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Money: The Greatest Gravitational Force Impacting Decision Making

– First Published on Nasdaq –

I’ve asked many advisors over the past few years, “How much time do you truly spend understanding the emotional behavior of your clients?” On average, the consensus is about 10%.

I then ask, “How much time do you spend understanding your clients’ identity?” this question is met with a blank stare.

The reality is that we know very little about the behavior of our clients, and, consequently, how they make decisions. Making assumptions about who the client is and what their true motivations are is a risky approach. Ultimately, as advisors, our ability to objectively understand how our clients are uniquely “wired” and then building a corresponding healthy relationship with them represents 80% or more of our success on their behalf. And our own success is riding on theirs.

When you think about it, the behavioral dynamics start from the moment a prospect makes contact with your firm. Because of the digital world we live in, that could even be before the first meeting. Therefore, it’s central to the ongoing success of the relationship to deliberately address behavioral differences early.

Deconstructing emotional decisions 

Over the past few months, I have spoken to many industry leaders in what we call Identity Conversations. There is one consistent issue: How to work with clients who make emotional decisions.

All agree that money is the most significant gravitational force impacting decision-making and that there is no doubt that the emotional pull of money can hijack decision-making. The question is how to recognize what it is that triggers these emotional responses.

For me, there is no doubt that understanding identity is key to working with clients. Identity reflects their X factor and their unique algorithm, as well as their values and purpose. Unlock this, and you will know your clients’ motivations, and this will reveal how and where and for what reason they want to build their wealth.

When market movements cause clients to become emotional, you will see what they are inherently trying to protect – their identity. That is the convergence of their talents, passions and life purpose.

Lessons from a challenging season

We don’t know what the world will ultimately look like when this pandemic has left us (and it will). What will the economy look like? How will our working lives have changed? Will our priorities have changed? And perhaps the biggest one of all: What will we have all learned about ourselves and our decision-making approaches during this challenging season?

As advisors, industry leaders or individuals, it’s time to prepare for what comes next. Check yourself before you wreck yourself: Figure out your own identity and those of key players around you. Form an opinion as to how the gravitational pull of money impacts your decision-making and prepare well for the next season via identity empowerment.

And if you are looking for a safe place to start an Identity Conversation, I’m always happy to help you kickstart such.

See Hugh’s other writings for Nasdaq here.

The Behavior & Money Insights Company – An Origin Story

Today, DNA Behavior is known for its groundbreaking approach in managing client-advisor relationships. Through its 500+ insights, companies have succeeded in reshaping the way they deliver wealth management services. However, have you ever wondered how it all started? 

Chairman & Founder Hugh Massie recently sat down with Nikki Evans, our Chief Learning Officer to discuss the journey that led him to create the Behavior & Money Insights Company.  

A Reformed Accountant Turned Entrepreneur

After graduating from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia with an Accountancy and Economics degree, Hugh took a position in a large accounting firm so that he could get the best education and training possible. This was a path he never questioned up until that moment because everyone around him was doing the same. 

In the 10 years he spent working with Arthur Anderson as a Chartered Accountant, he gained experience in auditing and as a tax advisor covering a range of fields of expertise. The one thing that really impacted his view on the world was the opportunity he got to work in South East Asia for 4 years, in Singapore, and Thailand. As Hugh describes it “I think something happened to me there that was important”. 

Anyone who’s ever experienced working in a foreign country can attest that cultural shock can sometimes be challenging at first, but it inevitably shapes your personality and changes you in many ways. In Hugh’s case, working in the fast growing economies of Asia provided him with a lot of operating freedom in a less structured environment. This allowed his entrepreneurial thinking that already existed to start being more fully liberated. 

A Feeling of Lack of Purpose Led to DNA Behavior

The most asked question any CEO gets is “How did you start the company?”. Hugh is no exception. Over the years, he’s been asked time and time again how it all started and how he decided to build a behavior and money insights company. People usually expect an inspiring answer, details on the spark of genius that ignited this entrepreneurial journey.
For Hugh, it actually started with a career burnout: “Somewhere I lost my passion”. Hugh continues: “I had the sense that I had to go on the street with nothing to go to and figure it out, because I’m not going to figure it out sitting in the accounting firm and I need to go and try things to find out what would work. Although, I was knew clients wanted a customized experience in how they were dealt with by their professional advisors”.

At the age of 30, Hugh was working as a wealth mentor. He was helping his clients with their financial affairs as well as teaching them about themselves. That’s when the idea dawned on him. “People have these behavioral flips – Their risk appetites are not what they would say it was, under pressure people make all these emotional decisions”. That realization right there was the transformational moment for Hugh, where he clearly saw what DNA Behavior would be about.

