Teaching Moments: Help Clients Shake the Emotional Hangovers

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

While the I-make-a-decision-and-forget-about-it approach might have worked for Harry S. Truman, it does not describe the vast majority of today’s investors.

According to our recent Brinker Barometer advisor survey[1], only 22% of advisors clients embrace Truman’s philosophy. The vast majority of clients suffer from emotional hangovers after periods of poor performance. They let the poor investment performance impact future decisions. Sometimes, it is for the better. In fact, 31% of clients made wiser decisions after learning from poor investment performance. Nearly half of the respondents, however, claimed that emotions cloud the investment decision following poor performance.

Bergin_LiveWithDecisions_7.30.14Another recent study, led by a London Business School, sheds light on how advisors can increase satisfaction by helping clients make peace with their decisions. According to the research, acts of closure can help prevent clients from ruminating over missed opportunities. To illustrate the point, researchers simply asked participants to choose a chocolate from a large selection. After the choice had been made, researchers put a transparent lid over the display for some participants but left the display open for others. Participants with the covered tray were more satisfied with their choices (6.30 vs. 4.78 on a 7 point scale) than people who did not have the selection covered after selecting their treat.

While the study was done with chocolate and not portfolio allocations, behavioral finance expert Dr. Daniel Crosby says that it can still provide useful insights on helping clients avoid what Vegas calls, “throwing good money after bad,” and psychology pundits refer to as the “sunk-cost fallacy.”

“Many clients are so averse to loss that they will follow a bad financial decision that resulted in a loss with one or more risky decisions aimed at recouping the money. If you detect that a client is letting emotional residue taint future decisions you should counsel them to consider the poor performance as a lesson learned. This will allow the client to grow from the experience rather than doubling the damage in a fit of excessive emotionality,” Crosby explains.

[1] Brinker Barometer survey, 1Q14. 275 respondents

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Be The Benchmark

Dr. Daniel CrosbyDr. Daniel Crosby, President, IncBlot Behavioral Finance

If you’re like so many Americans, you probably made a list of your goals for 2014 back in January on New Year’s Eve. Whatever form those resolutions took; whether the goals were physical, financial, or relational, they likely had two foundational elements: they were specific to you and they were aspirational.

More than half way into the year, you may or may not still be on track to meet your goals. But regardless of your current progress, they will stand as personal reminders of the person you could be if you are willing to do the necessary work. As silly as it may sound, let’s imagine goals that violate the two assumptions we mentioned above.

Can you conceive of measuring your success relative to a goal that had nothing to do with your particular needs? What about setting a goal based on being average rather than exceptional? It defies logic, yet millions of us have taken just such a strategy when planning our financial futures!

shutterstock_171191216There is a long-standing tradition of comparing individual investment performance against a benchmark, typically a broad market index like the S&P 500. Under this model, investment performance is evaluated relative to the benchmark, basically, the performance of the market as a whole.

Let’s reapply this widely accepted logic to our other resolutions and see how it stands up. The CDC reports that the average man over 20 years of age is 5’9 and weighs 195 pounds. If we were to use this benchmark as a goal-setting index, the same way that we do financial benchmarks, the average American male would do well to lose a few pounds this year to achieve a healthier body mass index (BMI). Should we then dictate that all American males should lose ten pounds in 2013? Of course not!

The physical benchmark that we used is disconnected from the personal health needs of those setting the goals. Some of us need to lose well more than ten pounds, others needn’t lose any weight and some lucky souls actually have trouble keeping weight on (I’ve never been thusly afflicted).

A second problem is that affixing your goals to a benchmark tends not to be aspirational. The goals we set should represent a tension between the people we are today and the people we hope to become. When we use an average like the benchmark for setting our financial goals, we are settling in a very real sense. No one sets out to live an average life. We don’t dream of average happiness, average fulfillment or an average marriage, so why should we settle for an average investment?

