Use Maslow To Help Clients Reach the Top of the Pyramid

Taking an interest in your clients’ move toward “self-actualization” can be valuable for both of you.

By David I. Leo
David Leo
David Leo

“There comes a time in your life when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who do not. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.” ― José N. Harris

Most of you know of Abraham Harold Maslow (1908 – 1970), an American psychologist from New York City and creator of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. His hierarchy suggests our psychological health is based on fulfilling our human needs starting from the physiological (food, clothing shelter, et al) and moving on to safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and, finally, self-actualization.

Most of your senior clients have achieved their basic needs and more or less the first three levels of the hierarchy — and hopefully a level of self-esteem as well. Many continue to seek accomplishment, growth and further achievement of their potential. But they may not have reached self-actualization — the point at which they fully realize their personal potential.

The Internet is full of stories of seniors whose names we don’t know who continue to press forward seeking achievements to fulfill themselves. Then there are the famous ones.

Richard Branson is envisioning outer space in his 70s. Clint Eastwood, in his 90s, and Michael Caine, in his late 80s, are still making films and other older actors are still “killing it” in Hollywood. Some of the world’s richest people, including Michael Bloomberg, 80, and Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, both in their 90s, need no introduction.

My hypothesis is none of these seniors are working for the money; they work because it gives them the fulfillment they seek. Many others of lesser means but considerable wealth are likely among your clients and could use help in understanding Maslow’s ideas and their benefits. According to Spectrem Group, the average age of millionaires in the U.S. is 63.5.

Here are a number of ways you can easily deliver more quality services to seniors:

Pay Extra Attention to Them

To help their self-esteem, pay a bit of extra attention to them with calls, occasional lunch meetings, special greeting cards, and perhaps occasional personal notes for occasions or any reason you can think of. Many coaches suggest you in fact send five or so hand-written thank you or appreciation cards a week to people you care about and that are important to you as clients are. That’s pretty basic but that doesn’t mean it’s commonly done. Thoughts are nice, actions are meaningful. Be a Nike!

Send Written Reminders and Briefs

Summarize items that may be important to them. Instead of a three-page firm written explanation of the Ukrainian crisis, send a brief note — in larger type. Of course, get compliance approval, or run it up the flagpole to get leadership to put a focus on seniors by preparing senior focused “executive summaries” in front of the detail few people read. Some seniors will appreciate your user-friendly materials with easier-to-remember info.

Share News about Price Breaks

Seniors in particular are worried about inflation. Many may have grown up in less heady financial times. They often are concerned about spending and enjoy good deals. How can you track and occasionally share the good news about price breaks with them? You and your staff just have to keep your eyes open, and your minds attuned to seniors. On a personal note, after my college graduation, my initial salary was $5,100 a year. I had a wife and child and a couple of years later was going to night school for a graduate degree. Memories linger!

Bonus points: What’s your senior client’s story? What was their first job? What are their memories? Want something to talk about in your check-in calls? Talk about your client.

Be Sensitive

A critical area in today’s world is to sensitize your team to the world of seniors. America’s view of seniors and aging are different than in other cultures where seniors are often more “revered.” In America, we tend toward an emphasis on youth, strength, the future, productivity, achievement, and independence. It’s by no means a bleak picture. We fully understand and accept that it’s our children’s and grandchildren’s time to live toward their hopes and dreams.

That said, your recognition of reality and understanding can be a subtle but WOW experience … without reaffirming the challenges of aging. And please don’t use words like aged, elderly, geriatric, frail, etc. We know many of our limitations and we can and do read. Show respect and do not patronize, but don’t overdo it either. Brainstorm with your team about ideas to wow seniors in one of your team meetings.

Read About Achievers

What else can you do? Albeit with some mixed reviews, you can look at “65 Things to Do When You Retire: 65 Notable Achievers on How to Make the Most of the Rest of Your Life,” edited by Mark Evan Chimsky.

Conduct Your Own Surveys

To better relate to senior clients, you obviously need to know them well. What are their interests? How do they spend some of their leisure time and what can you do to help them in that area? To understand interests is simply a matter of asking, whether it’s through a simple survey or asking. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the enjoyment you get from:

  • Social gatherings
  • Traveling — Please specify ______________
  • Traditional games, e.g., cards, chess, Mahjong, etc. — Please specify ______________
  • Sports, e.g., tennis, golf, swimming, running, cycling, etc. — Please specify ______________
  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Reading
  • Educational events, e.g., photography, social media, computers, etc. — Please specify __________
  • Photography
  • Outings — Please specify ______________
  • Other — Please specify ______________
  • Other — Please specify ______________
  • Other — Please specify ______________

As an aside, I would gather the data via conversation rather than a paper or online survey. You will learn more and get more and better data. You and/or your teammates can do the data collection in a few hours over a month or two.

Consider Hosting Events

Then, if you’d like, you can organize expert-led events based around your clients’ top interests.

For example, photography store B&H Photo in New York City has an “event space” for both online and live events and classes. One of its live events is “Basic Photography: Photo Walk in Central Park.” If you planned an event or class even once a quarter with an “expert,” it would be an opportunity to support seniors, network and help your clients achieve self-actualization. And perhaps they might introduce you to others who they share their interests.

Back to Maslow

In wondering about the characteristics of self-actualizers, I found a list and developed some questions to get to know where your clients are on that spectrum.

Because self-actualizers perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty, you can simply ask about their feelings about their current reality and how they feel about uncertainty.

Self-actualizers tend to accept themselves and others for what and who they are. This leads to these questions:

  • How do they feel about their lifetime of accomplishments, to date?
  • What they hope to accomplish in the years ahead?
  • How do they feel about others, whether family or not, who don’t put in the efforts that they did to build for their retirement?

Additional Questions

There are other characteristics you can glean from a conversation with a client including spontaneity, a good sense of humor (including not taking themselves too seriously), creativity and objectivity. Discussing issues can also lead you to understanding if your client is problem-centered vs. self-centered (e.g., how do we solve this issue vs. what does it mean to me?). Here are some more questions to help you figure this out:

  • Do they look at the world, despite their age, and seem concerned for the welfare of humanity?
  • Do they appreciate their basic life-experiences?
  • Are they satisfied or happy with their interpersonal relationships?
  • What were their special experiences and how do they feel about them?
  • What are their values, morals and ethical standards?

Additional Reading: At 83, This Coach to Financial Advisors Shares Perspective, Wisdom and Motivation

You may be able to better understand prospects by asking some of these questions. However, asking your client, especially your senior clients, can get you to a level of understanding that will primarily help them so they can tell you about them and of course enable you to serve them better. It’s about KYC (know your customer) in a deeper way.

“There comes a time in every life when the past recedes, and the future opens. It’s that moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. — Phil Knight

David Leo is founder of Street Smart Research Group LLC. He is an author, speaker, coach, consultant, and trainer to financial professionals. David has worked with the financial services industry for decades, originally as a consultant with IBM and then with UBS/Paine Webber before starting his own firm. If you would like more information about his services, contact him at or visit



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