A Community Waiting to be Built

The Behavioral Finance world may have been limited during the time Hugh Founded DNA Behavior, but the response was absolutely overwhelming. “For the most part, I’ve met very positive people that are supportive of me, developed me, given me lessons, some good, some bad, some tough, that have enabled me to grow”. 

Today, many financial institutions have successfully implemented the DNA Behavior approach and consider it to be a substantial advantage. Providing a stellar client experience which is personalized is the ultimate goal for each advisor, so when you understand your clients on a deeper level, they feel heard, supported, and prioritized. The best part of it all is that Hugh was able to build a community of financial professionals who found a supportive environment to guide them through it all. This has become more than just a company, this is a life mission.

A Mission Greater Than Money

“Part of the identity journey is to ensure people don’t define themselves by how much money they have, they define themselves with something that is much deeper inside them. That is a gift. If that has happened to make them a lot of money then great, or, will they in the future? Fantastic.”

Ultimately, the goal is that people fulfill their potential and make whatever wealth that comes from that, and in the process live a life of meaning. 

Money is what makes the world go round, it is very important, but it’s got its place, and it’s got to be well managed. That is not just invested, that is emotionally managed as well. We are in a great position to take people on that pathway to find out who they are, what their real talents are, get them to live that journey, and then to manage themselves along that journey. And hopefully, build great relationships, not have a life of regret. That is so important. 
“My work is going to be in that zone for quite a long time, as a business leader, helping people find that identity. Really trailblazing it, being that champion. As part of helping people trailblaze their identity I will be their champion and they can see – here is someone who did it.

Care to Join Our Mission?

DNA Behavior has been a growing community for over 20 years. We pride ourselves in the impact we’ve had on many financial institutions and organizations. In the future, we will continue striving to help more advisors build long-lasting relationships with their clients. If you’re interested in giving it a try, start our free trial to Financial DNA and unlock the power of behavior.

Business man seated at desk looking at paperwork

X-Factor: Discovery, Awareness, Then Leadership

First published on Nasdaq


I’ve been having what I call Identity Conversations with financial advisors, industry leaders and others. It has clarified for me – and for them – that the more advisors and leaders come to understand their own identity, the better they can guide others to make more effective decisions.

John Maxwell, an author and speaker on leadership, captured the essence of this: “I have to find myself before I can lead myself. I have to be self-aware before I can be situationally aware.”

He could have written that for me and the people I work with, because he sums up an exciting truth for those of us required to guide people in their decision-making, whether as financial advisors, industry leaders, parents or others: Becoming situationally aware is itself a journey.

Situational & self

“Situational awareness” involves knowing what is going on around you and with others at any given time. As a financial advisor, situational awareness relies on your ability to see, understand and analyze the life journey of your clients and the goals they want to achieve. Life is not linear; life and market events are taking place all the time, and recognition of that is essential if you are working with clients to build wealth that also achieves their objectives.

An advisor’s pre-prepared questions can’t reveal the essence of a client. Most people are presenting their best side and perhaps even what they believe is expected. Even with well-guided questions, financial advisors rarely get to know what makes clients tick at the deeper level. Add to that the fact that advisor bias (unconscious or conscious) or assumptions also come into play.

So, the starting place is not just getting the right “discovery” tool or method to uncover what you need to know about your clients. I firmly believe you can never have real success or be a significant advisor until you genuinely discover yourself. Only by discovering your own X-Factor – those talents and qualities that set you apart and make you uniquely you – can you genuinely advise, guide and help clients build wealth to achieve life goals built on an understanding of themselves.

The secret sauce of leadership

Knowing your X-Factor, which reflects your unique gifts as an advisor, is critical to understanding your identity. That understanding, and the sharing of it, is in turn critical to understanding your clients – and helping them understand themselves.

What special “secret sauce” do you have that sets you apart in the crowd from every other advisor? This is not about your “doing” in the role as an advisor but the essence of your being. The X-Factor is found by discovering where your talents (strengths) and passions combine to drive you toward doing something that is special and differentiated.

When individuals truly discover their identity, they realize the impact it has on every choice and, of particular importance to advisors and those they serve, decision-making. They become more secure in themselves, and that fosters clearer “vision” about themselves and those they serve.

Further, when advisors understand their own and that of their clients, they understand that identity is important for personal growth and business growth. And in many cases, a business’s identity and the success of the company is strongly correlated to that of the leader’s identity.

