Behavioral Finance

Part 4 of 5: Deal with the Different Clients Uniquely

Meeting Client Resistance to Advice and Change

“A stressed-out client may not be able to communicate effectively.”

One of the difficult issues you will face is that some clients may not want to talk or take advice when they have anxiety. This resistance is something you will need to get past. They must always know your only interest is their well-being, and their concerns are understood. The relationship capital (trust) you have built through every prior interaction could be lost if your bedside manner in the downturn is wrong. Reflect on how physicians, attorneys, and accountants quickly lose trust when their communication is poor, particularly when delivering bad news.

Approaching this scenario as you would change management, you will need to gather and share more stories and examples. Consider getting them to talk with a broader sounding board of friends and mentors they respect. The more they understand the wisdom in sharing information, the more likely they will reduce anxiety and listen to advice.

One of the best ways to get your client to act in a situation requiring a change of energy will be to use the Gestalt language protocol: how to communicate with individuals in a nonthreatening manner so that clients feel like they can share and learn. One fundamental way is by sharing experiences and stories rather than being prescriptive with advice, followed by asking questions about their deeper purpose, passions, values, and identity. For example:

  • How do you want to show up in the new world?
  • How do you want to feel in the next stage of your life?
  • What will be important to you?

Remember that when you or your team interact with the client, understanding, tone, and words will be crucial, along with your inner confidence and authenticity.

You are their leader.

What stories will you share? How will you adapt to each client’s unique communication and behavioral style?

Build a Plan for How Your Firm Will Communicate with Different Clients

“Know how your clients will react to market movements and how their money energy will flow.”

Every client is unique in terms of their behavioral style and how they need to be communicated with. The pressure of stressful times will make this need even more robust.

Conversations are far more manageable when money comes in, and life or businesses are not under threat. Nevertheless, following the “Platinum Rule” of regularly communicating with clients on their terms, not yours, will be critical when there are stressful times.

Firstly, I suggest that you match your team members to the clients based on similar behavior and money styles. The type of energy that is brought to every interaction will be important.

  • The more self-directed client may only need a quick phone call, email and perhaps a to-the-point meeting.
  • The more structured client will want more research and an action plan.
  • Then, the more sensitive relational clients will need a longer but relaxed meeting.
  • Those who are more lifestyle-oriented will need reassurance with a more high-level response.

An essential aspect of your communication will be actively demonstrating that you have listened in a non-judgmental way. Your entire focus must be on what the client says, feels, and needs. Your mind cannot wander off with your plan, beliefs, biases, and mood.

Even think about having two team members with different styles interact with the client so that the different perspectives can be heard and further understood.

Have you ever been unintentionally triggered by a client when under pressure? Have you got a plan for how you will communicate with each client uniquely on their terms?

Expect To See Some Clients Show Up Differently

“Expect under pressure; you will see some clients do a behavioral flip that you may not have seen before.”

The behavior you may see from a client under pressure will be their natural “hard-wired” DNA Behavioral style. Despite all the socialized learning that may have gone on during their lives, it is hard for anyone not to revert to their instinctive way under pressure. As the coach or advisor, you may not have fully seen it come out very strongly, given that times have generally been good for the past thirteen years since the 2008 GFC and even the past thirty or so years.

Nevertheless, as has already been said, this is the time to hold your ground and communicate with clients on their terms based on their DNA Natural Behavior style.

Also, this would be an excellent time to take a deeper dive into the client’s overall natural DNA behavior and money styles, driving their reactions and future decision-making.

  1. Are they working in a role that is a fit for their talents? They may be mismatched, which causes additional stress.
  2. What is their risk tolerance? It is easy for people to overstate how much risk they are prepared to take in good times. That can cause much pressure in a downturn.
  3. Are they managing their savings and budgets? Have they spent away from their safety cushion? Clients may have incorrectly assumed revenue, or their bonus will automatically flow in some cases. Now, the safety valve is under threat. At a minimum, this could cause mismanaged expectations at home or for leaders with their team, causing stress.
  4. Has the client set goals aligned to their level of motivation and capability? When the “world is on the up and up,” it is easy for people to have an over-optimism bias on what can be achieved. That may be a re-set moment to accomplish the pressure valve.

Further, the business and financial plans may need to be adjusted for other factors such as prior experiences the client has had, their financial capacity, proximity to retirement, level of knowledge, and financial, legal, and family complexity.

