Tag Archives: best practices

Investors Flight from The Market May Indeed Be A Rational Defense

Some experts are calling the recent mass exodus of small investors from the market an irrational reaction to unfound risk; others are hypothesizing that small investors need cash and their home values no longer support equity loans to survive so they are using their 401k investments to pay bills.

Personally, I feel small investors are feeling a tremendous level of anxiety and are having difficulty managing it. Their high level of anxiety and their inability to tolerate it precludes them from keeping their money in the market for the long-term and continuing to believe that they will be okay. The true definition of a suitable investment strategy is whether investors can maintain it over time – even anxious and volatile times.

Apparently, these investors are incapable of managing the stress of being in what they deem to be a risky strategy. But even sophisticated investors and professional money managers are anxious and unable to predict current and future risk in the market. So why should the small investor be any different. The difference may lie in unrealistic expectations and inappropriate risk taking that led the small investor into the market in the first place that is the real problem. If they weren’t diversified; if they didn’t understand the downside and determine whether they could withstand it, then they are feeling much greater stress and lack of tolerance in coping with their current feelings of anxiety and distrust.

There are a myriad of reasons why investors have reduced their exposure to securities and gravitated to what they perceive to be less risky investments like bonds, cash, and other fixed income vehicles. Perception is a subjective reality that is difficult to alter with objective facts. The problem is compounded by the volatility of today’s market and objectivity being illusive. You just have to listen to CNBC for a while and you’ll hear experts hypothesizing, and disagreeing whether we’re out of a recession or just heading into another. So how is the small investor to feel confidence or a sense of trust that the market will be kind to them if they stay? At least by doing something, they feel they have taken some action in their best interest rather than remaining frozen from fear.

I have empathy for these small investors who fell into the trap of feeling that they would be saved by the boom in house prices, stock market rallies and the optimistic view that kept all of us believing that the good times were here forever. For those who did not save some of the rewards from those flush exuberant times, or diversify to manage the potential downside of such a upside for the market it is a particularly stressful time. It is a time of reflection to learn valuable lessons for the future as well as a time to take an inventory of what can be done to manage personal financial insecurity and stress.

What my work has taught me is that the ability to tolerate anxiety and fear, manage stress and take small and consistent steps to control what can be controlled is often a defining difference between achieving a successful solution and optimistic financial future or sinking further into financial stress and insecurity.

Needed for Our Time: A New American Dream

Do you find yourself thinking about your expectations for financial well-being and how they’ve changed? We hear about this subject daily and we are all left with that puzzling question of what our future will hold? Americans are known as the eternal optimists always finding hope and feeling like we can fulfill our dreams to have the “good life”. However, in talking to many of our regular community members on www.kathleengurney.com, I’m finding a very different sentiment. Instead of optimism; I hear fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and even pessimism.

How soon might we find a crystal ball? Wouldn’t that be great? We all want reassurance that we’ll be okay. Of course, as adults we know that we can always do something in our own behalf to empower ourselves, but I find that there’s a desperate desire for the road map of how to get there from here.

So, in this state of distress. we can all follow the prudent advice of the rehabilitation programs that advocate day-by-day planning and focusing on what we can control. For me, I know that I can manage my anxiety about the future by having a concrete plan for my priorities. I try to make my goals reasonable, realistic and rewarding. My clients tell me they use those three descriptions and use them to manage their financial behavior and feelings. Clients find that my advice to take small steps consistently and purposefully help them achieve big gains over time.

So, maybe our new dreams will evolve and become clearer as we all start to focus on what’s most reasonable and rewarding for each of our individual situations.

Boomers Willing to Wait to Get What They Want and Say They Need

The quest for “the good life” continues to drive Baby Boomers to sacrifice today, so that they can enjoy the finer things tomorrow according to a MainStay Investments’ Boomer Retirement Lifestyle Study. A majority (76 percent) of Boomers surveyed say they are willing to spend less now to invest for a more comfortable lifestyle in the future.

When it comes to lifestyle, Baby Boomers are redefining what constitutes a basic need and what they consider a luxury. They have clearly expanded beyond the three traditionally thought-of necessities – clothes, food and shelter.

An interesting pattern that emerged in the research was that as Boomers age, things that were once considered luxuries are more likely to be considered basic needs–thereby reaffirming that Boomers essentially want it all.
The lesson for us, in my opinion, is to be clear about what gives us a sense of peace and safety and pleases us most. We need to understand our priorities and their price. It’s also important to clarify and understand the difference between want and need.

Money for needs can be classified as survival money and safety money while money for wants can be classified as freedom money, gift money and dream money perhaps. Our hierarchy of financial needs and wants can then be ordered so we may plan suitably for our survival and safety first. Only then should we incorporate our wants for a sense of freedom and self-actualization.

