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What Do Decision-Making and Financial Literacy Have in Common?

Have you ever wondered what goes into each individual’s decision-making process? We make decisions based on facts and information that is delivered to us. 

When it comes to managing money, the same rules apply. How does that affect financial advisors and their relationships with their clients? Find out more in the newest episode of FizWizdom where podcast host Joel Franks discussed the importance of seeing beyond the borders of a picture.

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.

Your Firm Isn’t Ready for ESG – Prove Me Wrong

For years, the DNA team has been writing about how the world is moving to a place where everything is hyper-personalized for every customer in every interaction. Lately, firms have been approaching us for the most personalized investment service we have seen, ESG investing. Are we finally here? Is everything personalized yet? I think not.

Firstly, I love the personalized approach to ESG investing. The ability to customize services at scale and deliver unique investment experiences to each client will be beautiful. However, in my opinion, FIs are starting to segment clients in the wrong way. Most firms are focused on segmenting clients into ESG buckets before they really know them.

Does your firm know how each of your clients communicates? Make decisions? Learns? Gives? Evaluate investment performance? If you are relying on your advice team to know and remember each unique client, good luck. Better luck if you have high turnover or there are poor notes in your CRM.

Working in behavioral science for the last decade, I know the data demonstrates that each person is unique (seriously, there are 4 trillion possible combinations in Financial DNA). And from being a millennial, I know that each of my peers wants to be treated as they are unique. Is your firm really ready for this? Does your firm really have the ability to treat each person as unique?

A 3-Dimensional challenge for your firm, are you ready?

ESG investing adds a 3rd dimension to the investing picture. While we currently operate on 2 dimensions, most firms only do 1 of those well. The 3 dimensions: First, there is the obvious investing dimension (dealing with the performance and investment vehicles themselves)… most firms do this well. Second, there’s a human dimension (dealing with the market impulses of clients, building engagement with the FI or advisor, addressing client communication needs, and decision-making habits)… most firms do this poorly. Now, firms are adding this ESG investing dimension (layering on the environmental, social, and often times political values and beliefs to their investments.

I will explain this further with my two friends, Kelly and Mike.

Dimension 1: Investments
From an investment picture, Kelly and Mike bring equal parts to the table but have little investing experience, except their 401ks. Kelly recently had a windfall from her inheritance and Mike cashed out equity from the IPO at his company. Both plan to work until their mid-60s, so they have about 25 years left to generate wealth.

Dimension 2: The human dimension

Californian, born and raised. Kelly’s stickers on her Prius could tell anyone what she believes in and the causes she supports. You better believe she composts everything and even carbon offsets her vacations. Sound like someone you’d hang out with? Well, Kelly and I have many things in common, one of which is we are both cautious. As a third-party to Kelly, I see this everywhere. Her caution in her career, her clothes, and even in her 2011 car. She accounts for every dollar she earns and is perfectly content with living in her modest 2 bedroom, single-family home with Mike for the long haul.

As luck would have it, opposites attracted Kelly to her husband, Mike. While Mike and Kelly share many views on life, their values, and their love for the environment, they couldn’t be any more different from a behavioral perspective. Mike loves his Tesla, but in contrast to Kelly, primarily because of the 0-60 speed. Mike works in SAAS sales, not for the love for tech, but for the challenge. Mike seems to be in his prime at the end of the quarter where he is below his quota and the pressure is on. Mike loves taking risks for the reward.

Working at DNA, all of us get our own friends and family accounts, and believe me, they get used! Like all of my friends, I forced Kelly and Mike to take their Financial DNA discovery. Kelly is an Adapter, 15/100 risk profile, and a Group 2 “Ultra-Conservative” investor. Mike is an Influencer, 87/100 risk profile, and a Group 7- “Aggressive” investor.

Dimension 3: The ESG Dimension

Kelly and Mike both have a love for the environment. Kelly more so than Mike, but nonetheless, they have both agreed to do everything physically and financially possible in order to make a positive impact on climate change. From a financial perspective, can your firm manage this complex, 3-dimensional ESG scenario? The reality is, Kelly would be best suited to invest in stable (but eco-friendly) investments while Mike will be constantly benchmarking their portfolio against the S&P 500, looking for a win. How would you manage this situation?

From my behavioral finance lens, many firms are not ready to deal with the complexities of this third dimension, because they haven’t mastered the human element yet. Firms are trying to tackle a one-size-fits-most approach with ESG. The reality is that all clients are different, but most firms lack the behavioral finance data to tell them apart.

Prove me wrong. I’d love to hear how you would behaviorally manage Kelly and Mike and deliver them an ESG portfolio.