Do you know how your clients will behave under pressure? Have you reviewed what adjustments may be needed to re-align behavioral style and expectations?

Part 3 of 5: Addressing Mental and Physical Health

Sleep Deprivation Is a Major Signal of Stress

“Some clients will be in denial that they are financially anxious. Find out how they are sleeping”.

We have learned that the length and quality of sleep are vital to your mental and physical well-being. Further, sleep impacts the operation of your central nervous system. Your anxiety can be identified daily through the heart rate variability (HRV) measurement on a smartwatch, Whoop band, or equivalent device. I suggest you start doing this for yourself and then bring it into the client conversations. You will soon learn a lot about the client’s well-being. Money is of little value if worrying about it causes stress.

Are you prepared to discuss whether the anxiety is worth risking their long-term longevity with your clients?

Keep Emotions in Check and Focus on Your Health

“Understanding the impacts of behavioral and money energy helps you be the voice of reason in a crisis.”

So often, when there is financial stress, the head-spinning and conversations remain solely focused on how much money there is now and will be. Money is easy to count, but the impact on your life of stressing over it, particularly your health, is not. But this is where the highest cost of financial stress could be sitting.

Taking the connectivity of money to health further, it will be worth observing whether your client’s food and alcohol intake has changed because of financial anxiety. Again, this is something the smart devices will pick up on. In particular, the consumption of alcohol has a high negative impact on the HRV.

Engaging the clients with your stories will help them take notice. Discussing health issues is always a sensitive personal matter. However, if you have a vibrant life, the clients will see it. That may trigger a more positive, energetic reaction and more extended lifestyle changes.

Are you taking a look at your personal discipline and energy management so you can inspire your clients?

Learn to Breathe, Keep Calm, Do Not Panic

“Deep Breathing Can Elevate Your Energy and Help Change Your Mindset.”

As the behavioral guide, I would suggest that you could learn to lead your clients through some deep breathing exercises before, during, and after discussing high-stress issues. Even meditation practices work. The key is to help the client change their energetic patterns and bring calmness to the central nervous system. Further, it will help them be more centered and not panic when making high-stakes decisions.

I am sure as parents you have done this with a child when they have got worked up about something. Well, as adults, we need to do it too.

Have you noticed how your energy changes when you engage in deep breathing?

No Place for Unconscious Bias in Workplace

This article first appeared in Nasdaq.

Every workplace must be committed to adopting an inclusive and equitable environment. It must be open to continuous learning. And be willing to directly challenge misperceptions and biases.

The most perplexing of the biases: unconscious bias. This subconscious preference may affect opinion otherwise based on facts or experiences. We all hold unconscious beliefs about things, including individuals and social groups.

Still, it is crucial to understand what unconscious bias is and how to deal with it. Sadly, it is more widespread than conscious (or intentional) prejudice and can often be incompatible with an individual’s conscious values.

When the unconscious surfaces

Unconscious bias reveals itself in attitudes or stereotypes that form our views, responses, actions and decisions. As the designation indicates, unconscious biases are automatic; most people are not even consciously aware they have them and are often genuinely shocked when challenged.

The human brain creates prejudices that influences our decision-making. We may not even be aware of it. The resulting affects and reactions to different cultures entering the workplace is often where unconscious bias first emerges.

And, again, we’re not talking about prejudices emerging from “bad apples,” but from team members who otherwise believe they are genuinely committed to fairness.

For instance, what might be your immediate reaction to a name you perceive as being foreign sounding? Or your expectation that a man would fill a vacancy, but instead, it is a woman? Or a 50-something doesn’t get the position, but a 20-something person does? Maybe making decisions based on favoritism or a similar background could be your go-to behavior, albeit unwittingly. These are unconscious biases and can be managed through awareness, acknowledgment and training.

Unconscious bias + DEI

Unconscious bias as part of the DEI (diversity, equity & inclusion) debate is complex, but in the workplace, leaders have a responsibility to take action:

1. The first step is for everyone to see diversity as something to be welcomed.

2. Step two is understanding that most successful teams and groups are diverse. Whether the diversity is in talent, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or other facets.

3. Step three has to be absolute permission to call each other out when unconscious bias raises its head.

4. Step four applies a behavioral discovery insights process to each person so you and they and everyone can better recognize and manage the potential to be susceptible to unconscious bias.