Because time can never be regained, it’s vitally important to understand the cost – financial and psychological – of putting off until tomorrow what might satisfy us today in moderation. It’s a difficult call to make whether we’ll be successful in affording our wants and wishes in the future. If we have a moderate and realistic plan understanding our needs and wants with timelines for accomplishment, we will always know where we stand. Then we can be certain that we know what we can afford and when. It’s impossible to get back precious time once it’s gone.

Money Management – What Women Want

The Boston Consulting Group just conducted a study showing women’s discontent with their money management services. The study’s bottom line was such old news, yet there’s a renewed interest in female wealth because women are growing in numbers and wealth.

As someone who is both a client and consultant working in wealth management most of my work-life, I can say that I totally empathize with women as frustrated consumers of wealth management services. For the most part, wealth managers have not learned how to adequately customize their communication and wealth management services. Their job description is wealth management and that’s their primary responsibility. It becomes complicated when they have to match that wealth management to our complexity of personal dynamics. That’s not their primary competence. So, it takes two to make a satisfactory relationship. We have to educate ourselves as to what we need to have to feel satisfied so we can communicate our needs and expectations. We have to become more assertive wealth management clients and perhaps teach the industry the competencies they need to develop and nurture.

There are a few guidelines which I’ve learned over the years both as a client and consultant in money management communication consulting:

1. Know thyself – be clear about your individual wants, expectations and needs for financial comfort and security;
2. Don’t be judgmental of who you are and what you want – there’s no right or wrong;
3. Don’t expect your money manager to care about your money more than you do – after all, it is your money and not theirs;
4. Be clear and verbalize what it is you expect and check whether your adviser feels that this is reasonable and will deliver; and not least
5. Make sure that you really understand and feel comfortable with both the strategy you’ve chosen and what you can expect in how to keep informed about how you are doing.

In the end, what we want is to feel that we’ll be okay and this comes down to what that means to each and every one of us as individuals. Your wealth manager can only try to empathize with what that may mean second-hand. It’s up to each of us to know what that means financially and how that feels.

Is “strategic default” for your clients? Would they walk away from their home and mortgage responsibilities?

Moral dilemmas are not easy. They make us get in touch with what’s most important to us and how we will make choices based on our values of right and wrong.

As a psychologist specializing in money management, I have worked with children and families on this issue and have been fascinated with how people of all ages justify what they do. The psychologist that is the grandfather of psychological studies on morality and moral judgments is Kohlberg. What he learned over the years is that there are stages of moral development and critical thinking which allow people to make appropriate decisions for themselves, their needs and causes in relation to what’s good and appropriate for society at large. He learned that there were people who made decisions based on the absolute of right and wrong, but many others who used their own barometer of what was right and wrong for them. People will do what they feel they need to do and justify it according to what was most important in their individual situation, but not all. So just like so many other variables in life, we humans differ on the morality scale as well.

So for those home owners who are walking away from their financial obligations to their banks and choosing “strategic default”; i.e. not to continue to pay their mortgage payments because their home is no longer worth what it was even though they can financially afford to do so, it fits. For them, the greater good is to make the right financial decision for their needs and let the bank deal with the loss of value and principal.

Public reaction to this new herd strategy of “strategic default” has been mixed with some aghast at the moral corruptness of such an act while others are in perfect accord and can empathize with the personal situation. In fact, they would do exactly the same thing even though they admit they never thought they would until now.

So what does this new trend say about how we think about what matters most? What would your clients do and why?

Recession lessons that will last kids a lifetime

I’m tempted to cover my baby’s ears while her father and I talk about luxuries to cut — should it be satellite TV or Internet? Cookies or ice cream?

The temptation to shield my child grows when Dan and I talk about curbing basic consumption: Is it worth it to get a broken boot heel repaired? Is rice or pasta cheaper (but which is healthier)? Can we learn how to cut each other’s hair without looking like a psychotic child attacked us with a pair of blunt scissors?

All of this mental haggling has me concerned that the financial stress Dan and I shoulder could somehow infect our child’s psyche.  While my seven-month-old is too young to understand that she’s growing up during one of the worst economies in decades, Dan and I do our best to remain upbeat around our baby. For families with older kids, experts say these tough times are a good occasion to teach children about financial realities, and these are lessons that can last a lifetime……

Lessons to last a lifetime

Today’s kids may end up with a more realistic view of money compared with previous cohorts as long as parents reinforce important lessons, said Kathleen Gurney, a psychologist and chief executive of Financial Psychology Corp., a Sarasota, Fla., advisory firm.

“We will have a whole generation of children growing up with healthy lifestyles, attitudes and behavior with money if we all make sure that this is not just a lesson for the Great Recession, but a lesson for a lifetime,” Gurney said.

To instill lessons, parents need to regularly talk to their kids, and keep up good spending habits.  “I don’t think the lessons will be maintained over time unless the family decides they want to keep these financial habits,” Gurney said. “Role modeling is very powerful.”

Parents can be honest about their own missteps to teach their children a lesson, Gurney said. “This is a great time for families to come clean and say: ‘here’s what we’ve been doing, here’s the trouble we are in now, and here’s what we have to do.'”