The bulk of my current work is around addressing the irrationality of using everyone else as your financial North Star. Through a deep understanding of your personal needs, your advisor should be able to create a benchmark that is meaningful to you and your specific financial needs. After all, you have not gotten to where you are today by being average. Isn’t it time your portfolio reflected that?

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of IncBlot Behavioral Finance, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Keep a Calm Head in Battle

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFP, Investment Analyst

The Battle of Thermopylae, dramatized in the 2007 movie 300, is the story of how a relatively small group of 7,000 disciplined Greeks in 480 B.C. held off a group of 100,000-150,000 invading Persians for three days. Due to the size disadvantage of the Greeks, their eventual defeat at this battle was inevitable. However, this group kept a calm head in battle while the Persian leader Xerxes was said to become so enraged by the delay these Greeks had caused his army that at the battle’s conclusion, he decapitated and crucified King Leonidas of Sparta, the fallen hero of the Greeks, elevating his status as a martyr. While the Greeks lost this battle, at the Battle of Plataea in 479 B.C. the Greek forces won the war. The manifestation of this Greek discipline was the Phalanx formation which lined up troops in close order to form a shield wall defense that marched forward using spears to take down any army in front of them. Given that the Phalanx was only as good as the weakest point, discipline was crucial to its success. This concept was later further refined and improved upon by the Roman legions that used it to great effect to build their empire.

shutterstock_141582367_collegeMay and June mark the end of another school year and the arrival of almost 20 college interns to Brinker Capital. These college students, the most successful not being strangers to discipline, have been exposed to the science of investing in their college courses but have come to Brinker in many cases to help fill the gaps regarding the art of how to identify good investment strategies. To help lay the groundwork for this understanding, we encouraged them to read Money Masters of Our Time by John Train, a book profiling 17 different investment managers of the 20th century.

While all investment managers have proven successful, there was no one right process identified. T. Rowe Price had a process of identifying leaders in very fertile growth areas and holding them long-term until they become mature businesses in a mature industry. Benjamin Graham on the other hand focused on systematically buying the stocks that were thrown away at less than two-thirds of their net current assets and selling once they returned close to intrinsic value. Warren Buffet took a Benjamin Graham initial approach to valuation but then overlaid it with attention given the quality of the businesses and patience to hold these higher quality companies long-term like T. Rowe Price. John Templeton brought a similar attention to valuation and patience but was more willing to go global to find his bargains. George Soros went global as well but speculated more than invested with much more frequent trading in an effort to time the market. This is just to name some of the “money masters” this book discusses.

shutterstock_38215948-soldiersIt is clear that, although all of these managers have been very successful on their own, if hypothetically a super investment management team was able to be formed with these members, the fund would likely suffer from way too many and way too different processes. Like an army with too many generals, having more leaders is not always better. The only element that they seemed to have in common is the fact that they had processes in place that were fundamentally sound and that they stuck to in times of short-term market stress. Some ignored the market swings, some used it as buying opportunities, but all found success by putting their emotions in check when many market participants were caught up in fear or greed. In other words, they had discipline. Like a Roman Phalanx facing down an enemy, a steadfast commitment to a sound plan in the heat of the battle wins the day more often than not.

As such when we evaluate managers this is exactly what we look for. That is to say we need managers to have an effective, sustainable, and proven investment plan and ability to stick to the plan. Much has been made of how individual investors chase performance in good times and break rank at exactly the wrong time in times of stress. While very few of us will prove to be as successful as Warren Buffet, if we can all strive to at least have a plan and stand our ground to keep emotions out of investment decisions we all can be better off.

Bridging the Alternative Investment Information Gap

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

The groundswell of interest in alternative investments continues to build, creating a thirst for clear, comprehensive and client-facing educational materials.