Intentionally addressing the unintentional

One of my colleagues shared with me an experience with unconscious bias. After knee surgery, she needed to use a wheelchair for a few weeks. Whenever her husband wheeled her into a shopping area, people spoke to him directly or answered her questions by speaking to her husband rather than to her.

Assumptions were made that she was unable to respond because she was in a wheelchair. The unconscious bias: Assuming a level of incapacity that doesn’t exist.

Our thoughts influence behaviors. Our past, unchallenged experiences influence our behaviors. And our behavior impacts those around us, as none of us operate within a vacuum. When we understand that we all have biases – and that they can express themselves even when we are not aware they exist – we can make the intentional decision to work together to be more conscious of our thoughts, actions and responses.

If you have an unconscious bias challenge in the workplace or have found solutions for such, I’d love to hear from you.

Clear the Fog Around Market Madness Stress

This article first appeared in Nasdaq.

Stress-related brain fog is not only a health issue; it’s the blockage that can cause us to make poor decisions.

As an advisor, it can color the advice we give to clients. As a client, it can prevent us from questioning that advice or make us compliant or uncompromising. Worse still, it can make us argumentative and unwilling to listen to sound advice.

Stress is an issue, the source of which needs to be uncovered and resolved or at least managed. It affects us mentally and causes emotional strain and tension. It results from adverse or demanding circumstances, one of which is money. Financial anxiety results in stress and tends to make rationality disappear.

A challenge for advisors

I had reason to address this topic recently with a friend. Whenever I can, I play golf with “Jack.” He lifts my game, and I win occasionally, but generally, he’s a better golfer. Jack is a successful financial coach, advisor and competitive golfer.

Recently I beat him, hands down. I played well, but he wasn’t on his game. As we headed to the 19th hole, I asked what was troubling him.

He shared that many of his clients were rushing to change their financial plans believing the U.S. was heading for a recession, given current inflation levels, borrowing costs and stocks taking a pounding.

He and his advisory team were facing levels of client hostility while facing their own personal financial concerns. Jack confirmed he was stressed on three fronts – how to calm and advise the clients, prepare his advisors to serve stressed clients, and guide his teams through this onslaught.

Jack already knows his clients’ financial goals and timeframes; he knows their tolerance for risk and losses.

Practical insights

What Jack needed from me: How to open conversations with both advisors and clients about financial anxiety and the stress that raises emotional complexities that must be managed.

It’s not enough to say, “ignore the headlines” or “just breathe.” Jack needed practical help.

Jack and I talked about the importance of understanding our two thought systems: Our fast, instinctive and emotional system that is powerful and tends to be our go-to place in times of adrenaline rush…and our slower, more deliberate logical one that may not always challenge or question the fast decisions or conclusions we arrive at.

Add money to the equation and emotional decisions in times of uncertainty tend to take over. So, understanding what is happening to cause such stress is critical when seeking to manage stress and brain fog.

Address individual aspects

Even the most experienced professionals can become overwhelmed and react emotionally when finances are threatened. Regardless of how much you know about your clients and advisors, hardwired instinctive behavior can take over, paralyzing quality decision-making.

If handled appropriately, you can turn news, supposition and rumors of impending market challenges into a mental-freedom opportunity and be the catalyst to unleash tremendous positive opportunities. But first, you need to follow a few practical steps.

My advice to Jack was this:

  1. Acknowledge the stress and how it is impacting behavior and decision-making.
  2. Be a compassionate leader – take your eye off results and profit for the moment and focus on the people and their emotional wellbeing.
  3. Recognize that underlying issues and other areas of dissatisfaction could add to the stress levels of clients and advisors.
  4. Review client-advisor meeting strategies. Remind clients of their quality life goals.
  5. Recognize the different behavioral styles of the clients, which trigger different reactions; communicate with them on their terms

Remember, financial stress is a leveler; it doesn’t favor anyone. No matter your level of wealth, stress is available to everyone, from those stressed because of fear of losing what they have built over the years to those fearing the next mortgage payment or bill.

We all are responsible for understanding how best to guide clients and ourselves through financially stressful times, and the tools exist to help work through the process – this time, and in the future.

Part 2 of 5: Responding to Financial Stress in the Moment

Discovering the Real Causes of Financial Anxiety

“Clients can ride a downturn if they can master their money energy and channel the flow to the right places.”

