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Investment Committee Membership: Professional Significance Isn’t Enough

– First Published on Nasdaq –

Investment Committees have historically been formed based on members’ professional experience. But in today’s climate, would these committees stand up to the scrutiny of diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI), I wonder?

Like many areas of the financial services industry, much lip service is paid to DEI, yet despite accepted benefits in terms of profitability and productivity, the sector remains primarily white (~80 percent) and male (~80 percent).

Sadly, this is true of many industries and their governing bodies or committees reflect that. Here, I am focusing on financial investment committees and their responsibility to make well-informed, non-emotional decisions.

Money decisions, behavior

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

Let’s assume that those forming these committees are fully cognizant of what DEI means. One would expect to see a range of experience and talent represented. But remember, each member would bring a decision making and emotional behavioral style with them.

Whether thinkers, initiators, analyzers, persuaders, strategists, or spontaneous, all will have a natural decision-making behavior that needs to be revealed and managed. The complexity of the committee’s decisions certainly doesn’t need behavioral variability to take it off track.

As individuals, these representatives probably make flawless decisions – but put them together in a group to form a committee that makes significant investment decisions, and behavioral diversity in decision making takes over. Emotion takes over. Bias steps in. And the behavioral pull of money pollutes the decision-making process.

DEI + behavioral diversity

So, where does DEI fit in this scenario?

DEI must go beyond socio and ethnic representation – that’s a given. It must also include behavioral diversity. Members possessing differing viewpoints, different decision-making approaches, creative attitudes to money, and a deep understanding of the emotional pull of money must be represented.

Investment Committees have historically been formed based on members’ professional experience. But in today’s climate, would these committees stand up to the scrutiny of diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI), I wonder?

Like many areas of the financial services industry, much lip service is paid to DEI, yet despite accepted benefits in terms of profitability and productivity, the sector remains primarily white (~80 percent) and male (~80 percent).

Sadly, this is true of many industries and their governing bodies or committees reflect that. Here, I am focusing on financial investment committees and their responsibility to make well-informed, non-emotional decisions.

Money decisions, behavior

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

Let’s assume that those forming these committees are fully cognizant of what DEI means. One would expect to see a range of experience and talent represented. But remember, each member would bring a decision making and emotional behavioral style with them.

Whether thinkers, initiators, analyzers, persuaders, strategists, or spontaneous, all will have a natural decision-making behavior that needs to be revealed and managed. The complexity of the committee’s decisions certainly doesn’t need behavioral variability to take it off track.

As individuals, these representatives probably make flawless decisions – but put them together in a group to form a committee that makes significant investment decisions, and behavioral diversity in decision making takes over. Emotion takes over. Bias steps in. And the behavioral pull of money pollutes the decision-making process.

DEI + behavioral diversity

So, where does DEI fit in this scenario?

DEI must go beyond socio and ethnic representation – that’s a given. It must also include behavioral diversity. Members possessing differing viewpoints, different decision-making approaches, creative attitudes to money, and a deep understanding of the emotional pull of money must be represented.

Let’s look to a four-part solution:

  1. Be committed to removing biases and ego.
  2. Uncover the behavioral patterns of committee members, concerning their approach to money.
  3. Engage a tech solution: preferably a highly validated one that also can provide adoption via API, enabling firms to easily layer it into their existing tech stacks.
  4. Secure a behavioral solution that reveals financial behavioral variability in individuals and groups.

When the financial services industry comes to terms with the importance of measuring the impact of human behavior on a range of transactions and decision-making that require human judgment, they will fulfill regulatory requirements and, bonus, build their businesses. The winning methodology: Pursue DEI in earnest, plus go one step further by layering in the functionality to assess and leverage behavioral diversity.

The marriage of these two disciplines is a passion of mine. Please reach out if you or your firm has a perspective or experience to share regarding the synergy of DEI and behavioral science.

See Leon’s other writings for Nasdaq here.

Short Investment of Time Can Pay Dividends for a Lifetime

Short Investment of Time Can Pay Dividends for a Lifetime

This article first appeared on Nasdaq.

We’ve been having an interesting conversation in our office about how often we have been required to complete a questionnaire, how long they have taken and the reason for them.

Some of the recent experiences of our team members:

  • Renewing a passport online – 45 minutes;
  • Completing a tax return online – 1.5 hours with all the documentation to hand;
  • Applying for membership at a local gym – 25 minutes;
  • A spouse applying for a part-time position – 35 minutes; and
  • Applying for a young child to go to school – 1 hour.