According to Lipper, alternative mutual funds saw the biggest percentage growth of any fund group, with assets under management increasing 41% to $178.6 billion in 2013. A recent report by Goldman Sachs projects liquid alternatives are in the early stage of a growth trend that could produce $2 trillion in assets under management in the next 10 years. In order for this to happen, however, investors must gain a better understanding of how alternative investments work, how they function within a portfolio, and where potential benefits and risks could occur.[1]

EducateAlternative investment strategies are a separate beast than the traditional methods of investing and traditional asset classes that most investors are familiar with. From divergent performance objectives, to the use of leverage, correlation to markets, liquidity requirements and fees, a fair amount about alternatives is different from traditional investments. Understandably, investors have many questions before they can decide whether to and how much of their portfolio to dedicate to alternative investments.

The task of educating investors about alternatives is falling largely on the shoulder of the advisory community. Well over half (60%) of the high-net-worth investors recently surveyed by MainStay Investments, indicated financial advisors as the top resource for alternative investment ideas. Trailing advisors was internet-based research (41%), research papers and reports (35%), and financial service companies (30%).[2]

Historically, advisors have shied away from recommending alternative investment strategies because they are too difficult to explain. The conundrum they now face is that 70% of those advisors surveyed also acknowledge the need to use new portfolio strategies to manage volatility and still seek positive.[3]

Bridge the Education GapIt’s important that advisors start to value the use of alternatives and find ways to bridge the information gap for investors. The good news is that investors have tipped their hands in terms of what they really want to know. According to the MainStay survey, clients want more information in the following areas:

 

  • Explaining the risks associated with alternative investments (73%)
  • Learning about how alternatives work (71%)
  • Finding out who manages the investments (54%)
  • Charting how alternatives affect returns (46%)

[1] http://www.imca.org/pages/Fundamentals-Alternative-Investments-Certificate

 [2] “HNW Investors Turn to Advisors For Alternative Investment Guidance,” InsuranceNewsNet, April 3, 2014.

[3]Few advisers recommend alternative investments: Respondents to a Natixis survey said that they stick to strategies that can be explained to clients more easily,” InvestmentNews, October 24, 2013

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Investment Insights Podcast – April 30, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded April 25, 2014):

The sentiments below were inspired by Dalbar’s 20th annual investor behavior analysis. You can read a summary of the study here, via ThinkAdvisor.

What we don’t like: Investors have underperformed the markets, often due to fear and poor timing

What we like: Potential market correction during the summer; important for investors to heed the advice of their advisors and stick to investment objectives

What we are doing about it: Focus on the positives like energy renaissance, manufacturing renaissance, and goals-based solutions

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

Source: Dalbar, ThinkAdvisor

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

How Behavioral Finance Can Help You Set and Keep Financial Goals

Dr. Daniel CrosbyDr. Daniel Crosby, President, IncBlot Behavioral Finance

If you’re ever having trouble sleeping, spend some time researching financial goal setting online and you’re sure to be snoozing in no time. It’s not that the advice you’ll find is bad per se, it’s just that it is fundamentally disconnected from an understanding of how people behave. Most resources will give you some great meat-and-potatoes stuff about setting specific, attainable and timely goals. You will nod your head, go home, and forget all about it, doing what you’ve always done before.

If financial goal setting is to be truly successful, it must account for the way in which people behave, including the really stupid stuff we all do from time to time. What’s more, it must be infused with elements that make it motivational, because let’s face it, you’d probably rather get a root canal than lay out a spreadsheet with some dry figures about Set Your Goalsyour savings goals. To help in this important step, we’ve mixed some best practices in financial planning with some truths about human nature that will add a little, dare we say it, excitement into your financial planning process. After all, your financial goals are only as good as your resolve to adhere to them is strong.

The next time you go to set a financial goal, consider the following:

Plan for the Worst – Cook College performed a study in which people were asked to rate the likelihood that a number of positive events (e.g., win the lottery, marry for life) and negative events (e.g., die of cancer, get divorced) would impact their lives. What they found was that participants overestimated the likelihood of positive events by 15% and underestimated the probability of negative events by 20%.

