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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.

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.

4 Critical Questions Financial Advisors Need to Answer Now

4 Critical Questions Financial Advisors Need to Answer Now

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, financial advisors amongst other professionals are facing new challenges in the way they manage their clients’ investments and communicate with them. It is no secret that no matter how many financial crises we have gone through in the past, these are uncharted territories that we are all learning to navigate. As a financial advisor, it is your responsibility to consistently communicate with your investors and reassure them that you do have a plan.

Choosing who to trust to manage their wealth is one of the most important financial decisions your clients will ever make, and now more than ever is the time for you to show them the value you are bringing, and how much of a quantifiable impact your expertise has on their financial success. If you haven’t already, you can soon expect to receive wary phone calls from your clients seeking reassurance about their investments. These are the 4 critical questions you need to be ready to answer:

1. Am I going to be okay?

At this time, what your investors need more than anything is reassurance. It is hard not to worry about the impact of this market downturn on their financial future, and the only person they can turn to for guidance is you. Your role is not only to develop an investment strategy designed to meet their goals, but it is also managing their expectations during market volatility. Financial DNA can predict which clients are the most fearful and how to communicate with them, we call this Market Mood.

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2. Do we have an alternative financial plan?

This right here is what makes all the difference between many brokers and financial advisors. Your number one responsibility is to put your clients and their money first. Your expertise is used to its full potential in times like these when it is a matter of speculating what comes next, and what is the right move for their investments. This is an inevitable conversation that you are bound to have with your investors, and the key here is to identify every client’s unique set of communication patterns and comfort zones, and approach this conversation with those insights in mind. You see, every behavior drives a specific fear, that you need to unravel and address.

For example, if your client’s behavioral type happens to be Strategist (one of the ten unique styles of Financial DNA), the most effective way to approach this conversation is by having a quick phone or Zoom call, where you reassure your client and reinforce the fact that the volatility of the market will not derail achieving their goals, and provide a clear plan for how this is actually an advantage.

Download out 2020 Behavioral Finance Guide for RIAs

3. What steps are you taking to proactively anticipate change and new opportunities that are right for me?

Some clients (particularly those that have a higher risk profile) will react to the current market events with an opportunistic eye. For these clients, they are interested in the strategy and opportunity that they can take advantage of with the current market. We coach advisors to identify these clients with this Market Mood and use this as an opportunity to increase their AUM.

The truth is, this question is not necessarily tied to times of crisis. The very purpose of a financial advisor is to constantly anticipate changes in the market, and identify new opportunities for their investors. The COVID-19 pandemic-induced market instability is no exception. What your investors are really asking is “How much should I expect to lose?” and “Is this a buying opportunity?”

The key here is to re-address their risk tolerance. Financial DNA advisors do this by re-focusing clients back to their Financial DNA results. The results don’t change when the market changes, allow your client’s financial behavior, behavioral biases, and risk measurement to drive this discussion.

A good resource to learn more about the notion of Behavioral Biases is our extensive study of Predicting Behavioral Biases with Behavioral Finance.

4. Is my portfolio designed to match my risk tolerance?

Generally speaking, when identifying a person’s behavioral tendencies, you can predict how they will react to any given situation. Whether they are experiencing great success or under a great deal of pressure, using behavioral insights, you can always anticipate what their instinctual reaction will be.

Your clients’ behavioral tendencies do not change or fluctuate over time, neither will their reactions at their most stressed point. So when a global financial crisis occurs, you should not only be able to anticipate their reactions, but you should also be prepared to address their concerns in a way that aligns with their unique set of communication patterns.

You can learn more about how Financial DNA measures risk here, and the best way for you to experience it, is to try it yourself. Start your free trial today and let us see if we can pinpoint your risk behaviors and investing style.

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Transform Your Client Experience to Grow

For advisors, growing your financial planning business is about getting more of the right clients who you can profitably serve on a sustained basis. This means you must have financial planning clients who will pay for the value you provide and will allow you to do so efficiently and with minimum wasted energy. I am sure this sounds logical and for many financial advisors this will sound obvious. The question is: are you acquiring clients and managing relationships as well as you can?

Creating the right client acquisition plan does not just happen and normally you need to have been in business at least 5 years to be in a place to work out is right. Experience is needed. One starting place to getting the right plan in place will be performing a financial analysis of your business to determine the profitability of your client relationships. In my experience, it will not always be your highest fee paying clients who are the best clients to have.

However, I would seriously recommend in building your client acquisition plan that you consider the client experience being provided. Remember, we are in an experience economy. Transforming the client experience you wish to provide is the key to growing your business and also your revenue. This is where the perceived value will come from. The starting point for this transformation process is with YOU personally understanding who you are, your Financial DNA personality and your life purpose. Consider:

  • What are your talents and unique gifts?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are your own life and financial motivations?
  • Where could you make the most difference in the life of your clients?
  • How do you wish your service to be remembered?
  • How will you differentiate your service?
  • What capabilities do you have to develop?
  • What processes do you have to build?
  • What will the profile of the desired clients be?

THEN, address what fees you need to charge to profitably deliver this service experience, and the fee charging model. From this platform you can determine your client selection policy and the ideal practice for you.

For you to be successful in creating an experience your service must create feelings. The client must feel that who they are is understood along with their life. Further, your clients must feel that they are making the right life, financial and investment choices. So, your client service experience must have a greater “inside out” feeling and hence methodology to it. This is not just connecting with the client on an inside-out basis up-front to build the plan. The inside-out experience must be continually provided every year through the review meetings and in every communication. You will only achieve this by creating a service model that is authentically connected to the core of who you are and also the core of who your clients are.

Fundamental to the approach I have been using for the last 10 years is to have all of my clients complete a Financial DNA personality test up-front in the planning process. This creates the feeling of being understood. The feelings of understanding and trust are accelerated when the client sees my own Financial DNA personality profile. This now makes us more equal and shows I have walked the journey too. From here, I build the whole planning experience tailored to who the client is so that they can make the right choices.

To learn more about Financial DNA and building the “Ideal DNA Advisory Practice” visit: www.financialdna.com/advisor

Knowing Self Increases Financial Capability

Core to my passion is seeing people take more personal responsibility for their financial decisions. In the end this is actually key to your financial success, and overall quality life. To take more personal responsibility means increasing your financial capability. I believe there is an obligation on yourself to get the right financial education and also on your financial advisors to help you by providing it and guiding you. In the end, you need to be able to make more informed choices about the products and solutions you are buying, and not just rely on others to decide for you.

At the moment the regulators in the countries which lead financial planning such as the USA, Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore and Ireland are pushing the consumer financial capability point hard. Just recently, the Irish Financial Regulator released a “Preliminary Report on Financial Capability in Ireland June 2008” based on extensive consumer research.

The key point that is coming out of the Irish report is that you as the consumer must develop your skills, knowledge, attitudes and behavior. To me this goes to the very core of the Financial DNA Discovery Process. To educate you about your financial behavior and to provide a framework for your financial advisor to guide you. What you will find is that when you go through Financial DNA the increased knowledge and emotional comfort will make you more confident in the decisions made. As you make better decisions success will build more success.

There is interesting research from the University of San Diego which says: 5% of your wealth comes from investments and 95% from your behavior. So what should be the core of your financial education? Learning more about products or yourself?

If you would like to see what you can learn about your financial behavior then click here. Also, you can participate in Financial DNA by clicking here.