The topic was up for discussion due to occasional objections from advisors and clients taking a 10-12-minute behavioral insights questionnaire to best tailor their investment advice and financial decisions. Why wouldn’t every investor take 10 minutes to complete a one-time questionnaire that would change their investment approach and increase their wealth?

Moreover, why wouldn’t an advisor use the same 10 minutes to understand how to more effectively advise their clients through a deeper understanding of their own financial decision-making approach, cognitive biases and communication style?

The pause that empowers the process

Comparing the recent experiences of my colleagues to the 10 minutes it would take to reveal behavioral insights that would benefit both client and advisor for a lifetime of investing seems a no brainer, though I am admittedly biased, having spent nearly 20 years working in behavioral insights.

Even if that has not been your focus, it’s easy to see the value of completing questionnaires as outlined – those geared toward traveling, getting healthy, great kids education, work, and of course tax returns. Yet some question the value of investing 10 minutes as a gateway to a lifetime of behavioral insight-powered decision making (and investing).

Assuming a typical advisor minimum threshold for client investing is $250,000, and based on Vanguard research with over 56,000 clients, we know that advisors bring 150 bps of additional value to a clients portfolio through behavioral management. That is 1.5%, which means that an advisor has the potential to bring an additional $3,750 annually just by the client investing 10-minutes for completing a behavioral discovery questionnaire.

Whether you start your investment with a $500 gift from grandparents or are reviewing your million-dollar portfolio, take 10 minutes to get a comprehensive insight into your decision-making approach. Then ensure your advisor invests 10 minutes into you by completing the same questionnaire – then you have a wealth creating partnership. From a teenaged investor just setting out to a seasoned investor – the 10 minutes needed to uncover innate behaviors is unlikely to change with age or through various life stages.

Should my client invest 10 minutes?

Very often in my experience it is an advisor perception that clients will object to participating in a 10-minute behavioral discovery process. Yet when clients understand the go-forward value of that investment of their time, they not only are willing but eager to take part in fine tuning their wealth management.

Of course, advisors who want the edge such a behavioral questionnaire provides must choose one that is truly actionable, unlike the many questionnaires we complete that give us no real value and gather dust on a proverbial shelf somewhere. It’s not a one off, but something that provides lasting value as advisors and clients continue to reference the information.

In fact, with the right behavioral discovery tool, the actionable takeaways should be so practical that clients can leverage the behavioral insights in other facets of their lives beyond wealth planning and money decisions.

Clearer picture, clearer roadmap

Other short questionnaires around the financial industry often look at or reveal just one aspect, for example, risk tolerance. They stop short of providing a full picture of who the client is and can short-change both investor and advisor.

These narrower assessments that have been the norm for many years are outmoded. So, it likely is the time now to embrace more comprehensive behavioral discovery which provides a deeper, broader, more practical and lasting result.

As more people are exposed to the value and power of leveraging behavioral insights toward better and more tailored financial advice, it becomes not a nice-to-have extra, but a wanted, needed integral part of tailored, high-net-worth planning.

How many other things do you and your clients spend 10 minutes on that will not have near as great an impact or lasting return?

CEO Newsletter 2018

At the year end, looking at the year ahead…

The ever-quotable Warren Buffett says, “Never invest in a business you can’t understand.” Well, as we round out another terrific year, I want to challenge you a bit by noting that many of us regularly invest in people we may not understand. So, why make relatively blind “people investments” when you (hopefully) would not make such a financial investment?

Granted, I am a bit of a shameless evangelist for the power of validated behavioral insights, but I genuinely believe they are applicable – and I would venture imperative – across virtually any scenario, organization or industry. Harvard research tells us that 87% of business and life performance challenges are caused by behavioral differences. So, applying our proven online behavioral management solutions, may not take the number of those challenges to zero, but we can get you damn close.

One reason we can do that – in addition to our powerful products and processes – is that we have an impressive cadre of partners and colleagues who help us vet and deploy the solutions. In turn, our phenomenal clients invest in the process with us, providing valuable feedback that helps us – and them – play at a higher level. Winning is good, but a win-win is better.

