Financial Planning

Discover Your Investment EQ

The most common cause of low prices is pessimism It’s optimism that is the enemy of the rational buyer.
- Warren Buffett

Ask a group of investors to share the secret to successful investing, and youre likely to get many different quantitatively focused answers, ranging from, hold for the long-term, diversified asset allocation, quality research to the much touted buy low, sell high mantra.

However, recent research into the human mind has found that the secret to success in any long-term endeavor, whether it be in business, relationships or investing, is an attribute called Emotional Intelligence (otherwise known as EQ). EQ is a type of intelligence thats significantly different to the standard IQ-based definition of smart were all used to. The topic of EQ has received significant coverage in the business world in the last few years, fueled in particular by Daniel Golemans books which are aimed at helping business people use the skill to further their careers and effectiveness.

Following the four facet Goleman model for EQ, the emotionally intelligent investor would, for instance, make investment decisions calmly based on a higher consciousness of who they are and with a positive personal relationship to money (the first facet of self-awareness). This is instead of making decisions based on an emotional impulse which sabotages their financial position. They also handle stress, disappointment and uncertainty more rationally, and dont allow those feelings or circumstances to control or initiate their decisions (the second facet of self management).

Going further, the emotionally intelligent investor would also understand the emotions of others such as their partner, spouse or family members, recognizing them and responding with empathy (the third facet of social awareness). Finally, a person with high Investment EQ would have the ability to maintain quality relationships with others around them when making investment decisions knowing how to, effectively and appropriately motivate them and manage their money energy using subtlety, delicacy and tact (the fourth facet of managing others).

But the role of EQ in investment has been little publicized, even though its application can be invaluable for investors. Whether this is because the investment process is seen as an objective, numbers-based, non-emotional process, or whether the investment industry has simply not been made sufficiently aware of the existence of EQ, is unclear. Certainly, we believe that both a high level of EQ, combined with sound financial knowledge, strategy and advice, can make the difference between great investors and the also-rans. But sound financial knowledge will not do it alone.

So why is understanding Investment EQ so powerful? It is the ability to give a person enough confidence, focus and rationality to remain committed to their strategies even when the market value of their portfolio is declining, not living up to expectations, or being superseded by other strategies. Investors with a high EQ, in the long term, worry less about their investments, reap higher returns, and make fewer mistakes.

Daniel Goleman, with his co-authors Annie McKee and Richard E. Boyatzis wrote in Primal Leadership, Negative emotional surges can be overwhelming; theyre the brains way of making us pay attention to a perceived threat. The result is that these emotions swamp the thinking brains capacity to focus on the task at hand, whether its strategic planning or dealing with news of a drop in market share. For investors, the perceived threat, whether it be sluggish investments or a drop in portfolio value, causes the brain to be overwhelmed with negative emotions. Without EQ, or an awareness and ability to manage these emotions, they can and do cause havoc for individual investors, and on a larger scale, for investment markets generally.

Its a reasonably well-documented fact that chasing last years great performers is a poor investment strategy. However, thats how many players in the investment game, even seasoned investors, have made decisions. How often do you see investors with a strategy then not stick to it? It hurts to see someone else doing better than you are, it hurts to see your portfolio performance lagging behind the investment of the moment. Its not the feeling of hurt per se that causes investment damage, but allowing it, even subconsciously, to determine your next investment move.

Emotionally intelligent investors are like the patient driver, sticking to their lane. This doesnt necessarily mean that theyll put up with a poor investment past its used-by date. However, because they have researched their strategies thoroughly, invested in asset classes they understand, and undertaken the volatility level they know they are comfortable with, these investors are able to operate above the emotional level, sticking to their plans unless there are reasonable and rational arguments to do otherwise. They take time to rationally consider their past successes and mistakes, and analyze possible consequences before making the deal.

However, emotionally unintelligent investors often let fear or panic take control, and are more like the aggressive driver, switching lanes whenever something more profitable comes along. They are often after the quick kill, looking for that one deal that theyre going to be able to talk about for years to come, even if this desire is subconscious. These investors often commit to investments they know little about or are not suited to, and when things dont go as planned, panic and confusion sets in ? the worst possible state of mind in which to be making investment decisions. This is certainly not a deliberate strategy, but when our brain chemistry reacts to danger, it causes us to become emotionally charged ? a fight or flight reaction.

Another dangerous trait of the emotionally unintelligent investor is that theres a high likelihood he or she possesses an inflated ego. Research shows that most investors believe, even subconsciously, that they have an edge on others in the market, that they have better intuition than most players and that their technique, whether it be watching stock indices, predicting the behavior of businesses or CEOs or taking the pulse of the investment community, is inherently better than those techniques employed by others.

Ask most players in the investment game which investor they would most like to emulate, and there are good odds that most of them would answer Warren Buffett. Buffett is a prime example of emotionally intelligent investing. His success, in his own words, is not a result of academic-style intelligence, luck or intuition, but rationality, a key factor of EQ. It was this rationality that keeps Buffett committed to his strategy. During the tech bubble, Buffett was widely criticized for not investing in technology stocks, despite their meteoric rises. His rationale was that he didnt understand them, so he wasnt going to invest in them ? an approach that caused more than one of his critics to label him irrelevant. But even if tech stocks hadnt had their dramatic rise and fall, from an EQ perspective, Buffett still did the right thing ? he stuck to his very rational and logical guns ? guns which he knows intimately.

Discovering Your Financial EQ

The good news is that your Investment EQ can be developed. The starting point is with you learning more about your Financial DNA. The following steps will help you with developing your Investment EQ:

? Using the Financial DNA Core Life Profiles, understand and accept your natural instinctive propensities to risk. This will provide very predictive insights into how much uncertainty you will be willing to bear over the long-term and hence how committed you will be to a long-term strategy particularly, when under pressure.

? Then complete the Financial Directions Profile to understand the influences of your environment, experiences and education on the preferences you have for making investment choices. There will be investment strategies which you will have a greater aptitude towards based on what you have learned, whether they be in the stock market, managed funds, real estate/property or with other investment classes.

? Then analyze the Financial Behavior Analysis which documents your complete Financial DNA. This involves reviewing your level of investment alignment by comparing your natural instinctive propensities based on how you are hard-wired to your learned preferences.

? Another important step will be comparing your Financial DNA to the good and poor financial decisions you have actually made in the past. This will help you pinpoint the investment decisions you will be comfortable in making and to identify areas where greater investment education is required.

? Finally, use this behavioral knowledge of your Financial DNA to help you become personally aligned and become more aware in an overall life sense of what decisions you will be comfortable with. The overall dynamics of your life will impact every investment decision and the lives of others you have relationships with.

For more insight into this topic, please read Hugh Massie’s book:
“Financial DNA – Discovering Your Unique Financial Personality for a Quality Life”.

Information Flows Drive Energy

Last night I was called by a family friend (for the sake of the innocent, Amy) who was being pushed by an advisor to make a major decision in regard to transferring her retirement savings account. Why was Amy asking me the question?

Basically, she was feeling uncomfortable and very hesitant. And yet, Amy is normally a very confident decision-maker and is not completely inexperienced with financial matters.

The reason is that Amy’s financial advisor had made the recommendation and given her a huge envelope of documents to work through and absorb. Amy did not even know where to start. The whole thought of this was energy draining. Then the questions of what is the bottom line, what are the risks etc all come up. In essence, her level of trust is diminished.

The issue is not the fact that a proposal has been made. It is all about how the information has been provided. What you need to realize is that this was then negatively affecting Amy’s energy. What will happen? She could just make the decision and regret it later, or simply dismiss the proposal.

So, I gave Amy the very simple, but liberating solution, of asking her advisor to re-frame the proposal and provide in a summary format the benefits and costs of both the new solution and retaining the existing solution. The details can be checked afterwards as needed – which a detailed person will do.

What I am saying is that if you are the client, ask your advisor to communicate on your terms and then it will be easier to make a decision with comfort. If you are the advisor, build trust with your clients by asking them how they want the information provided. You may find that you will have a much happier and ultimately profitable client.

When people hesitate it is very often simply the way they have been communicated with. The information flows drive your energy to make good or bad decisions.

What is Balance?

During a recent Wealth Mentor Training with a group of financial advisors we were discussing our definitions of a Quality Life. A number of advisors made a very key observation: Is there such a concept as a balanced life? Can a person really have balance? This discussion really hit a chord with me as this point really gets to the core of what the Financial DNA program is all about.

What the discussion boiled down to was that balance is different for all of us. You cannot directly compare the life balance of one person to another. So, the conclusion of the group was that there cannot be a universal definition of balance. The reason is that we are all uniquely wired and consequently we will have different life outlooks and motivations. For some people this will mean spending more time and energy involved in work or business activities, or for another person more time and energy will go into family or sports or recreation and for others perhaps planned giving activities will be given more time.

Therefore, balance is really unique to your life. To a large degree balance will vary depending on your innate behavioral style, the environment you have lived in and currently live in, life experiences, education and values. At the various stages of your life the time and energy you put into these activities may vary. Also, an important part of the equation will be how much money you spend or invest in these various activities as that is part of balance too.

So assuming we accept that there is a concept of balance but recognize it is different for each of us, then how do we measure it? In essence, we need some frame of reference to monitor ourselves and also guide others. Some measurements may include: degree of happiness, contentment or general comfort, confidence, positive energy, low levels of stress, excitement and sound relationships.

So in advising, mentoring, coaching and guiding clients and others in your life it is important to recognize how you design your own life plan for balance may be different for others. Importantly, you also need to be careful in passing judgment on your clients or the family and friends you may be interacting with.

Who is Your Client?

I have had some really interesting conversations with advisors during the past few weeks during presentations. In particular, when I have been talking about family dynamics and asking the question who is your advice really impacting?

Generally, the obvious answer would be that your client is the person who currently has the wealth for which financial planning is required (the Wealth Holder). What about the beneficiaries of the wealth? Their lives are generally being impacted by the decisions that get made in the financial and estate plans. To some degree arent these beneficiaries also your client? In providing advice, you need to understand the unique behavioral styles of BOTH the Wealth Holder and the beneficiaries. If you do not take into account the unique financial personality of the beneficiaries then the plan could be useless once the wealth does transfer to them. Isnt this at least partly why we see so many financial and estate plans practically fall apart, breakdowns in family relationships, and generally dysfunctional behavior?

Also, as an advisor by learning to discover who the beneficiaries are during the life time of the Wealth Holder will help you cement long-term relationships with them.

Another interesting scenario that often comes up is that the person requesting the advice and/or managing the wealth is different to the Wealth Holder. For instance, if a son is managing the financial affairs of his mother whose behavioral style do you need to understand? Is it the mother or the son, or both? I have seen many financial advisors get into difficulties by not truly understanding the financial personality of the son. To a large degree you are dealing with the behavior of the son. You will need to know how to communicate with him and also how his view of the world impacts the planning for his mother. After all, the son will see the world through his lens.

Advisor-Client Chemistry

Do you have the right clients? This is a very topical issue for many financial planners, particularly those who have already built a business to a reasonable level. Actually, it is as important as the client selecting the right advisor.

In the end there must be a mutual relationship with the parties comfortable with each other. The relationship cannot start out (but it often does) with the client simply having dollars in the bank account and some financial planning needs, and on the other side the client believing the advisor has the skills and the necessary integrity. In fact, these are all assumed to get to the point of the first meeting. Bob Veres of Inside Information (www.bobveres.com) has written a great article this month called “Segmentation or Bust” mainly directed at advisors to consider the structure of their client base.

Our business is all about looking at the behavioral style of the clients and also the advisors. So, not unexpectedly, the approach we take is to match clients and advisors based on their behavioral style. This is very much an inside-out approach, however all great relationships start below the surface. Human behavior is at the core. The great thing is that the Financial DNA system measures natural behavior which means we can reliably predict the behavioral style of the advisor and client in terms of how that person will always be, particularly under pressure. I would say that our approach must still be blended with a number of other more traditional selection factors such as client size, service style, values, expertise, etc. that are mentioned in Bob’s article.

To help the advisor we have developed an Advisor/Client Compatibility Matrix. The matrix is a one page grid which matches profile styles based on the level of modification that will be required between advisor and client. To be clear, it does not say you cannot work with someone, but it does say who will be easier (green box on the matrix) based on less behavioral modification – this is where communication, chemistry, etc. is likely to be higher. Hence, this is where the relationship will be naturally more sustainable over a longer period with less stress. So if you are an advisor wanting to segment your client base a reliable starting point is now provided.

I do not necessarily advocate that you fire those clients who will require more behavioral modification (red box on the matrix). This will be a warning sign that you have to put more work into adapting to maintain the relationship. Although what you may wish to do is allocate these clients to a partner who is different to you or hire someone who is different to you to provide a complementary style. Many advisors have found this approach to be foundational for selecting their next hire. Or in how they deliver client service with a team-based approach. Hence, the planner may get the relationship started and then another person on the team steps in.

Are you interested in the value of your practice? Importantly for advisors, this approach also helps you to identify to whom you sell your business. The sustainability of the relationships and hence the revenue is critical to business value.

The Definition of Retirement is Changing

What is your definition of retirement? It might be good to think about that a bit. Do not just listen to the “noise” out there about what it means or what others are doing. Focus on you and who you are. You may just be surprised what retirement really means in the context of your life. The key point is that the definition of retirement will depend on your unique financial personality – how you are uniquely wired to make life and financial decisions. In effect, your financial personality will shape how you see life and deal with the retirement question. Whatever stage of your career or life you are at, addressing this question will be very liberating.

In recent times we have started to do a lot more work with the executives of corporations. In particular, we are delivering Quality Life Programs to executives participating in 401k plans. An interesting trend emerging is more and more executives are starting to realize that retirement does not necessarily mean they have to stop work. The point is, the definition of retirement is changing. A friend of mine who is a senior executive with a large fund manager providing retirement services and products to executives, said he is seeing the same trend of people including work in their definition of retirement. In fact, the discussion that their company has with executives is now becoming much more focused on getting each person to define what retirement means for them. Our focus is similar, bundling the question of retirement up with what is a “Quality Life” for you, again recognizing that this is different for everyone.

Another person recently said to me that their definition of retirement is “Doing what you want, when you want and with whom you want”. I thought that was a great one and truly resonated. How much freedom can you get from this type of thinking? Frankly, it is a lot. The person who said this was actually still working, the point being he is now in a role he loves to do every day. When you get this pinpointed it is amazing how you then find yourself around the people you enjoy being with, and managing your working schedule becomes easier. Again, the key is getting centered on who you are by addressing the retirement question from the inside out.

Even if you are a long way from the traditional retiring age of 60 or more, you can still address the question because the answer will shape a lot of career and life choices and hence your financial planning.