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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.

dna behavior community

Who Is Your Community and How Are You Influencing It?

– First Published on Nasdaq –

In many ways, the pandemic denied us access to the ever-important concept of “community.” We had to find new and innovative ways to stay in touch with others.

Still, there is no true substitute for one-on-one or one-on-many connections. Especially those with a range of people with which to build relationships and community.

So, as I conclude my look at what it means to live a quality life, I’m reminded that if 2020 has taught us anything, it should be the importance of having deep social bonds and meaningful relationships. Again, community.

Setting life goals

Along with my growing band of online social network connections, I have deliberated on our life goals, what we want to accomplish and where and how we want to invest our money, realizing that finding the answer to these questions has required each of us to dig deep into our DNA, including the behaviors that drive decision-making, support values and fulfill personal ambitions.

Setting clear life goals is beneficial in several ways. However, setting life goals that make a difference in the world is trickier.

As I review past goals and begin crafting the way forward with a focus on community, I find myself looking to my behavior and asking why I am drawn to certain projects. I am a strategist with a strong drive to reach key goals, based on sound knowledge, high quality processes and quality control standards.

This inherent behavior is not at odds with how I have been going about my quality life. I don’t need to change my behavior, but what I find myself doing is realigning what I have always wanted to do with my life. This past year of isolation has brought that realignment to the fore. So, how to adjust my personal, financial and commercial goals more intentionally to achieve a quality life?

When life goals are based on our values, they are meaningful. When they align with our behavior they allow us to pursue authentic aims of our own choosing and enjoy a feeling of achievement when we get there.

The more I have considered my life goals, how I invest and where I invest, the more I recognize I am charting a course for the next season of my life.

Underpinnings of behavior

My community is more than neighbors or supporting environmental issues; these are a given focus. My community is industry leaders, individuals building a business, and – top of the list – captains of industry facing high-stakes interactions where understanding the behaviors at play will drive solutions for them.

If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that the motivating force beneath any and all behaviors is money.

Business leaders, advisors and investors are now recognizing the influence of behavior and money attitudes on life, and on financial and business performance. Increasingly, a person’s financial behavior is being seen as a derailer of decision-making and relationships, not to mention the achievement of life goals.

Here’s how I’m working on achieving life goals, aligned to passion to support my community: Over the past few weeks I have been conducting one-on-one online conversations with key leaders and professionals representing a wide variety of industries.

The purpose is identifying how their talents and individual EQ plays a role in maximizing their impact and what they have come to understand about their behavior patterns. In every case, so far, there has been a significant moment when understanding their behavior changed the direction of their life.

Big questions lead to simple questions, answers

In all cases each wanted to finish their working day believing they had made a difference for good. So my question to you is this: Who is your community and how are you influencing it?

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.

A Fresh Look at Wisdom and the Way Forward

– First Published on Nasdaq –

In the midst of the pandemic, and particularly with vaccines and a new year on the way, we’re all more reflective. A direct benefit of such reflection is a willingness to change and reinvent. Where are you in this process?

As I continue my quality life journey – after all, isn’t that what we’re all on? – I’m reminded that, even with the best intentions, having the wisdom to make good decisions is foundational. Those decisions may be about life purpose, finances, relationships or…?

To wit, Plato believed that wisdom was theoretical or abstract. Aristotle, his pupil, disagreed, saying that wisdom was a kind of moral compass that guides our thinking and behavior. Whatever philosopher(s) you follow, there is no doubt gaining wisdom is worth pursuing.

How else can we make the best decisions for our lives, yet reflect on the theories, wisdom and experience of others and see what that might spark in ourselves?

Parsing and deploying wisdom

Central to my continuing pursuit of a quality life: I understand the importance of applying wisdom to the financial and life decisions I make. You might say that’s one of my superpowers that comes from the natural DNA behavior of being extremely rational. That’s coupled with the ability to quickly turn vision into practical reality and being able to easily make sense of messy situations and complicated information. We all have a superpower; it just varies individually.

And, knowing that I am goal-driven, that I will revel in complex challenges and that I will take initiative, it was important for me to understand and measure my level of wisdom. Yes, there are behavioral science tools that enable such measurement.

This measurable wisdom didn’t come without being self-aware, researching, surrounding myself with quality thought leaders and investing in educating myself. While I am inherently wise, I also know the importance of gaining knowledge and applying it judiciously.