It takes a (global) village

Because of those unparalleled alliances, we’re poised to not only play better in 2019, but to play bigger. Our team has discovered and embraced the book “Play Bigger”, which cleverly and clearly identifies the approach needed for positioning a company for high growth: It’s all about identifying the problem you are solving and setting your business up to be a category king (think Uber).

It is more about creativity in market positioning than directly disrupting an industry, though disruption can be the impact or part of it. Whatever work you are doing; this book is a “must read”. In fact, I am so enthusiastic about the book that I’ll commit to sending the first 18 people who respond to this (2019 will be DNA Behavior’s 18th year) the book – on me. Digital or hard-copy, your choice.

At DNA Behavior we are solving the problem of how an organization delivers meaningful customized experiences to its employees and clients on a mass scale. To do that you must know their unique style, and knowing their marketing “persona” based on demographics is not enough. Two people can have the same persona, but not the same personality. So, unless personality insights – beginning with communication insights – are integrated, you do not get there.

Meeting and exceeding the market

As we play bigger, we’ll be demonstrating, in the words of the book, what category we are king of: Online behavioral management. In 2019 we are launching our end-to-end real-time behavioral management tooling – a highly automated discovery profile debrief that is situationally dynamic. We already have this in Financial DNA with the “Market Mood” tool that integrates real-time stock market movements to behavioral style. But in 2019 we will take this further and also launch a platform for Business DNA. We can only do this now because technological developments allow us to, and the market place is demanding customization.

Thanks to you, 2018 has been a landmark year for landing major deals that implement our API strategy, through which we become the “behavioral chip” inside the tech platforms of other businesses. This helps us realize our brand promise of delivering meaningful experiences to employees and clients customized to their unique style. In particular, we have had success with large financial services firms and banks launching platforms in the employee financial wellness space. They all have very different angles and approaches – but the key point is that the online management of financial personality is here to stay and becoming a category king in its own right. This reinforces our strategy.

Validation and affirmation

We completed one of the world’s largest known behavioral finance studies looking at the financial behavior data of more than 35,000 people and how it connects to validated personality insights. The research demonstrates a high degree of alignment between the spending habits, planned giving, investing style and other behaviors to the personality style measured by DNA Behavior. We knew our system produces highly predictive results with a 91% overall reliability, this research confirms how people live it out.

Deloitte’s just-released 2019 Banking Industry Outlook also affirms our work and the path ahead we’ll be on with our banking (and other financial) partners and clients. This Big Four firm is optimistic, noting promising times ahead for banking and capital markets, as well as opportunities to double down on transformational technology, including an even better understanding and leveraging of data. We’re excited to be part of deciphering what that means to different organizations and helping them implement. (In the meantime, you may want to add this great Deloitte report to your reading list.)

We know what’s ahead; thanks for being part of it

Finally, our “why” in business is to foster people to become more self-empowered. The work noted above is a big step to achieving this “why” goal on a mass scale. We want to be part of changing the culture of business with the adoption of an Understanding People before Numbers approach. We know that, businesses of any category must do far more work in the area of culture if they are to grow on a sustainable basis. Behavioral management is just one of many components needed to build a strong culture.

Looping back to the wisdom of Warren, Buffett says, “Only when you combine sound intellect with emotional discipline do you get rational behavior.” I would posit that you also need that winning combination in order to optimize your organizational culture. So, in 2019 we will be championing the growth of culture and want all of you involved.

Let’s play bigger!

The Take-Charge Visionary

This post is part one of our series on Financial Behavioral Insights from our Financial Performance in the New Behavioral Economy White Paper. The financial behavior insights will help you gain greater self-awareness for recognizing some of your own behavioral tendencies and also those of investors.

The Take-Charge Visionary

Behavioral Insight 3, Take charge investors, investor behaviorJack Sun is a 40-year-old driven businessman who has come to meet with you to discuss his finances. You have learned that Jack has just sold one of his businesses and he now has capital to re-invest. You ask Jack the question: What will your life be like in 3, 5 or 20 years? Jack is able to immediately respond that he loves running restaurants and managing people. As the discussion goes on it becomes obvious Jack has worked out his life plan and he will not be retiring. Further, he does not mind what he invests his investment capital in so long as it makes money. He says he is interested in the overall return and not the performance of any particular asset.

Jack is an Initiator with a dominant trait of being a Take-Charge Visionary. This means he is naturally a big-picture thinker. He can see his life out a long way. Being able to more easily get the big-picture clarity does mean he will be naturally more comfortable making long term investment plans. Further, this clarity will help Jack with being able to more confidently make financial choices.