Living your identity

In this space I’ve written a lot in the past year about taking stock of life and checking in to consider the next “season” as we begin to return to normality. This time of enforced reflection has caused many, including me, to pause and rethink their life journey.

As a reformed accountant, it’s exciting to see how the Identity Journey has impacted many financial advisors. Given that 80% of human performance comes from living your identity, managing human differences, and recognizing the emotional impulses of decision-making, a number of those I interviewed shared with me how getting in touch with their own identity made them alert to situational awareness in financial planning.

Another important realization usually follows pretty quickly: To guide clients in their complex decision-making, they too needed to go back to basics to reveal their identity, discovering how this insight shapes their situation.

Discover, then share

In time we will all forget the experience of this past year. For one, never before have we had such an opportunity to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. To reflect and reinvent. That is, to re-assess and re-launch, with an awareness that benefits us and those around us. After all, many people search – especially now – for their place in the world and how they can live or operate with more significant meaning.

So, before you step back into whatever your new normal is going be, take a moment to ask yourself:

  • What is your future reality?
  • Who do you want to become?
  • How do you want to project yourself to others?
  • Where will your most significant impact be?
  • How are you going to stand out in the crowd?
  • Do you want a dramatic change in your life?
  • Do you want a sharp uplift in your life trajectory?

If you’re unsure of your place in the world, this process of considering your X-Factor is a great (re-)starting point. There are a number of ways to go about it, but I am understandably biased about an approach that begins with a behavioral discovery, next stepping into an identity interview.

I’m always happy to help others uncover such and will of course share my own identity interview and X-Factor “reveal.” After all, that transparency and sharing is the pivot point when the power you discover in yourself begins to help and influence others.

If you are discovering other ways to find and own your X-Factor, I’d love to hear about it.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

ESG Investing: A Match for Post-Pandemic Outlook

– First Published on Nasdaq –

Interest in ESG investing has risen significantly in recent years. So, what is it?

ESG represents Environmental, Social and (Corporate) Governance factors as a measure of sustainability and social impact of an investment. It’s intended as another “lens” investors and advisors may want to use, alongside, not usurping, financial factors.

For years, ESG issues were a secondary concern for investors. It was often seen as “alternative” or nice to have but not mainstream. Sometimes not even taken seriously. Increasingly, clients are initiating ESG conversations.

One of the reasons may be that ESG investing has been shown to potentially present the greatest opportunity for portfolios. No longer an esoteric offering, financial advisors could well fall behind and lose clients if they fail to identify what issues are important to clients and help them build their portfolio in a way that reflects their values.

Add to that the fact that people have been very reflective during the pandemic; thus, many are beginning to see how various aspects of their lives – including their investments – line up with their values. ESG investments may be one of the answers for which they are searching.

Leverage conversation, technology

Many advisors are accustomed to having conventional conversations with their clients, without knowing those clients at a deeper level. Don’t be tentative or judgmental: Have the conversations to establish if and where clients fit in terms of ESG investing. Some will have base knowledge of the topic; others will appreciate a succinct ESG tutorial.

Advisors may not even realize that some of their clients are already researching companies’ records on environmental sustainability, social responsibility and governance (think transparency and accountability). Other clients may not know ESG investing is not just a nice-to-have approach, but can be a genuine, productive metric of investment potential and returns.

How can technology and data facilitate these conversations? Tech and data provide advisors and analysts with information about companies worthy of investment. It delivers data to advisors based on verified performance, demonstrating that companies worthy of investment are genuinely ESG compliant and are not just one of the in-name-only players.

Better still, tech and data can help advisors and even investors themselves understand the decision-making behaviors of investors. Especially as we come out of pandemic lockdown, in which everyone is increasingly comfortable with remote interactions, advisors need to have behavioral insights at their fingertips. As we all work “leaner,” insights provide an edge for advisors and firms committed to rethink and reshape how they deliver wealth management advice in our rapidly changing world.

Broaching ESG option

The real challenge for many financial advisors is that they aren’t sure how to have ESG conversations with clients. Many might feel asking about a person’s commitment, or not, to environmental and social issues is fraught with landmines. And, if advisors have not done their homework, they could be left flat footed as they genuinely do not know which companies are worthy of ESG investing.

So, how can advisors avoid the potential pitfalls of discussing ESG with clients? Like so many life conversations, such a discussion flows best when each contributor to the exchange understands their inherent behavior. (Again, with tech and data informing both the advisor and client perspectives and their “take” on each other.)