Regardless of how (apparently) financially wealthy a person is, it is reasonable to expect they may have some financial anxiety when the world becomes unsafe. When uncertainty arises, the energy of money will surface in dissatisfaction or disappointment in some area of their life. Or, it will expose past mistakes or black holes covered by unprecedented good times.

Do you have the pinpointed behavioral and money insights on each client? Do you know how they will instinctively react to the market’s mood?

The DNA Behavior insights in the Financial DNA® reports will give you insights into the areas that may be causing financial stress. These insights may help you see whether the anxiety is about future growth challenges, disruption to continued lifestyle expectations, a threat to family or relationship stability, or disruption to a long-planned retirement from full-time work. Nevertheless, you will need to use these insights as a starting point to ask the client deeper questions about what is causing stress at a deeper level.

In addition, the Financial DNA “Market Mood” app will give you some objective insight into the client’s level of financial anxiety as the market gyrates up and down, and some insights on how to interact with them.

Do you have the requisite facilitation skills to potentially go deep with your clients to identify the root cause of what is causing them real distress?

Financial Anxiety Threatens Identity and Self-Worth

“Your energy goes where your mind goes.” – Joe Dispenza, author of Becoming Supernatural.

The root cause of anxiety may not be investments but something far more serious to do with a career, business, a spouse, or a family member. Maybe it resurrects historical issues; as an advisor/coach, you need to go deeper to ensure their identity and self-worth remain unharmed.

Anxiety can cause a person to change how they see the world and themselves in it, leading to a damaged self-image when facing an unplanned transition.

Manifestation of anxiety is a real thing. Anxiety in your clients can manifest in the form of negativity; this could lead to bad outcomes. Your job is to help re-route them to the “right path” that starts with their attitude, as without correction, this could be the starting point for where a person gets in their own way.

Do you have the composure to compassionately ask your clients the right questions till you get to “why” they have financial anxiety? Can you help your clients see their world through a new lens and change their energy?

Identify and Resolve Your Own Money Stories

Advisors often fail because they have not resolved their own money baggage, and through their lack of awareness, the clients are left “eating” the advisor’s behavior somehow.”

As a mentor to many coaches, advisors, and leaders worldwide during the past twenty-five years, I have always said you cannot guide a client where you have not been yourself. Of course, one cannot have experiences you have not had yet.

But regardless of your stage of life, reflect on the experiences you (and your family) have had and how you dealt with the resulting financial anxiety and stress. It would be a good idea to be open and transparent with your team and get them to share. To demonstrate authenticity and build trust, it would be a good idea for you to lead this exercise off by sharing some of your own money stories. Consult your coach or sounding board to help facilitate the discussion if that will help.

Through these reflective discussions, you will build some relationship capital that can be transferred to your clients so they see you have walked the journey. Although, you must be behaviorally aware not to impute your baggage onto the clients. Sometimes you may need to rethink your personal money stories; you can always resurrect them to help clients on their journey when you have a deeper insight into their anxiety.

Have you got your own money stories ready to share with your team and clients? Are you aware of how your stories may impact the clients?

Falling Asset Values May Not Be the Biggest Problem

“Falling asset prices do not mean there is yet a financial loss.”

For many people, the first reaction to falling asset prices is that they have lost money even though no crystalizing sale has occurred. Of course, the loss is temporary until the asset has to be sold for cash or otherwise exchanged. Consider whether the paper loss impacts the situation and whether the asset is fundamentally sound to keep holding. Does action need to be taken?

The generic wisdom is that the crisis itself is not the primary problem, but how you respond is. Your clients’ mindset will drive success in embracing the situation at hand. The last thing you want to happen is that the client makes rash decisions that wipe out the wins of the last ten to thirty years.

The major risk that must be managed is not necessarily the client selling off some equity positions because they panic or think they can outsmart the market. Although, the wisdom is that clients should not be completely out of the market as they could miss out on the re-bound and overall be worse off. Instead, the even bigger risk is that they emotionally make another seemingly unrelated decision in another area of their life that has far more costly ramifications.

Addressing such high-stakes decisions can be quite confronting for both the client and you as the coach or the advisor. However, it is essential to do so because one wrong decision can lead to a cascade of bad decisions leading to a more significant long-term problem.

I have learned that in a crisis, exercise your intuition when you have seventy percent of the correct information gathered, analyzed, and digested. Enough of the right information can be obtained by getting in touch with their internal guides and through some education via independent information sources.