As a single man, wisdom in making decisions was never an issue. What changed was becoming a family man, as the needs of others had to be built into my thinking. This is a good lesson for all: Your foundational behaviors do not change, but factors around them do and must be accounted for.

This Family Phase of life is when I began to understand the differences of practical wisdom. That is, knowing the right thing to do in a particular circumstance through understanding that particular circumstance, knowing what matters, and effectively reasoning to bring about what matters. The means to an end.

Practical versus theoretical

Theoretical wisdom is knowledge of things that don’t change. (Akin to unchanging innate behavior, which I talk about a lot because it is at the core of my work.) Then there are ethics – about what is really right and wrong…what is living well and living badly, as stated well in “Key Concepts in Practical Philosophy,” by David Arnaud and Tim LeBon.

Financial decision-making was my first real entry into the whole area of wisdom and decision-making. As a young man I was constantly confused by financial advisors who thought they understood me sufficiently to push investment opportunities my way. I never recall having a conversation about my life goals or reasons for wealth creation.

Their insight must have hinged – or so they thought – on generic or theoretical wisdom, because it certainly was not specific to me, the client.

So, began my (life and career) journey into understanding the importance of gaining wisdom through self-awareness, knowledge, experience and recognizing that I had, for example, a built-in, very high tolerance for financial market movements. And tolerance and resiliency around extreme life and business changes.

Put another way, I can quickly see changes coming and innately know what to do to position myself for the future. Also, with experience and with a rationale mind, I have learned to look at patterns of situations and the messages flowing out of them to discern what to do next. And the vision to synchronize and share that insight with others who needed to understand me in order to work with or advise me.

It became clear to me as I moved through life that wealth creation needed to have a purpose. Family security was obviously at the top of the list, but equally important was a quality life focus. THAT is the difference between theoretical and practical wisdom.

Wisdom, goals & wealth creation

The pandemic has clearly redefined direction for many people, and I’m no exception. Remote working has not harmed my business and the same can be said of many of our clients. Of course, like many others, I have had to invest in additional technology to make communication more effective, but in truth I – with my team – have continued to strategize and run and grow our global business (predominantly online).

In fact, over the last 8 or so years we had been moving the business to a virtual environment so we could be flexible and nimble, knowing that the world had become increasingly dynamic with fundamental business changes taking place every 2 years. The intuitive sense to do this could be said to be innate wisdom at work driven by rationality.

So, where does wisdom fit in this quality life scenario? For me, information alone is not wisdom. I believe wisdom is found in our own insight and the ability to piece together multiple bits of information to build a clearer picture. If nothing else, this period of being on lockdown has enabled many to rethink the life and lifestyle they have been leading.

Many of my friends and colleagues are reflecting on insights they’ve had. Often this is a reflection of ideas, life directions, goals and direction(s) they had in their youth. This fresh awakening of wisdom – and questioning the quality direction of their lives – is providing answers for the here and now.

And, yes, all of this can and should lead to conversations with financial advisors. Why? Wealth creation decisions are – and should be – made around life goals. And life goals are not the same for every person or even for the same people at different stages.

What role wisdom as life realigns?

If we’ve survived with remote working, can/should this approach continue? As our own opportunities increase, who can we help? Where can we make a difference? Who needs to be brought alongside us and coached?

All these thoughts have come not just from coping with a global virus but from knowing the importance of applying wisdom to our quality of life going into the future.

How will you calibrate your wisdom and sync such with quality life goals? In turn, how will you enable that to drive your work with and on behalf of clients, all the while helping them discover their balance for wisdom-quality life-financial decision-making?

The Pandemic Offers An Opportunity to Layer A Financial Aspect Into Emotions

– First Published on Nasdaq –

As I continue on my quality life journey, I’ve realized what is foundational to everything I do: A deep passion to educate others about the importance of their behavioral traits, including how those influence the financial decisions we make. 

This is a reawakening – slightly different from a light-bulb moment – as I’ve always known I have a passion for educating. But the pandemic’s lockdown has enabled a significant breakthrough in my thinking.

Now, as I shift my thoughts to leading a quality life, I have a much clearer vision for how to achieve it. I find myself wanting to use my expertise to make a bigger difference in the life of others; more particularly, the financial education of the young.

Emotional + financial intelligence

Taking this thought one step further inspired me to look for ways to educate all age groups – but, again, particularly the young – to understand and manage their Financial EQ. As you know, emotional intelligence (or “emotional quotient” or EQ) refers to how we understand and leverage emotions in positive ways. Well, Financial EQ takes that a leap further: Assessing and managing others so they can identify, use and understand the emotions present as they make financial decisions.