What this tells us is that we tend to personalize the positive and delegate the dangerous. We think, “I might win the lottery, she might die of cancer. We might live happily ever after, they might get divorced.” We understand that bad things happen, but in service of living a happy life, we tend to think about those things in the abstract. A solid financial plan cannot assume that everything will be wine and roses as far as the eye can see.

Picture Yourself at 90 – One of the reasons that we tend to under prepare for the future is that we value comfort now more than we do in the future. Simply put, the further out an event is, the less valuable we esteem it to be. Let’s say I offered you $100 today or $110 tomorrow. Odds are, you’d use a little bit of self-restraint and go for the extra ten dollars. What if I changed my offer to $100 today or $110 in a month? If you are like most people, you’d take the $100 today rather than wait the extra 30 days. The official term for this devaluation over time is “hyperbolic discounting” and it can have disastrous consequences for managing wealth over a lifetime.

Crosby_BeFi_Help_Set_Goals_2After all, if today’s needs and today’s dollars always perceived as more valuable than tomorrow’s wealth and wants, we’ll make hay while the sun shines. While this can be fun in the moment, your older self is not going to be too happy eating Top Ramen every night. One of the ways to decrease our tendency toward hyperbolic discounting is to make the future more vivid. Researchers at New York University did this by using a computer simulation to age peoples’ faces and found that “manipulating exposure to visual representations of one’s future self leads to lower discounting of future rewards and higher contributions to saving accounts.” Basically, if you can picture yourself wrinkly, you’re more likely to save. Making your own future vivid might include having conversations about your future with your partner, speaking with aging relatives or simply introspecting about your financial future.

Bake In Motivation – Daniel Pink’s seminal work, “Drive” is a concise treatise on what he believes are the three pillars of human motivation – mastery, autonomy and purpose. By including each of these three pillars in the financial goal setting process, you “bake in” motivation, thereby increasing the likelihood of meeting those aspirations. Mastery is all about fluency with the language of finance. While you may never be Warren Buffett, achieving mastery is the first step toward staying motivated. We procrastinate what we don’t like or don’t understand. Once you are facile in the language of numbers, you’ll stop putting your finances on the back burner.

The word “autonomy” is derived from the Greek word “autonomia”, the literal translation of which is “one who gives oneself their own law.” Being autonomous does not mean going it alone. What it does mean is having enough of an understanding of financial best practices that you can select financial professionals whose goals and approaches mimic your own. Finally, and most importantly, is purpose. One of the biggest culprits in bad financial planning is disconnecting the process from the things that matter most to the person making the decisions. Coco Chanel said it best when she said, “The best things in life are free; the second best are very expensive.” Financial solvency facilitates all manner of good, from charitable giving to family vacations to funding an education. If your financial goals are intimately connected to things that matter most to you, saving will cease to be a chore and begin to be a joy.

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of IncBlot Behavioral Finance, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Volatility: Why it Matters

Ryan Dressel Ryan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

Have you ever noticed how many commercials on TV use blind comparison tests to prove that their products are better than their competitors? Soft drinks, washing detergents, tablets, air fresheners, fast food chains, and even web sites all use this marketing tool on a fairly regular basis. One reason companies do this is to try to change your perception about their product. It’s human nature to associate a good or bad feeling about a product, brand, or company based on personal experiences. If you got sick from food at a restaurant for example, chances are you won’t return to that restaurant again, even if it changes the staff, menu, and décor. A blind comparison test is an attempt to convince you that a product isn’t as bad as you might think.

How can this be applied to your investments? You’ll hear dozens of mutual fund companies advertise that they are beating an index, benchmark, or peer group (such as Lipper) over a specific time frame. You could also open the Wall Street Journal and read about a mutual fund manager boasting smart decisions with regard to short-term news, such as the S&P 500 rising or falling in any given week. If you try to interpret headline news or those T.V. commercials without any context, there’s a good chance you could misjudge your portfolio and even worse, make an irrational decision! What you will rarely hear on T.V. or read in the papers is an advertisement for a portfolio that provides steady and consistent returns by managing volatility.