So get your client to slow down, delay their intuition for a moment and do a three-sixty cognitive reflection to gauge how best to override the client’s incorrect “gut” response and engage them in further reflection to find a correct answer.

Can you help your clients transform their perspectives and mindsets?

 

Whatever high-stakes decision your client may be considering, ask them what Pastor Andy Stanley from Northpoint Church in Atlanta says is the best question ever: Is it the wise thing to do?

Manage Your Stress Collaboratively with the Children

“Parental stress can be reduced with a family conversation about it.”

If you are like me, I am sure you will want to keep stability in the household even in the bad times. My general approach has been to maintain a reasonable standard of living for the family and leave the problems at the front door (or since the pandemic in the home office). Being somewhat reserved and less outwardly emotional, this is more natural for me to do than others.

Providing stability is a wonderful thing to be able to do. Although, it could be a good learning lesson for later in life if the children experience some of what a downturn means.

I believe it would be misguided for the children not to feel anything when you and your clients deal with stressful times. They are like cats and will know the energy has changed in the room. Do you think the children know that you are less patient when your mood is down and you have less time for them? Also, don’t forget they also go to school or college and will hear others talking about it. So, you may be asked how we are dealing with the downturn? Will we be okay?

As family members, they are part of the ups and downs of the journey too. They deserve to know something. But, my experience is that it is better to discuss what is going on with them. It will reduce their anxiety and yours, which keeps the overall energy calm.

Ultimately, if a high-stakes family decision must be made, openness and transparency will mean more love and support. Then, when the good times return, there will be more appreciation for the benefits.

Have you ever discussed how the children are impacted by their financial stress with your clients? Would they see the potential benefits of such conversations with their children?

Behavioral Foundation Drives Excellence in Other Areas

As we approach the 30th anniversary of “triple bottom line,” the accounting principle that has become a corporate performance measure, it’s time to revisit and reflect.

Indeed, the man who coined the TBL term, John Elkington, maintained that the traditional profit-and-loss measure of corporate success gave an incomplete picture of a firm’s actual value or significance. Elkington gave voice to the belief that achieving financial success could be seen as a measure of how an organization approached social and environmental issues.

Thus, more organizations began various forays into evaluating corporate performance by measuring People, Planet and Profit. 

‘And,’ not ‘or’

Fast forward to today, and the landscape has changed beyond all recognition. Given the importance of retaining staff, the whole aspect of human capital management is in flux.

Some leaders are working to provide a systematic way to review and improve operations for better environmental performance and be more socially responsible. Many others are investing in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), as an alternative area of emphasis or in addition to investing in environmental and socially responsible areas.

I venture to suggest that when leaders understand behavioral diversity, it is a strong overlay – really more of a powerful foundation – to DEI, triple bottom line and just about any other system, challenge or opportunity.

Behavioral building block

Understanding inherent behaviors – uncovering this behavioral diversity – is only a starting point. Using myself as an example, I’ll demonstrate what this means: I am an initiator, results-driven, logical and decisive. I like to lead, make decisions and set the agenda.

Then compare my behaviors against one of my colleagues who is a facilitator: balanced, discerning and harmonious. She teaches others and herself to achieve goals, prefers a stable environment and promotes group decision-making.

Thus, our collaboration could be a recipe for disaster. But it isn’t. Because we know each other and have invested the time to understand our own and each other’s behavioral traits, we work well together.

We know our own and the other’s characteristics, and we have learned to manage inherent behaviors and flex where there would be potential clashes. Applying this same approach with all my colleagues, we are a high-functioning and effective team.

Truly diverse perspectives

Behavioral discovery is the starting point. Add differences in race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic class and more. Then consider the processes and programs within your business and ask yourself, “are they impartial, fair, and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual?” Better still, ask your diverse workforce for their varying perspectives on this.

Do they genuinely feel a sense of belonging in your workplace? If you genuinely reveal and leverage behavioral diversity within your organization, employees will know they are valued for their uniqueness and can authentically bring their entire selves to work. They’ll know that is valued.

With that kind of foundation, an organization is well-poised to continue tackling DEI (beyond behavioral diversity), the triple bottom line and much more.

Lead by (behavioral) example

As with any successful implementation, this begins at the top. Is your leadership ready to introduce the programs and activities that deliver behavioral diversity as a fundamental building block?

Reach out; I’m happy to share my daily experiences and to help you get started discovering your own behavioral diversity.