In my work I am already heavily involved in the financial and behavioral science spaces, and like many of my friends and colleagues, we are successful yet burdened by having spent this past eight months chasing the meaning of life in new ways.

Now as we begin to think of our individual and collective journeys beyond the pandemic, I need practical ways in which I can fulfill the quality life I now wish to live. (And help others live.) In keeping, I recently re-read The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and was drawn to Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Education, empowerment & bold action

One of the key elements of being able to lead a quality life is knowing you have the ability to make money. To be financially confident in your ability to make the right decisions, meet the markets where they are (with the assurance that you have made the right decisions) and manage the emotions that always come with unsettled markets.

Part of my passion and one of my roles is educating people to understand behavioral impulses – and how to manage them. To help them get a better grip on outside influences that sway decision making, such as friends, the latest fad, television, social media and more. To understand what drives our need for feeling the “high” of success and the “low” of failure.

Education may not be your gateway to leading a more sustainable quality life, but for me it’s certainly shifted my behavior away from the troubles of a pandemic into a space where I can use my “educating” skills to help others find and manage their Financial EQ. And that’s a good feeling!

In addition to this time out to assess how to live a quality life stimulated me, I now feel a greater sense of empowerment and a determination to take bold actions to achieve the goals I am setting to lead that quality life. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Using A Behavioral Science Tech Stack in Investment Committee Decision-Making

This article first appeared in Nasdaq

Most investment committees have a clear mission: Serve as stewards for assets of the organization they represent.

The committee must develop an investment plan according to the financial needs and circumstances of the corporation. So, if the primary role is to approve the fund’s investment objectives, how then do you ensure members of the committee have the appropriate behaviors to fulfill their role without bias?

The answer may lie in using your tech stack to power the investment committee – and its workflow.

Your next-gen investment committee

Recruiting the right people to this critical role – including having in-depth knowledge of their decision-making abilities – makes the difference between the success and failure of the investment committee.

But how do we define that fit-for-role? Is it a professional background? Education? Investment knowledge? And where does the diversity lens come in? (Or is it missing?) What about committee members’ inherent risk tolerance and behavioral bias toward investments?

Research demonstrates there are definite biases (both investment behavioral biases and workplace behavioral style differences biases) that should be considered when forming a committee with such weighty organizational responsibilities. Therefore it is increasingly important to know the inherent decision-making behavior and bias of each individual and how, in a diverse group, these differences will be managed.

Add this to your tech stack

As is the case with all critical appointments, the key lies not with their education qualifications, experience or talents, but with their ultimate behavior. What innate behaviors do they have – of which they may not even be aware – that will influence decision-making, especially financial decisions and/or those made during crisis?

Without the use of a validated behavioral profiling system of some sort, selecting individuals for an important function like an investment committee becomes little more than a lottery. And those are some weighty decisions to leave to chance.

Some financial leaders may not want to hear that their own perspective and powers of discernment may not be the only tools needed. Still, leaders committed to building the tightest, most reliable and trustworthy investment committee will want to introduce a behavioral finance (BeFi) tech tool that hones team member selection for the best possible fit and outcomes.

And why not? Tech is now an accepted part of so many aspects of financial processes, including throughout and across the investment community. In this case it is not usurping the wisdom, judgment and experience of leadership, but supplementing and heightening it by making key insights about potential committee members easier to access.

Financial planning and wealth management organizations are now investing in their value tech stack for everything from market insights and model portfolio construction to manager selection, cybersecurity and, yes, BeFi; so, using behavioral science (BeSci) to create a diverse investment committee should be welcomed, not daunting.

Behavioral diversity and better outcomes

Remember that diversity of opinion – about potential committee members and among committee members (once selected) – may not just come in the form of understanding different behaviors, bias and decision-making styles, but in experience, given that not every member of an investment committee has to be a financial expert. What is important is that members should have a wide set of perspectives and a willingness to be collaborative and open.

That’s why a depth of insight into the individuals to understand their decision-making approach and their likely response under pressure is crucial. Without such, important investment decisions will be flawed.

Selecting a BeSci expert, whether internal or external, to guide the committee using a behavioral discovery process can add a dimension of diversity to the investment committee by ensuring the group can function collaboratively and effectively while also preventing group think and other pitfalls you – and the committee – may not even know they were experiencing.