Also, when it comes to managing investments, an Initiator with Take-Charge Visionary traits will be able to more easily look at their investment portfolio in the aggregate. This will generally help them focus on the overall result and not get stuck on looking at whether each particular investment is a winner or loser.

Behavioral Insight
Naturally big-picture thinkers and decisive people will be Initiators who are Take-Charge Visionaries. They know where they are going and will have a consolidated view of their investment portfolio.

Communication key: Keep the discussion high level and provide options on recommendations.

A struggle that an Initiator will have is listening to advice from an advisor because it is about their agenda and plans. This means they could miss learning important information before making a decision and over extend themself.

An advisor who is an Initiator with Take-Charge Visionary traits will be naturally good at giving the client direction but needs to slow it down and listen to what their client has to say. This type of advisor needs to be very careful that their dominant attitudes do not overly influence the portfolio.

Learning Point:
The Initiator with a Take-Charge Visionary dominant trait will more independently set the direction of their overall planning. The advisor should aim to guide them by providing options and recommendations on investment choices. Ask the client: What goals would be the most important for you to achieve in your life? Have you built a detailed plan for your wealth creation?

To read about additional client behavioral styles, download the full Financial Performance in the New Behavioral Economy White Paper.

What are your thoughts?

Financial Personality Under Pressure

Hugh Massie of DNA Behavior International talks with AdvisorTV and Financial Planning Magazine about the predictability of investor decision making.

Manage the Emotional Roller Coaster of Events and Markets

When under pressure clients react based on their natural, hard-wired behavior.? Sufficient personal clarity to reliably know how an individual will react to life and market events starts with understanding their natural behavior.

Click Here to Watch the Video (Financial Planning Magazine, AdvisorTV)

The Spontaneous Intuitive

This post is part 6 of our 10 part series on Financial Behavioral Insights from our Financial Planning Performance in the New Behavioral Economy White Paper. The financial behavior insights will help you gain greater self-awareness for recognizing some of your own behavioral tendencies and also those of investors.

Behavioral Insight 6: Spontaneous Intuitive

Jenny, 48, has been investing for some years now based on her gut feel of what she thinks is going on in the economy and the behavior of the markets. She has a clear idea of what she wants out of life, is confident in her abilities and is quite happy making investment decisions based on what feels right. Jenny by nature does not like reading a lot of research. Just some graphs, illustrations and a few bullet points are enough for her. For Jenny too much analysis gets in the way. She feels too many plans will lock her in and opportunities may be missed.
Financial Planning insights, financial advisor client, client communication styles, client behavior

Behavioral Insight
A naturally instinctive and flexible person with a clear vision will be a Spontaneous Intuitive who is confident with the financial decisions they make but can be impulsive.
Communication key: Provide the broad facts and encourage them to discuss their thinking out loud.

Jenny is the Spontaneous Intuitive who will generally be flexible enough to take opportunities when they are there and not get stuck in over-analysis. This type of person will usually make very confident decisions unless he or she has experienced a very negative event. The key is that they need to have enough prior investment experience to intuitively know that their gut feeling is right. Once a decision is made, a Spontaneous Intuitive will run with it and not look back. They will have a strong sense that things will work out.

The struggle for them is not to be too overconfident in their abilities and make rash decisions that they find out later were poor. The poor decisions can come from insufficient research and also not taking time out for listening to others.

The other dimension a Spontaneous Intuitive must address is that because of their flexible nature they may end up with an unstructured investment portfolio. The portfolio will reflect no attention to asset allocation, appropriate risk weighting or diversification. This is not to say they will be failing, either. Nevertheless, they could suffer from overconfidence and take some big chances that are not well thought out.

An advisor who is a Spontaneous Intuitive will be strong at adapting to changing circumstances and making instinctive decisions. However, these types of advisors need to ensure they have access to solid research to support their recommendations. Also, they need to provide enough for structure for clients and set appropriate boundaries.

Learning Point:

The Spontaneous Intuitive client needs the advisor to provide objective analysis to validate their intuitive feel. The advisor should not allow the Spontaneous Intuitive client to become too over confident in their abilities and make impulsive decisions. Ask the client: Tell me about the best financial decision you made? How do you set boundaries in your life and financial decision-making?

What are your thoughts? For additional information on discovery through behavioral profiles, click here.