The Psychology of Personal Finance with Scott Surgeon

The Psychology of Personal Finance with Scott Sturgeon

No matter a client’s net worth or background, one thing will always impact their financial decision making: their psychology. If you want to be successful as an advisor, you have to understand how psychology relates to personal finance and how to manage your clients’ behaviors, values, and emotions. To get a better understanding of this topic, we sat down with Scott Sturgeon.

Scott Sturgeon worked for almost a decade as an advisor and consultant for wealth management firms with clients in different stages of their lives. He then founded Oread Wealth Partners out of a desire to work with doctors and engineers in helping them pursue the things in life they value the most. Whether that’s more time with family, traveling, or supporting a charitable cause that’s important to them, he helps clients find efficiencies in their finances and make sound financial decisions to more effectively pursue the things they’re passionate about.

What does financial psychology mean to you?

When I think of financial psychology I typically think of behavioral finance, which is basically the “why” behind a financial decision or action. Why am I investing and contributing to retirement accounts? Why are we implementing certain tax strategies? As an advisor, when I meet with a client and get to know their financial situation, I typically come to several conclusions of strategies or advice I think they should implement to help them achieve a personal financial goal. It isn’t just enough to tell them those strategies in a report or something though. I have to not only get their approval to move forward, but also to have them bought in emotionally and psychologically. They have to understand the “why” behind what we’re doing (preparing for retirement, putting kids through college, going on that awesome trip to Europe, etc.)

What’s been interesting to see during my time as an advisor is that regardless of someone’s net worth, we all experience many of the same emotions and behaviors when it comes to money and managing our finances. As an advisor, my role is to help clients find their “why”, incorporating their current beliefs and goals into a financial plan that helps them work towards achieving those objectives.

How does your clients’ psychology impact your advising relationships and their financial decisions?

Being cognizant of a client’s psychology is critical. Every person is different and has different priorities in the way they think about money, how they make financial decisions, and what they value in life. For one client, it may only be about increasing net worth, finding every efficiency, and diligently sticking to a financial plan. For the next, it may be more about how they give back to their community, what charitable causes they support, and how they can ensure their children’s education is paid for. The way those two individuals think and make decisions about money will be vastly different and as an advisor, it’s my role to gain an understanding of how they think. That in turn influences the way I approach giving advice and making recommendations.

What specific strategies or tools do you use to figure out your clients’ financial priorities?

It sounds simple, but I have a list of questions I always ask each prospective client when I first meet with them to determine if we’re going to be a good mutual fit to work together. Some of them have nothing to do with finance whatsoever, but they’re helpful for getting clients to open up about their life and what’s important to them. Once I’ve honed in on what they’re looking to accomplish, I also ask a lot of questions about what I call financial data points. Things like income, expenses, investments, workplace benefits, etc. From there I formulate a financial plan that shows what their priorities are, what steps we’d need to take to achieve those goals, then work with the client to put that plan into action.

What is your best piece of advice you could give about managing client relationships?

Meet the client where they are. You have to bring empathy to the relationship and put yourself in their shoes. You can’t possibly do that until you get to know them and what they want most in life. Once you’ve honed in on that “why”, the other pieces (tax planning, estate planning, investment management, etc.) are all elements and decisions made to support those objectives. Knowing the clients “why” and explaining how those strategies support what they’re trying to do is key.

What is your best piece of advice you could give about getting new clients as an advisor?

I think creating a great client experience is key. An experience that defies what they may have expected in working with an advisor. When you have a great experience at a restaurant, you’re naturally going to recommend that restaurant to all your friends. The same goes generating client referrals. If you can get your clients genuinely excited about the work you do for them, they’re going to encourage others to have that same experience.


At the end of the day, understanding your clients’ financial psychology comes down to managing their expectations and understanding their specific financial goals so you can best allocate their resources. Your advising practice should be about serving your clients in the best way for them with tools like Moneymax, not using cookie cutter financial advice. 

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