Tag Archives: practice management

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.

Emergency Money Talks

A Couple’s Guide for Managing Financial Stress While Building and Strengthening Relationship Skills for Financial Success: Emergencies require exceptional skills in coping with financial and emotional conditions deemed out of individual control. Developing healthy coping skills is paramount to managing emergency conditions that could otherwise create havoc for families. 1. Organize regular “money meetings” to discuss your financial situation, issues and goals. Use this time to brainstorm creative solutions to problems and generate ideas to improve your future. 2. Time your financial discussions carefully. During the morning rush, late at night or after a bitter argument are not good times to discuss financial topics. A lazy Sunday afternoon, a quiet weekday evening, or a leisurely walk are better choices. 3. Set realistic goals for the discussion. You cannot change the past, or miraculously change the conditions that created the situation but you can change the way that you react and manage your current situation. Be clear about what you want to achieve. 4. Work with your partner’s personality, instead of against it. One of you makes financial decisions instantly, while the other one deliberates for days. One of you hates paperwork, while the other has anxiety if every blank is not filled out completely and perfectly. Focus on a positive outcome, not the method of traveling. 5. Avoid blaming your partner. Think about differences in money management as differences in perspective instead of moral failures. In most cases, the person you love is sane, reasonable, and healthy. Treat your partner with the respect deserved. 6. Cultivate a healthy respect for reason. Don’t become so emotionally attached to your position that you ignore reality. Seek the solution that best fits the situation, whether or not it fits your preconceived notion of how the problem could be solved. 7. Expand the pie. Creative solutions can ensure that both of you “win.” Instead of clinging to your position, try to find a way to satisfy your partner and yourself in how you approach your finances so that you achieve your individual and joint

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.

Managing Investor Fears in These Challenging Times

Today more than ever, consumers need and want trusted advisors to help them cope with their fears and anxieties. They’re looking for a way to assure the safety of their assets and a way to assure their sense of financial well-being in a challenging financial environment. While assets are tangible and easy to measure, it’s more difficult for advisors to develop a gauge of how to deliver and measure their skills in delivering a sense of well-being.

Here are some tips that have worked for advisors based on feedback from clients:

– Set an example of stability and confidence. If your clients sense that you are clear about your priorities and in control of your actions, they will identify with your courage and strength. Your example will help to show leadership during these challenging times.
– Show caring and support for your clients. Inquire about their well being and that of their families. The clients who need you most may not have the time or the motivation to make the call.
– Help your clients to develop a sense of perspective. Economic conditions have always fluctuated at previous times of national and international challenges and crises, but the underlying strength of the American financial system has always shone through in the long run. Any hardships caused by recent events will not last forever.
– Remind your clients to take some time to relax. Emotional stress can cause fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, body aches, and other physical symptoms that hinder the healing process. Exercise, hobbies, and recreation can ease the mind and help your clients to deal more effectively with their situation.
– Remind your clients that not making dramatic financial changes during times of uncertainty and anxiety can be a sign of patience and prudence, not cowardice.
– Acknowledge your clients’ concerns and fears, while cautioning against impulsive and ill-considered actions. While we are all angry and disappointed, and we all feel uncertain about the future, we can cope best by focusing on what we can do to help ourselves and our families.
– Take this opportunity to review each client’s financial situation, to advise him or her regarding any changes that might need to be made. Taking small constructive actions at this time can help your clients to feel in greater control of their lives.

copyright 2010 Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D.