Why does volatility matter? To demonstrate the value of volatility, we’ll do a blind comparison using two hypothetical portfolios (you saw that coming right?). Both Portfolio A and Portfolio B started with an initial investment of $100,000 and have a sum of returns of 65% over a 10-year time period. The portfolios have the following annual returns over that time frame:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10
Portfolio A +2% +13% +5% +20% 7% 4% -7% -1% +16% +6%
Portfolio B +6% +25% -10% +36% -15% +11% -25% -7% +33% +11%

Which portfolio would you predict to have a higher balance at the end of the 10-year time frame? Looking at the returns we can observe a few things that jump out. Portfolio B managed to achieve extremely high gains in years 2, 4 and 9. Conversely, it also had a couple of really bad years in year 5, and year 7. It also finished the last two years with a combined +44%. Looking at Portfolio A, we can see that it never topped 20% in a given year, and never lost more than 7% in a year. It also finished seven out of the 10 years with a return of +7% or less.

If you chose Portfolio A, you would be correct!

Dressel_Volatility_4.18.14_3

As demonstrated in the charts above and below, Portfolio A has a much lower level of volatility. Through the power of compounding, this allowed Portfolio A to finish with a higher balance despite the fact that both portfolios have identical sum of returns. In reality, this is typically achieved by constructing a well-diversified portfolio using a wide array of asset classes. This is also a good reminder of how fixed income and absolute return strategies are beneficial to your portfolio in any market environment.

Dressel_Volatility_4.18.14_2

If these were actual investment products, there is no doubt that you would hear Portfolio B being advertised as an outperformer during a time frame that captures those years of strong performance. In the end however, the only thing that matters is the balance of your portfolio and that you are on track towards achieving your investment goals. Be sure to review your portfolio in the right context, especially during times of market “noise.”

Source: The data used and shown above is hypothetical in nature and shown for illustrative purposes. Not intended as investment advice.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Planning Fallacy

Dr. Daniel CrosbyDr. Daniel Crosby, President, IncBlot Behavioral Finance

Last November, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of Liam, our second child and first son. My wife, who had diligently prepared for all aspects of the baby’s arrival, had been encouraging me to prepare my overnight “go bag” in the case of an early arrival. As I am wont, I put this final preparation off until the last minute, only preparing a very few basic necessities and wrapping them unceremoniously in a Walmart bag rather than the leather duffel I use for most business travel.

Our son arrived without adverse incident (easy for me to say!) and as we hunkered down for those difficult, sleepless first nights in the hospital, I realized that my preparations had been inadequate. I had forgotten my contacts entirely, brought an outdated pair of prescription glasses and packed only enough clothing for one day following the delivery. Needless to say, the discomfort of those late nights in the hospital was only made worse by my lack of foresight. Not only was I sleepy, as is to be expected; I was also smelly, unshaven and outfitted in yesterday’s rumpled t-shirt. Luckily, the miracle of new life minimized my failure to prepare, but the (seemingly millions) of pictures will always tell the tale of just how unprepared I truly was.

Crosby_PlanningFallacy_4.3.14So how is it that I, an otherwise functional person who had been through this experience once before, was caught so off guard? The psychological term for what I had experienced is the planning fallacy and it is the reason that we are often a day late and a dollar short. In a phrase, the planning fallacy is the human tendency to underestimate the time and resources necessary to complete a task. In my case, the damage was limited to a few unfortunate pictures, but when applied to a lifetime of financial decision-making, the results can be catastrophic.

