot about our clients with a few simple questions in your intake paperwork. There’s a movement in wealth advising paperwork to ask more questions that try and understand people, their experience of the world, who they are, what their families are like, the way they deal with all sorts of things in their lives. And it’s our proposal that we ask a couple of attachment oriented questions. So a few of those might be something like, “Tell me about your prior relationships with advisors.” You can also ask in conversation. What if you find somebody who says, “Look, my parents had their first advisor who didn’t turn out so well. They transferred and they found a second advisor who they stayed with for 25 years. And they had a long, rich, fertile relationship with them. And that advisor has passed on, and so now we’re looking. They retired and so now we’re looking for a new one.” To me, that would be a great sign that this person is likely to be looking to develop a long-term relationship with an advisor, and probably is more securely attached. What if they said, “Look, this is my 12th one. I’ve been searching for an advisor for 15 years. I don’t last more than a year with somebody for more than 18 months.” It might be an indication that there might be a more insecure attachment style. We could ask, “When there’s a crisis, what’s your typical response?” And kind of listen for it. “Well, I look to get help from experts, I lean on people I trust.” Or, you kind of listen for something that sounds more chaotic. “When I’m overwhelmed about a financial situation, I usually dot dot dot, and usually do when you’re overwhelmed about financially, about a liquidity crisis or something.” One very difficult area to navigate in my financial life is, question mark. “When I’m overwhelmed, my favorite way to call myself is…?” when he says, “Well, I go play golf, or I have a conversation with my spouse, go have a long walk on the beach or something.” These are good signs. Somebody says, “What’s that supposed to mean?” We think, “Uh oh.” “How is conflict about money usually dealt with in your family?” We get a little bit of a sense for how much conflict there is around money. “Can it be spoken about?” “Can the person hear the other side, or the other experience of their children, their parents or whoever (it might be their spouse)?” You can also ask, “Do you find wealth advisors are generally trustworthy? Capable? Do you see them mostly as grifters?” It’s gonna give us a little bit of information about how they’re going to see this.
So, securely attached adults have a basic level of trust that influences their relationships. Research suggests that clients with secure attachments will be stickier, and easier to maintain longer relationships with them. And they’ll be able to weather relational adversities better. When there’s a death in the family, when there is crisis in the market, when they get into a potentially sticky financial situation, they’ll be able to weather that more easily. They’ll be able to kind of stand on their feet and trust that their advisors are hopefully going to provide them a useful way through the mess. They can articulate their needs, and can also stay out of the way for advisors to do their job. We can encourage founding generation clients to go and speak with a rising Gen kids. We can give them a few areas to discuss. And if they’re securely attached, we can expect that it’s going to go pretty well. Might be difficult for them, but it will probably turn out okay. It’s not gonna turn out in crisis. We can encourage these families to have family meetings leading up to big transitions, to have conversations around family legacy and the meaning of what is passed down. And these conversations will likely be fruitful. We can emphasize the strengths of families like this, and trust that the conversations about those strengths will build on them, rather than feel like we’re missing something really significant. We can probably bring in other consultants or colleagues within the firm, or from outside the firm, and these clients will presume that they’re capable, they’re well intended, they’re ready to help. These clients, they also read people well, so they can spot someone who’s untrustworthy, because they know what fundamental trust looks like. So I don’t want to paint this in a pollyannaish sort of way to say that these clients are people who just presume everyone is good. That’s certainly not the case. They have a good filter for good and not good when they assess relationships.
