Sitting having coffee with my financial advisor friend she is venting about a client. Apparently he’s an idiot, won’t listen, does his own thing, is over confident and clearly doesn’t realize how unpredictable the financial markets are! Doesn’t he know what’s happening in Europe?
As my friend takes a breath, I ask her if perhaps her behavioral biases are showing? I know her well, not just as a friend, but also having facilitated her completing the Financial DNA Discovery process. She’s Risk Averse and very Anchored with a focus on following a structured plan based on her own experiences. Yet, normally the advisor is perfectly capable of managing her personal bias when working with clients. So what was different about this client? Apparently, he heard about a great opportunity to buy a holiday home in Canada. In addition, he was going to buy a top of the range snow mobile. If this wasn’t enough, he intended to cash in considerable stock to have the mountain cabin extended.
The question then becomes has my advisory friend properly got underneath the surface to discover the true motivations of the client? It may be that the client has a deeper purpose for buying the holiday home that outweighs pure financial rationality.
In his article titled Quiet Conversations in the Journal of Financial Planning, Meir Statman discusses the Expressive Nature of Socially Responsible Investors:
Financial advisors accept many preferences of clients and construct portfolios reflecting these preferences. They accept clients’ preference for low-risk by constructing low-risk portfolios. Advisors accept the home bias of clients, even if they advise against it, by allocating little to international stocks. They accept clients’ desire for status symbols by investing in hedge funds that accept only the very rich.
Advisors accept clients’ preference to splurge on cruises, even if they themselves would jump overboard if forced on one. It is time for financial advisors to accept the preference for socially responsible investments as well. SOURCE: www.journalfp.net
Over the past year, my advisor friend had been talking to her client about socially responsible investing. She believed he had made the decision to address this by investing in socially responsible companies which also generated returns. This was an area that the advisor had considerable experience in. They had discussed at some length Amy Domini and her approach to ..shareholder advocacy and community investing which she saw as pillars of socially responsible investing. SOURCE: https://www.domini.com/why-domini/meet-amy-domini
I knew from the Financial DNA Discovery process that my friend’s natural inherent behavior was all about minimizing risks and keeping clients from making investments that did not seem financially rational. With further questioning, I began to realize she had allowed her own natural bias to rule the conversation. I also explained that in response to her reaction that she should consider the client’s perspective based on his behavioral biases. Had the client, based on his behavioral biases, made an investment which serves a lifestyle objective and also meets a more altruistic objective?
Behavioral bias in the financial decision-making area can be a real issue. Yes, the client may have initially appeared an idiot in terms of what he was proposing, but financial advisors need to park their bias and probe the client to understand what they are trying to achieve.
Wikipedia defines Bias thus: Bias is an inclination of temperament or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. People may be biased toward or against an individual, a race, a religion, a social class, a political party, or a species. Biased means one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, not having an open mind. Bias can come in many forms and is often considered to be synonymous with prejudice or bigotry. SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias
Subsequent meetings with the client revealed that he was cashing in his stock to make these purchases in order to provide a snow holiday vacation program for underprivileged children and their parents. This was his answer to being socially responsible. To my financial advisor friend he had initially appeared an idiot; had she managed her bias and reaction, she would have understood her client’s inherent behaviors and bias. Given the client’s biases and his choice, the advisors role should be to help maximize the disposition of the stocks to fund his investment.
Next time your first reaction is what an idiot’, stop and think about your own behavioral bias.