There are a variety of hypotheses as to why we engage in this sort of misjudgment about what it will take to get the job done. Some chalk it up to wishful thinking. To use my example, I was hoping to be in the hospital just two nights instead of the five we spent when my daughter was born. By packing a small bag, I was willing this dream into existence. A second supposition is that we are overly-optimistic judges of our own performance. Extending this line of thought, I might understand that most couples are in the hospital for three nights but most couples are not as fit, intelligent and strong-willed as the two of us (to say nothing of our exceptional progeny!). A final notion implicates focalism or a tendency to estimate the time required to complete the project, but failing to account for interruptions on the periphery. Sure, it may just take a few hours to have the baby, but there is recovery, eating, entertaining visitors, and the requisite oohing and aahing over the new arrival.

Whatever the foundational reasons, and it is likely there are many, it is clear enough that the American investing public has a serious case of failure to adequately plan. Excluding their primary home value, most Americans have less than $25,000 in retirement savings. 43% of Americans are just 90 days away from poverty and 48% of those with workplace retirement savings plans fail to contribute. Perhaps we think we are special. Maybe we are simply too focused on the day-to-day realities that can so easily hijack our attention. Without a doubt, we may wish that the need to save large sums of money for a future date would just resolve itself. But wishing it won’t make it so any more than wishing for my son’s hasty arrival did. I got off no worse than a few bad pictures and some unsightly hair; those who plan to save for their financial tomorrow’s won’t be nearly as lucky.

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of IncBlot Behavioral Finance, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

How to Become an Informed Consumer of Financial News

Dr. Daniel CrosbyDr. Daniel Crosby, President, IncBlot Behavioral Finance

Whenever given a microphone and a stage, I take the opportunity to warn investors and financial professionals alike against the harm of keeping too close a tab on the financial news. Since my exhortations to turn off the TV are so roundly ignored, I’ve decided to take a new tack—exchanging media abstinence with “safe watching” as it were. With investors, as with unprepared teenagers, the only sure-fire way to avoid trouble is to leave it alone altogether. However, being the realist that I am, I hope to provide some tips for safe viewing that will allow you to indulge without contracting “media transmitted irrationality.”

Of course, the irony of warning you about the ills of financial media via, well, financial media, is not lost on me. However, the very fact that you are here means that you may have a problem. Gotcha! It is a strange thing that an awareness of current financial events can lead to worse investment outcomes. After all, in most endeavors, greater awareness leads to improved knowledge and results. So what accounts for the consistent finding that those who are most tuned in to the every zig and zag of the market do worse than those who are less plugged in?

Informed ViewingThe first variable at play is timing. I won’t bore you with an extended diatribe on short-term market timing, but the fact remains that average equity holding periods have gone from six years to six months in the last five decades. This national case of ADHD has been precipitated in part by advances in trading technology, but is further exacerbated by the flood of information available to us each day. Unable to separate signal from noise, we trade on a belief that we are better informed than we are.

Another damning strike against financial media is that the appetite for new content flies in the face of investing best practices. Warren Buffett famously advised investors to imagine they have a punch card with 20 punches over the course of an investing lifetime. By espousing this strategy, Buffett encourages a policy of fewer and higher-quality stock selections, encouraging downright inactivity in some cases. Compare this time-tested approach with the demands placed on the financial press. Each night, Jim Cramer picks 10 stocks to pass along to his viewers to help sate the national appetite for cheap investment advice and the erroneous belief that more is better. Cramer has used up his whole punch card before Wednesday, and it’s not because it’s a sound investment strategy, it’s because it sells commercials.