Communication style

An advisor whose style is to converse with authority and who has a strong drive to reach goals and deliver results, may suggest investment opportunities in industries compliant with ESG, where returns are likely to be significant…but they also may fail to “hear” their client.

A colleague recently shared the story of an interaction he had with a former advisor: When the colleague-client noted to his advisor that he did not want to invest in certain types of companies (decidedly not ESG ones and which differed from his core values), the advisor responded, “Well, I guess you are not interested in returns.”

Not only is that untrue of most ESG investments, that kind of response shuts down communication, damages the relationship and likely negatively affects success for both advisor and client. Having tech- and data-driven behavioral insights in hand could have changed the trajectory of things for both client and advisor.

On the flip, a client who is reflective and needs time to research and consider options and who would prefer to invest in a low-return investment but with a business who has a greater commitment to ESG, could feel pressured and withdraw from the conversation. So, again, understanding a client’s innate approach and reactions to stress and money decisions, as well as how they best communicate and are communicated to, could have brought alignment, understanding and, most importantly, productive communication to this scenario.

The time for ESG is now

With “behaviorally smart” tech and data integrated into their other systems, an advisor can, at the touch of a button, have real time information in front of them to understand client behavior, bias, and decision-making and communication style. This enables a higher level of advisor-client compatibility – and that’s the road to success.

Likewise, behavioral data gathering tools deliver practical insights so advisors can understand which clients they have significant behavioral differences with. It also would offer insights into how best to manage the differences. Ex: How and when do I communicate with this client to maximize outcomes for all parties involved?

In all communication exchanges, adapting behavior to relate to another person requires concentrating more on a level of self-awareness. There is no doubt ESG investing is delivering a huge shift in emphasis to financial markets and curious investors.

In a more reflective, post-pandemic world, more investors are looking to be part of global environmental and social solutions, working when they can with organizations that get things right on governance. These investors expect their advisors to be on top of their game in terms of understanding what they the client are trying to achieve. Knowing how to have the corresponding dialogue with them on ESG issues creates a win-win.

Financial services businesses that invest in tech stack solutions that provide tools to support ESG investing will be significantly more successful than their competitors. Not only will they be known for the proactive, positive impact they are having on society, they will undoubtedly enhance their organization’s long-term financial value and build client wealth in line with client wishes and, by nature, the greater good.

Financial DNA Empowering Female Voices

Earlier this year, I sat down with Danny Liberatore from The Wealth Enrichment Financial Group to discuss the impact Financial DNA has had on his practice, and how it transformed the way he works with his clients. 

Working with female investors

One of my biggest takeaways from our identity conversation was Danny’s approach in working with female investors. He mentioned that most of his clients are females and that Financial DNA insights have enabled him to foster meaningful relationships with them.

You see, female investors don’t want to be treated any differently than men, however, their communications styles are different. They want to be part of the process. They have a savviness for the intricacies of our work and appreciate the educational part of it all.

Danny Liberatore

Behavioral finance insights particularly come into play in this situation when you are working with male and female partners. Their dynamics unravel from day one, and you need to pay attention to their behaviors in order to understand them better and manage their biases.

Involve both in the conversation

Danny shared with me that most of the time, the women are different from their partners, in terms of behavior and responsiveness. 

It is no secret that the financial service industry has done a very poor job trying to understand women and genuinely helping them. What happens more often than not is that they are being ignored and their opinions are unsolicited or unappreciated. 

As a financial advisor, you need to be able to wear different hats when working with couples. When you make the effort of explaining things differently to your clients and accordingly to their behavioral styles, you get instant breakthroughs. 

Danny mentioned that he’s made it a habit to always address the wife first and disclose to the husband that while he might be addressing him later on separately, he doesn’t want him to feel ignored or unappreciated. He will ensure to bring the husband back into the conversation and keep her engaged.

The truth is, once you honestly explain your process, your clients instantly feel included. It not only puts them at ease, but it builds trust. And we all know that trust is a fundamental factor in advisor/client relationships. 

This is a common situation for FI’s to find themselves in. When the female is not the breadwinner or the creator of the wealth, you’ve got to make her even more involved, without leaving the male out either.

How it usually starts 

When meeting with a potential client for the first time, pay very close attention to the couple dynamics as they unravel before you. It is common for men to take on the lead role in a conversation with their advisor, especially at the beginning. 

However, if it gets to the point where the female’s opinion is not taken into consideration or is not solicited at all in the planning process, that should be a red flag for you. You need to make the effort to always keep them engaged and involve them in the conversation.