So what about insecurely attached clients? In contrast, insecurely attached adults don’t have as easy a time spotting someone who’s untrustworthy. They might perceive everybody as untrustworthy and might be very difficult to trust. They’re dialed very differently, and they have a lot of false positives in terms of untrustworthy people. They frequently think trustworthy people are untrustworthy (to be redundant). Insecurely attached clients are shown to be more doubtful of their advisors. They are more likely to fire their advisors in periods of crisis, since trusting relationships are difficult for them to sustain. So this is kind of dangerous news for our advisors. The last time we want an advisor to get fired is right in the middle of a financial crisis in the family, right? If there’s going to be a transition to a new advisory firm, we want that to happen slowly over time in a way that’s thoughtful, that prevents tax leakage, that can pass on the wisdom from one advisor about this account to the next, those sorts of things. We want to prevent, as advisors, people hastily running because they’re panicked or overwhelmed. These clients can sometimes seem difficult or demanding, or the opposite, they can seem unreachable or challenging to engage. So these are clients that we want to identify earlier than later and provide extra support, right? So first question, one thing I was worried about doing is painting this dichotomy between secure and insecure, and then saying, “Look, just focus, try and get secure ones because that’s easier. It’s going to be easier for advisors.” We want our insecurely attached clients to get help as well. And they deserve good services for the management of their capital and the passing on of this over generations, stewardship of the resources. So for insecurely attached clients, it’s necessary for us to try and identify it early on, and provide some extra support, understand their worldview. Understand that maybe it’s extra difficult for them to trust. A lot of times, founding generation folks, when people build massive amounts of wealth, a lot of times it’s as a result of adversity. How many times have we talked to founding generation and heard these really remarkable stories of coming out of adversity and building something really beautiful, sometimes much bigger than they ever would have imagined. And oftentimes, it is on the back of difficulty with trust can make somebody a really excellent capital allocator, can make somebody a really excellent adviser. They’re very protective of downside because they’re untrusting. It might make for a great adviser, they might build great wealth, but then they’re later relationship challenges. So, they’ll require some extra patience and understanding from us. Most importantly, we’ll need a way to understand them. So if we can understand some of where they’re coming from, we can adjust our expectations and try to set up our advising relationship to build trust over time on their terms, to have strong boundaries with them, but to give them the support they need. Insecurely attached clients live in a little bit different world than our securely attached clients. I bet everybody’s got some experience with a client who calls a lot, or a client who really struggles to trust you, or an anxious client who’s constantly afraid they’ll make or you’ll make a catastrophic financial mistake, even though they’re well diversified. In contrast, the client who makes decisions on their financial life without relying on you (do you ever have this client), who goes and makes huge decisions and you kind of go, “Oh, we could have planned for this a little better,” when you might have a lot to offer them. Or the client who never wants help. In Grubman in Jackie’s work, “Strangers in Paradise” talks a lot about families who have a difficult time acknowledging their wealth. They avoid living as though they have wealth. So these clients, who might hide their wealth from everybody, even possibly their children. When you hear things like this, it’s important to consider that it might mean something very different to them than it might mean to you. We want these clients to get their financial needs met, and ideally flourish in their lives and their families also. So nurturing, advising relationships with them might take extra patience.
So here’s my last bit. Fortunately, even when there’s attachment difficulty, with patience, relationships and bonds can be built with most people. Most people want to have and maintain trusting relationships with people they can rely on. And additionally, attachment styles are malleable over time. They can be changed, they can be reshaped. So our best chance for really changing attachment style is with relational psychotherapy, or psychodynamic psychoanalytic psychotherapy. It’s very research validated to be effective in helping insecurely attached people learn to trust, secure bonds and relationships over time. For advisors, I want advisors to trust that with most clients who may end up on this end of the spectrum, spending time with them, spending extra time to learn to understand their worldview, being a little bit extra adaptive, a little bit extra fluid and plastic with them, will allow them to trust you more easily. And knowledge is power. So understanding our clients patterns allows us to adapt to their needs, and hopefully build long term and sustaining advising relationships. And possibly, at some point, maybe give them a referral to a competent psychologist, if they ever had any interest in working on some of some of the challenges around relationships. Likely, their financial insecurity would improve greatly as their attachment style becomes more secure.
So the three things that I want to really, really make take home points for people is that there’s value in assessing for attachment, whether it’s in your paperwork, or simply something that advisors listen to, first off. And second, that identifying securely attached clients allows us to proceed to build and maintain trust, and continue to have conversations that build relationship trust. And thirdly, that identifying insecure attachment styles allows us to provide an added support to lower our expectations and expect maybe to be surprised, maybe even to be confused with clients at times, but to be curious with them to provide them support over time. And to try and get help from consultants that understand this stuff, if you need help to understand your clients. That is a huge value add to maintain and try and really grow sticky relationships with these clients. So that’s what I’m prepared to say. So, Oksana, do you have anything you want to correct the record on or jump in here?
OKSANA: No, thank you. That’s a great summary application.
JOHN A: I just want to say our goal with these podcasts is the three I’s. We’d like to have them be inspirational, informative and impactful. And this one met all three. I think it’s definitely been foundational, very informational. I think everybody that hears both of you talk about both the research, the model, the theory and then the application, would understand the very deep potential this has for impact. And I think, Charles, your closing comment about the malleability of the human soul, the human being, and that we can grow if we have an inappropriate attachment style, we can work on a better attachment. That offers great hope and inspiration to me, and I’m sure everyone who’s listened today. And I encourage all those who’ve listened to seek out Charles and Oksana’s website. Follow them. And thank you again for being with us today.
OKSANA: Thank you, John A.
CHARLES: Thank you so much.