Consumers of financial media who fail to account for these sorts of perverse incentives can feel disillusioned when the advice of such vaunted “talking heads” leads them so far afield. Conversely, a more informed consumption of media can enable each of us to separate wheat from chaff and learn to recognize a bona fide expert from a circus clown in a $2,000 suit. The following tips are a great place to start:

Evaluate the source. Does this individual have the appropriate credentials to speak to this matter or were they chosen for superfluous reasons such as appearance, charisma or bombast?
Question the melodrama. While volatility can be the enemy of good investing, chaos and uncertainty are a boon to media outlets hungry for clicks and views.
Examine the tone. Does the report use loaded language or make ad hominem attacks? These are more indicative of an agenda than an actual story.
Consider motive. News outlets are not charitable organizations and are just as profit-driven as any other business. How might the tenor of this report benefit their needs over yours as a decision maker?
Check the facts. Are the things being presented consistent with best academic practices and the opinions of other experts in the field? Are facts or opinions being expressed and in what research are they grounded?

Financial media is always going to have an angle, but so do you and so does every person with whom you’ll interact. That being so, the best strategy is to become skeptical without being jaded and cautious without being paralyzed by fear. If you found yourself thinking, “Who the hell is this guy to lecture me on media consumption?” you’re off to a good start.

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of IncBlot Behavioral Finance, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

The Power of Purpose: The Benefits of Goals-Based Investing

Dr. Daniel CrosbyDr. Daniel Crosby, President, IncBlot Behavioral Finance

I recently had the opportunity to speak about how investor behavior is a driver of the future of the financial services industry and the impact that it has when working with clients at the 2014 FSI OneVoice conference in Washington, D.C.

Much of behavioral finance’s departure from traditional financial models centers on the respective approaches’ vision of what constitutes “rational” behavior. Traditional approaches take a simple, objective approach—rational behavior is all about optimizing returns. Through a behavioral lens, rationality takes on a more subjective view and could be construed as making decisions consistent with personal financial goals. The behavioral approach is constructivist, in that the client sets the parameters for rationality through the articulation of personal goals. But by drawing out the financial goals of their clients, advisors do more than simply highlight a finish line; they actually catalyze a positive behavioral chain reaction.

Consider the followings ways in which having deeper conversations about client goals might make your job easier and improve your clients’ behavior:

Crosby_PowerofPurpose_3.6.14Purpose increases influence – The reasons why successful advisors are highly compensated and most trainees burn out within a few years are one in the same–selling is difficult. All too often, advisors are selling the wrong thing, focusing on the “What?” instead of the “Why?” In his excellent TED talk, Simon Sinek suggests that most uninspired business transactions deal with the particulars of a product or service rather than the underlying motivation. Rather than providing your clients with a laundry list of your services, help them understand how your efforts will help them reach their “why.” As Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Meaning brings clarity – One of the reasons why people fail to save in the now is that it is construed as a loss. In an environment where expensive trinkets can tempt us with each click of the mouse, it can be difficult to put off for a rainy day what could provide more immediate pleasure. Once again, a goals-based approach can help. We know we need to save for some distant date, but the picture we have of the future tends to lack color, which can making saving a burden. By articulating a series of future meaningful goals, advisors can ensure that their clients have this larger “yes” burning inside.

Crosby_PowerofPurpose_3.6.14_2Goals provide comfort in hard times – Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, has written beautifully about the power of purpose in his classic, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl noticed early on that much of what differentiated hope from a failure to thrive among prisoners was a connection to something bigger than the here and now. For those rooted in the horror of the present, it was exceedingly easy to find reasons to despair. But for those able to look forward to something more, their pain was couched in terms of aiding their long-term goals, which provided them some succor.

While I am in no way trying to draw a straight line between Frankl’s experience and that of a worried investor in a time of market panic, the truth remains that focusing on purpose has a calming effect. Rather than being swept up in the pain of the moment, goals-based investors are better able to understand that they are enduring a momentary discomfort on the path to achieving the things that matter most to them. Are your clients sufficiently tuned in to their personal North Star to aid them when times get rough?

If behavioral finance has taught us anything, I hope it is that true wealth is more about a life well lived than achieving a particular rate of return. In a single act, advisors can improve relationships with their clients, get them excited about the investment process and provide them with a buffer against hard times. Why not?

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of IncBlot Behavioral Finance, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor