Financial Planning

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Be-Fi for the DIYI (Behavioral Finance for the Do-It-Yourself Investor)

The oldest advice in the financial world: buy low, and sell high. And easy to follow too, right? Then how come we’re not all gazillionaires? That’s the Behavioral Finance $25,000 question.

First off, maybe a gazillion bucks isn’t everyone’s goal, but even moderate growth on savings over time in preparation for retirement shouldn’t mean we suffer losses over and over again along the way. So beyond market volatility, what are the factors for our repeated or short-sighted poor finance decisions?

Let me share a story.

Years ago I got a “hot stock tip” from a buddy, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Between his recommendation and the historical value showing nothing but upward mobility, why not? Well, it hit. A solid 34% gain in just about a month. Amazing, right? I was so excited, I could barely wait to see what it would do next. And that’s the turning point. A couple of dips later, I still had a significant gain, but I was going to ride it all the way back up. It had to bounce back, right? That’s optimism bias. So to remove myself from further discouragement, I opted to not check it daily, even weekly. And in about the same amount of time of its rise to greatness, it dipped to pennies on the dollar below my initial buy-in. What happened? I got greedy? I didn’t set limits (gain or loss)? I got caught in the Herd-following bias. I was following the lead of the others instead of the hard facts, or following a set plan.

Well, I finally got around to telling my Financial Advisor. Even though she’s entrusted with my long-term savings plans, I’d not considered sharing my “fun experiment.” She took one look at the company’s performance and simply said “they’re awful, sell it while you still have something. And next time, check with me first”. Good advice, but not what I wanted to hear. So, I kept it anyway, even in light of overwhelming odds. That’s Overconfidence Bias.

It’s been almost 6 years of hanging onto to this one-time trading nightmare. At least, we weren’t “missing” the money, just sad to have seemingly blown the wad. On a positive note, I’m on the cusp of another big potential return. A rental house we bought at the bottom of the market and now, with a little elbow grease, is primed for resale. Bought, mind you, with our Financial Advisor’s full support. It’s our backup plan if we both lose our jobs and need to get out of our big, nice house quick. We could downsize finances in a hurry. Anyway, the silver lining, since I’ve held onto the dog of a stock, is to sell it when we sell the house and take the stock loss to offset the house profit. Not brain surgery, but in sync with our advisor’s input.

A nice story about Behavioral Bias and advisor communication, but let’s get back to the Financial Personality of a person who might seem to haphazardly buy high and sell low, when they meant to do otherwise, and how this affects long-term financial planning efforts.

Our Financial Personality covers both innate and learned behaviors in regards to our financial decisions. It also includes our behavioral biases, communication style, and Market Mood. So knowing one’s Financial Personality is the key to developing financial goals and then the plan to achieve them. This transparency in truly understanding ourselves helps us navigate volatile market events and stay on point for the greater good. Your Financial Advisor has assessment tools that can quantify your personality traits. There’s a self-guided version posted here (personal assessment) to try for yourself.

 

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Another integral part in working with your Financial Advisor, or any business colleague, friend neighbor or significant other, is communication. Recall that I included my advisor on the house purchase, but I only spoke with friends on the stock ordeal? Well, we all have our own communication style. And we tend to run in circles where our own style is fairly prevalent — learned from families and developed amongst friends. But in the business world, good communication is key to being understood, and understanding others. And we won’t always get to choose to (or from) whom we engage. So we have to learn to adapt (or be left behind). Wouldn’t you want a way to identify how you come across to others or how best for others to engage you? Well, there are assessment tools for this too. Again, here (communication style) is an assessment you can try, and even share with others.

It’s no coincidence that I included the interactions with my Financial Advisor as part of my financial thrill of victory and agony of defeat. She was and continues to be in my corner for staying on course and avoid making bad decisions when the terrain suddenly changes. And some mistakes have wholly been on my own. Now, this may not be the case for everyone, and that’s why we’re kicking off this discussion — to find the peaks and valleys of our financial journeys and help one another along the way. If you’re interested in seeking an advisor, or already have one, and want to share what’s being discussed here, please check out this advisor finder.

 

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Likewise, tune in for more Behavioral Finance for the DIY Investor over the next several weeks as we cover the many ways our Financial Personality, Behavioral Biases and Communication Styles affect, and are affected by, our relationships with our friends, family, Business and Financial Advisors.

Are your couple clients at risk of leaving your Financial Advisory Firm-

Do You Have “At Risk” Clients?

Do you know which of your clients are at risk for:

  • Leaving your practice?
  • Becoming a compliance nightmare?
  • Sabotaging their financial plan?

You may have more than you think since customer experience is the internal andsubjective response your clients have to any direct or indirect contact with your firm.

The two key words that should have you concerned are internal and subjective because you cant measure or control these aspects of your client.

According to the 2014 EY Global Insurance Survey, 89% of clients want more frequent, meaningful and personalized communications from their advisor. And in fact, 35% of clients leave to find an advisor who is better at communicating.

In order to retain your clients, you need to have an objective process to uncover a clients financial personality. As intuitive as an advisor might be, they can no longer afford to rely on subjective observations and open-ended questions. Using technology-based tools will soon be the new normal in the industry.

The combination of your baby boomer clients nearing retirement and the market volatility can easily lead to some unforeseen compliance nightmares. Why? Because emotions are heightened and clients who appeared risk tolerant and told you they were risk tolerant can suddenly change their mind. They were fine as long as the market was going up (or even down a bit) and retirement was years away. Now as they start to create their cash flows and realize they are in the withdrawal stage of life, market performance can make or break their golden years.

In addition, the stress and considerable psychological changes that your clients are going through as they near retirement may cause them to unknowingly sabotage your carefully created financial plan. You may have more difficult conversations with couples as the husband might have visions of expensive vacations while the wife is content on cutting back expenses.

What if you had this behavioral information at your fingertips from the very start of your relationship? Imagine a world where, in times of market volatility, you could pull up a list of all your clients, see their level of trust and have the customized communication step you should take at that moment. Youd find client retention increases, your compliance challenges stopped before they are given a chance to start and clients that commit to sticking to their financial plan.

5 Tips to Apply in Managing Your Clients Behavior Gap

5 Tips to Apply in Managing Your Client’s Behavior Gap

Improve Client Retention and Financial Performance by understanding Financial Behavioral Biases

So what exactly is the behavior gap? Can it be bridged? Yes; it’s just a matter of developing Financial EQ through behavioral awareness.

Behavior Gap3

Good questions for financial advisors to ask and answer:

  • Why do some investors repeatedly lose wealth and others accumulate it?
  • Why after significant time spent working on an investment policy statement do investors react in the moment and revert to long-held beliefs that may hurt their returns?
  • Is there more to investing than just analyzing numbers and making decisions to buy and sell various assets and securities?
  • How aware of their own behavioral bias are investors? How aware are you as a financial advisor, of yours?

For investors to be financially successful, they need to be able to manage their “emotional reflex system” when events happen; they can’t control the markets, but they can understand how to manage their reaction to them.

The behavior gap doesn’t just apply to investors; as a financial advisor you are equally likely to be suffering from behavior gap. Your thinking and actions are influenced by the same set of factors and biases that affect investors in their financial decision-making process.

Qualities such as investing time in building relationships to build trust will help keep clients from making emotional investment mistakes. However, using a highly validated discovery process with clients can reveal decision-making behavior immediately. Further, it uncovers goals and aspirations for their future and importantly it will also reveal biases that will need to be managed.

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Source: www.schielwealthmanagement.com

According to Carl Richards in his book The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money’ he observes:

It’s not that we’re dumb. We’re wired to avoid pain and pursue pleasure and security. It feels right to sell when everyone around us is scared and buy when everyone feels great. It may feel right but it’s not rational. http://www.behaviorgap.com/book/

Simply put – this is an emotional response due to behavioral bias; it’s a deviation from logic and reasoning right at the point of decision-making; under pressure, it’s our go-to’ inherent decision-making behavior; a gap that must be bridged if the client/advisor relationship is to be sustained.

5 Tips to cure’ the Behavior Gap:

  1. Acknowledge there is one. Find out what triggers emotional reflex systems, that is, the inherent go-to’ decision-making approach.
  2. Don’t just focus on the behavioral bias of investors. You as a financial advisor will want to be successful in your peer group. You might be driven by reputation, compensation, building business, managing investors’ expectations. Never assume’ that as a professional you are not biased.
  3. Carefully review client’s goals, financial capacity; drill down to learned behaviors, experiences, values, and education. Get below the surface.
  4. Every person has an inherent hard-wired behavioral style which is the core of who they are and can be predicted with the right discovery process.
  5. Communication is the key: you must understand how to uncover a person’s unique communication and learning style. Customize your approach to your investor’s individual behavioral style- only then will you bridge the behavior gap.

Behavioral psychologists have long understood that people are not entirely rational. We’re influenced by a range of factors, from emotion to cognitive biases, which make a less rational choice seem more appealing. If financial advisors are to understand the behavior gap that will exist both for them and their investors they need to learn about cognitive biases and other irrational behavior. Gaining this insight will deliver more effective and informed decision making which will stand up under market pressure.

 

Financial Advice is Becoming a Commodity

Financial Advice is Becoming a Commodity: Get on Board or Get Left Behind

It’s inevitable. Social media is taking over marketing. Further, the “robots” are also storm trooping the industry in how financial advice is provided and how investments are managed.

The reality is that many parts of the financial advice process and investment management are becoming a commodity. As a consequence, many in the financial advisory business could suffer as a consequence of this move away from the traditional view of financial advice.

However, you can take advantage of this shift to increase your practice. The key to success is to differentiate your service model from other financial advisors and the increasing array of online resources and systems. The number one strategy for financial advisors is right under your nose at the initial step of the financial advice process. That is to have a much deeper understanding of your client’s needs and related behavioral finance biases, and to directly involve the client in the discovery process to increase engagement. Inadequate 5 to 20 question assessments that address only risk’ won’t cut it anymore. Neither will guess who the client is. Clients should be given the opportunity to participate in the completion of a comprehensive process which then enables the advisor to comprehensively know their client and their life journey.

As the new landscape for advisors evolves, you don’t have to bemoan it. If you adapt, you can seize this as an opportunity to actually grow your business. Look at the areas of the advisory process that can and should be commoditized. Leverage these technical platforms so that you and your team spend less time on investment management. Educate them, not only on the technology and investments, but more importantly, on how their approach to finances, investments and money can move clients towards achieving their life goals. The key starting point is to holistically identify the client’s financial personality. Then use those insights to help clients manage their behavioral biases to prevent setbacks or missed opportunities and further grow their nest egg to achieve their goals.

It’s time for financial advisors to recognize that clients don’t have to be lost to the new world order of do-it-yourself’ financial planning. Those financial advisors who have long ago invested in building relationships based on knowing their clients, knowing the plans they have for their lives, knowing and being a part of strategizing their financial roadmap to achieve their goals will not lose clients and actually grow their business.

Here are 7 practical tips:

  1. Use an independently developed and robust questionnaire based discovery process with clients at the point of entry and at annual reviews with existing clients. This will give you a clear insight into what they want to do with their finances.
  2. Focus on goals-based life planning and the financial plan to achieve those goals.
  3. Take the mystery out of investing. Proactively build areas in your advisory process where clients can manage their investments for themselves. This will keep them connected with you as their ‘go-to guy.’ Be a source of knowledge for the client.
  4. Build trust. Get to know how much clients understand markets and then educate them around the gaps (this builds trust.) Knowing their communication style and how they want to work with you will build trust quicker.
  5. Focus on the relationship being a two-way partnership.
  6. Match advisor to a client based upon their financial personality and communication style. This is a key differentiator for success.
  7. Help clients to understand their behavior during market movements. Understanding behavioral finance should be bedside reading for every financial advisor.

Time to develop your value position as a financial advisor. Don’t get left behind in the commoditization of the traditional financial advice process. Embrace the exciting Behavioral Finance future.

Try Communication DNA or Financial DNA to see how you can become the Financial Advisor of the future.

President Obama

Behavioral Insight to Be Used to Serve the American People – Presidential Executive Order

It’s not every day the President of the United States makes a stand on using behavioral insight to improve service delivery.

The executive order targets Federal departments, but could just as easily read across to every service provider…The Executive Order formally establishes (Social and Behavioral Sciences Team) SBST and directs Federal agencies to integrate behavioral insights into their policies and programs

If as suggested, understanding behaviors enable providers to deliver more effective services to the American people, how then will financial advisors introduce this approach with their clients? It’s where people are probably at their most vulnerable when discussing their finances. It’s where people are liable to make ill-thought through decisions under pressure. It’s where people are likely to revert to inherent behavior and bias.

Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School (which is a faculty affiliate of the Behavioral Insights Group at Harvard Kennedy School), writing in the Harvard Business Review says of the Presidential Executive Order..

This order reflects the evidence that scholars across a variety of fields – from behavioral economics to psychology to behavioral decision research – have accumulated in recent years that people often fail to make rational choices. Across a wide range of contexts, we often make foolish decisions that go against our self-interest.

It’s a fair comment – people fail to make rational decisions in many areas of their life. Much work has been undertaken in terms of how people react and make financial decisions when under pressure. If financial advisors are to play their part in delivering this Presidential Executive Order, then understanding the core hardwired behavior of clients is foundational.

Clearly, since the Whitehouse announced the use of behavioral insight in delivering services, helping people make a better life and financial decisions are no longer just going to come from smart strategies, new innovative products, improving technology and better information. Rather, it will be driven by understanding the behavior of those people and how they make decisions. In the financial planning context, closing the gap between a clients’ true financial behavior and the rationality required to make sound investment decisions requires a deep understanding of their financial personality. Therefore, gaining objectively measurable, reliable and predictive behavioral insights about how a client will make financial decisions before providing a product or solution is critical. Further, applying those insights in a Behavioral Investment Policy Statement will provide advisors with a customized framework to guide their clients in making decisions and minimize the impact of emotions.

The Presidents Executive Order has wide-reaching impacts for service delivery in every area of business. It has brought to the forefront of American business the need to understand behaviors and how their customers/clients make decisions. Research in this area of behavioral science has been around for a very long time. But now is the time to put the research into action in every field of business, government, and life.

 

Image source: www.theblaze.com

Banking Blog

Does Your Bank Truly Know What You Need?

A few weeks ago, Craig Moon who is a high net worth investor, received an unsolicited email from Renaissance Transactions Bank in New York requesting he invest in a new mutual fund investment opportunity. Apparently, the offer was being extended to all of the prospects and clients in the bank’s database who had previously filled out any kind of inquiry form.

Craig felt quite queasy in his stomach at receiving an unsolicited offer like this from a bank with whom he had no personal relationship. He had received similar emails from other banks before and gradually built up a lot of negative resistance to such approaches.

He couldn’t understand how a bank can make this offer when they hardly know anything about him. Craig’s experience in life taught him that if there is poor communication then the solution provider and what they offered could not be trusted. He wondered whether some of the banks were trying to get an edge on the consumer using faulty diesel-powered systems. After all, in the modern day age of Big Data research it would be reasonable to expect that a bank would at minimum use statistics and some casually built online surveys to roughly paint a persona of the prospect or client.

Craig reflected that given the recent stock market turbulence and increasing complexity of investing, this might be the time to find the right financial planning relationship.

 

Sales

The Land Grab by Banks for Owning the Client-Centered Financial Planning Space

While I was hearing Craig’s story at a seminar, I felt motivated to tell him that there was a fresh approach to banking and financial planning coming. No longer would banks and financial planning firms be playing the guessing game of what is suitable to offer a client and how to engage them.

I told him of an emerging trend of established banks out there starting to make a grab for the space of being the leading client-centered brand that put the interests of their clients first. In fact, this is what the regulators globally are requiring and the Obama Administration is pushing with the Fiduciary Standard, although it has not been happily embraced by all, yet. For a few years now, some of the banks had been re-branding themselves as client-centered but had no high-quality scientific process which required active client participation to demonstrate it. Craig became intrigued and asked more about what to look for from a bank who would potentially meet his wealth management needs.

I explained to Craig that what he should look for was a bank who adopts the approach of “understanding people before numbers” by discovering who the client is first and then collaboratively building a financial plan and investment policy statement which recognizes his complete financial personality. Craig said he had started to read about the idea of behavioral finance in the newspapers and investing magazines. I said that behavioral finance should be the foundation of the bank’s approach to customized communication and to the recommendations they make.

Ultimately, our conversation ended with me suggesting to Craig that he ask each of the banks and financial advisors he interviews:

  1. What formalized processes do they have to implement a behavioral finance approach which will help him achieve his goals?
  2. Further, have the processes they use been built and tested by a reputable and independent supplier of behavioral systems or have they been developed in-house to fulfill “tick-the-box” requirements?
    The Key Features of the Ideal Financial Planning System Powered by Behavioral Finance Insights

A few days later, at Craig’s request I gave him, in email format, a more specific list of the features that should be present in the financial planning service model to fit within the “new behavioral economy” age of financial planning:

  1. Clear organizational messaging: the “why” and the “mission” for delivering a service that helps clients live a quality of life based on who they uniquely are, in harmony and without regret. Put another way, helping every client in a customized way to “Live with Meaning.”
  2. Completion of an online activity at the banks very first touch point with the client: to discover the client’s communication style and the desired client service experience using a robust scientifically validated process.
  3. Customized first meeting experience with a relationship manager: someone who can naturally create the right environment for the client to share what they need and expect.
  4. Assignment of a wealth management team matched to the behavioral style of the client: to deliver a service that matches what the client wants -financial planning, investment management, philanthropy, family business etc.
  5. Completion of an in-depth online activity to comprehensively discover the client’s financial personality: the starting point – to reveal their natural instinctive behavioral style. This is not just a standard 5 to 20 question risk profile invented in the marketing department which can be manipulated and rarely tells the truth in down markets. Rather, a robust, scientifically validated process which objectively uncovers the client’s broader set of behavioral biases (including risk-taking) that strongly influence their decisions. Also, the financial personality reporting must be provided to the client for transparency with the comparison to the advisor.
  6. Completion of a goal-based questionnaire addressing balance across the key areas of life: to prioritize the needs and wants to be factored into the financial plan and investment portfolio design. Ideally, each of the client’s specific goals is addressed in the portfolio design.
  7. Real-time behavioral management of every client: during periods of market volatility on their unique terms. Use of online tooling to enable the client to monitor on a real-time basis their own “Market Mood” and patterns of behavior.
  8. Bank compliance processes: providing real-time monitoring of the recommendations made to each client with respect to their financial personality, financial capacity, and goals. The client should know that the bank will use exception reporting mechanisms to ensure their advisors keep the solutions offered within acceptable boundaries.
  9. Bi-annual review: conducted in person with the client or virtually using video.
  10. An advisory team that serves as the Wealth Mentor of the client: they need to adopt a coaching approach through asking powerful questions that transform the client’s thinking as they go through life transitions. Further, the firm and advisors demonstrate through this approach that the client is at the center of the relationship and not the bank’s fees.

Craig called me two weeks later and said that after extensive research and introductory phone calls he found many banks and financial advisors who said they delivered this service but actually did not. However, he was pleasantly surprised to find some leading banks and financial advisors were on this pathway. All of those firms on the right path were those using the Financial DNA behavioral finance platform developed by DNA Behavior International.

Craig made the decision to start working with the wealth management division of a solid US regional bank. He added that his research had revealed large banks and financial advisory firms in Canada, Australia, England and Europe moving this way.

I said to Craig, that as banks and financial advisors realize that relationship building is about customizing the communication with clients and the solutions offered, then they will win. Those who think relationships are only built on rates of return will fall far behind. Conversely, banks and financial advisors who act as a guide to clients in the financial planning process, rather than dominate them with transactions, will, within the next 3 years, grab significant market share, as well as, reduce the business risks of compliance.