Kids can learn about money when parents let them contribute, Gurney said. “Feeling like we have some control over the situation is a phenomenal thing to learn when we are young.”

Kids can also learn about priorities from their allowance, especially if it’s been reduced. “Helping children understand what is most important to them is another really valuable lesson in these times,” Gurney said. “They can’t have it all, and it’s not realistic to think they can have it all.”

Personalized Service and ‘Plain Vanilla’ Products: A Winning Formula for Advisers?

In reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Economic Policy ‘Nudge Gives Way to Shove” it again became apparent that economic pain is substantially more relevant on an individual basis – for individual clients and their trusted advisors.

The Obama administration naively thought that institutions would feel consumer pain and alter their policies and practices so that the individual consumer would be able to make suitable and rational financial decisions. If only consumers could benefit from what the Administration proposed to be “plain vanilla offerings” consumers would not be victims of institutional lack of transparency and self-serving products and policies. To that end, the administration thought public shame and exposure of these self-serving practices would alter the institutions’ behavior shaming them into adopting the administration’s suggestion of “plain vanilla” offerings. Ah, such naïveté.

What Obama et al have learned is that “institutional decision-making” is not driven by emotions such as shame, pain, and empathy for others. Rather it is much closer to rational economics; i.e., profit is profit and there is nothing personal or emotional about it. Shame is not part of the equation for institutions, says the Wall Street Journal.
So if this is true, it seems more relevant than ever for individual financial advisors to set themselves apart and deliver services which enable their clients to understand what’s most suitable for them and their individual situations.

In this economic climate, consumers are highly anxious and are experiencing a crisis of trust. Some feel that they are over-reacting in their distrust and falsely accusing all financial professionals; i.e. guilty by association. So, advisors who have always been empathetic and ethical are guilty by association. This is unfortunate.

More than ever, it appears that consumers need ample time for understanding what products are suitable, building confidence and trust in the advisory process. Most importantly, they need a sense that their individual situation will be understood and that products will be transparent and tailored to their needs. This isn’t news.

There are plenty of financial professionals delivering such services but unfortunately many consumers don’t trust themselves in knowing when and whom to trust. When asked how they would know that they had found such a trusted financial advisor, most agreed that they’d know because their individual situation would be understood and that this advisor could work with people like them.

This is the central theme of my work, www.financialpsychology.com.

Prudent Advice vs. Product: Your Client Mainstay

Over the past 27 years, I’ve watched the financial industry struggle with a system and process to engage and advise consumers in their money management. My work has focused on that challenge by trying to give investors their unique voice and tools for advisers to interpret those voices – spoken or unspoken. My first institutional presentation in 1983 was to the Securities Industry Association Board with its title, “Transforming Client Relationships from Product-driven to Client-oriented”. While I received high marks for style, the subject matter was considered too ideological, irrelevant and impractical based on feedback from members afterwards.

Here we are 27 years later and the subject matter is more relevant than ever but would the audience still feel my message was impractical for an industry built on product quotas and commissions based on results of sales of their products? I totally understand the system and its short-term benefits for business and individual profits, but I don’t understand how the industry I’ve come to know over the past dozens of years could be in such denial of the long-term implications for engendering the trust and allegiance of clients and potential clients.

My spirits were elevated this morning when I tuned into NPR, my morning wake-up call. What I heard was not only an excellent summary of the crisis of trust we’re experiencing in our financial institutions, but an attempt to design mutually beneficial solutions which a key leader of the financial industry is recommending.

Headlines are constant reminders that our crisis of institutional distrust is warranted especially with the tangible evidence of bank bailouts, executive bonuses, and record profits. It’s very difficult to find a reason to trust again in such circumstances.

But it’s an argument that Stephen Green, chairman of HSBC – one of the biggest banks in the world – makes in his new book about banking: Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World http://www.npr.org/templates/story/php?storyId=1033

Green is also an ordained priest in the Church of England. In his book, he proposes a “new capitalism” that brings good business and good ethics together. He says moral and spiritual values should take precedence over immediate profit.

Green states that the imbalance was caused by emerging markets in places like Asia that were exporting, saving too much money and spending too little domestically. Then, consuming nations like the United States and the U.K. were spending too much and saving too little. In that context, there was a pervasive atmosphere, he says, where institutions didn’t ask a lot of questions about what was the suitable, fair or right thing to do, provided that they found a legal market for the financial product they were offering.

“When you look at the compensation practices in the financial industry there were clearly distortions,” Green says. He adds that it is “entirely understandable” that there’s widespread public anger over executive pay, especially in cases of companies that collapsed.

Perhaps if the message is delivered by a colleague and leader in the financial industry, it will be considered more practical and worthy of a valuable consideration to transform the future sales process of financial products and compensation for financial professionals.

Copyright 2010  Kathleen Gurney.Ph.D.