You can also look at it from a business perspective. Let’s say you are taking on this new client that has great assets and potential for revenue growth. If you strictly focus on working with the husband, when life happens and you find yourself in an intergenerational wealth transfer situation, what are your chances to still be the financial advisor for that family? 

Final thoughts..

When working with your clients, it might feel normal to engage the one partner that takes on the role of leader and simply overlook the other. The risk you are running there is to not only alienate one of the decision makers but also falling victim to your own status quo biases. Pay attention to your client’s dynamics, keep both of them engaged, and build what could potentially be a lifetime working relationship.

Take Fresh Look at Alignment of Career and Life Purpose

– First Published on Nasdaq –

Having a purpose in life that lines up with a chosen career is what many strive for and rarely achieve. Why is that?

Maybe it’s as simple as having allowed yourself to follow the career expectations of others, only to later find life experiences, wisdom, or an event (like a pandemic!) exposes cracks in the alignment between life purpose and chosen profession.

For many, the past year has caused them to take a hard look at their life purpose and ask the questions:

  • Why am I building wealth?
  • Is this my chosen career?
  • Why am I endeavoring to achieve the next promotion?
  • Why am I allowing life to hijack deeply held life goals and purpose?

Learning from the past

As I look back on my own journey, I often joke, saying I am a “reformed CPA,” but I seriously am. Having initially had a successful career as a chartered accountant in Sydney, Singapore and Thailand, and later in the financial services industry (running my own wealth management business), I always knew my career was more than about me conforming to a way of life.

That is, conforming to the script of have a good job, buy a house, invest and increase wealth. I think you get my point. But in reality, I always recognized something was missing.

My talents made me successful in my chosen careers but did not fulfill my passion, vision and values which I wanted to define and articulate in my life purpose.

I can’t say I was overly navel-gazing or looking for meaning in life; it was simply a deep belief that something more was going to be my career and purpose. The trouble was I didn’t know what.

Getting back to basics

I began to realize that if I wanted to discover my TIPS (talent, identity, purpose and significance) and get my career and life purpose aligned, I would have to do something about it myself. Hence the birth of DNA Behavior.

I recognized that using a behaviorally smart scientifically based discovery system I would be able to uncover areas of my TIPS that were not being recognized or used in my career – or toward my life purpose.

So, some 20+ years ago I founded the DNA Behavior business. It became clear to me that everyone should know and be able to share their unique “DNA style” with family, advisors, leaders, employees and clients. I knew that if everyone could share their unique style, the world would be a better place and careers would be chosen that lined up with living a quality life and inherent passions.

What I discovered and have spent the intervening years pursuing: My purpose and priorities lay in helping people the world over become more self-empowered through greater self-awareness. What I found is that I have a knack for discovering and making practical, unique behavioral insights, particularly in the still-new, still-underutilized field of behavioral finance. This is a much stronger calling for me than providing accounting and financial services, investments, and managing real estate.

The highly validated, scientifically based, structured approach to understanding behavioral insights for identifying talents, career paths and life purpose helped me discover my passion and now does the same for millions of people globally.

There is of course an irony – and a win-win – to the fact that my personal discovery and pursuit of that will enable the same for others. Of this I am doubly grateful.

And this is not a sales pitch; rather, it’s sharing an experience about discovering life purpose and making a career from that discovery.

Sometimes life intercedes

During the past year I have spent socially distant or remote time with countless people who are questioning many aspects of their lives. Now many are reviewing their career. Not because they have lost their job, but because they’ve had time to work from home with their family and have begun to “taste” a quality life.

They want to do life differently. They want to use technology to be able to have choices about where and when they work. Even more have commented on how successful conversations have become with their advisors as many financial advisors are themselves questioning their quality life.

One common theme in these conversations: It seems creating significant wealth is no longer their “true north,” not because they don’t want wealth but because they genuinely cannot find its purpose in their lives.

Wealth is great, but not at the sacrifice of life purpose. Why not have both?

Know yourself, then help clients do same

Discovering a life purpose that becomes a satisfying career needs to follow a well-defined approach that begins, not necessarily with qualifications, but with knowing self (talents, strengths and struggles). Focusing on those factors that reveal inherent behavior is crucial before setting personal life goals that enable you to take control of life in ways that optimize performance and happiness.

This approach to building a career based on life purpose is a strategy you can take to your clients as part of discussing financial planning and investment strategies, because many are searching for purpose and meaning. Even better if you lead the discussion with how you have rediscovered yourself, re-examined your goals and re-aligned key life facets like purpose and direction.