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As With Medical Decisions – Human Emotions Play a Role in Investment Advice

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Appreciating Transferrable Applications in Behavioral Finance

By Sidney A. Blum CFP® CPA/PFS ChFC

By Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA

Whether making medical decisions or financial decisions, both are influenced by emotions. The role of emotions, when making financial decisions, has transferable application in the world of medical decisions.

What Role Should Emotion Play in Financial Advice?

Financial advisors know that one of the most important components of providing financial advice is discussing client goals. Inherently your goals are tied to how you see yourself and in what ways you see your money and net worth as a reflection of yourself. This aspect of your financial life is usually tied to emotions based on perceived positive or negative experiences in your life.

Financial advisors find that they expend considerable time and energy addressing emotions and negative reactions to events in clients’ lives. The goal is to move the focus toward positive steps for reaching client goals. As with other aspects in your life, emotional reactions can distract you from well reasoned actions that benefit in the long run. This is the reason it is beneficial to engage a financial professional to guide you through your financial life circumstances with advice driven by goals rather than emotional negative reactions.

Emotional Intelligence

The use of Emotional Intelligence is a learned skill set. Financial Advisors who are skilled in understanding the four basic emotions that guide them and their clients will find they are more successful in their chosen work!

The Four Basic Emotions

The four emotions are: Glad, Sad, Mad and Scared. These four basic emotions are neither good nor bad – they just “are”!

It is one or more of these emotions that help determine just how “risk adverse” a client will be. It is absolutely necessary for a financial advisor to be aware of the client’s emotional state, whether the client is aware or not. People react emotionally to market downturns. They are probably scared first, but also mad and sad as the market changes. They may get caught up in the market’s emotional swings and lose sight of their own goals and strategy. They think it will always stay that way. Or in an upturn, they believe the market will always stay up. They get caught up in the euphoria of “glad” and again lose sight of their goals and strategy. Many people get caught up in the high market frenzy and end up buying shares that are overpriced; even doctors.


Pulling out of the market to protect temporary downside losses in value also means not participating in the upside, which eventually occurs. From the major downturn in the spring of 2009 to the fall of 2009, the market recovered better than 35%. Those who pulled out of the market and stayed out missed out on that portion of their own portfolio’s recovery. Due to reacting emotionally, people buy in up market and sell in a down market – the opposite of what garners them a good return.

Another difficulty is that people lose sight of the fact that a fund investment is in actual companies – some of which survive and some don’t. The nature of the investment market is that there are no guarantees on return of investment. A certain amount of volatility is normal. It is the price you pay for the opportunity of garnering a higher return than with “safe” investments.

And, how safe are “safe” investments? If your “safe” investments are earning 1% while inflation is running at 3% as is the case in 2012, you are losing purchasing power. If the bucket is leaking slowly, it can still end up empty!

So when you feel “glad” about a safe investment, what may be a good feeling may turn out to be a bad investment.

How Advisors Help Clients

How does an advisor help to keep their clients’ focus on the positive steps that can be taken to meet goals instead of reacting solely to current market conditions? How does advisor keep from getting involved in the client’s negative and unproductive emotional reactions?

Financial advisors have seen these situations before, but clients may not be aware that financial markets tend to return to the norm and provide a positive return in the long run. By helping provide a perspective on how the market normally behaves; the focus can be shifted from how the market currently stands, a temporary fluid condition, to the longer range behavior of markets. This provides a sense of stable emotions that allows the client and the advisor to make better financial decisions.

Non-Monetary Goals?

A financial advisor can also help you realize that financial planning is more than investments and that some goals are not solely monetary. It is less stressful and far more productive for people to keep their eyes on their goals, not on the dollar value of their portfolio. In the end, your net worth is not the same as your self‐worth.


Because emotions play a significant role in all decisions we make, a major part of an advisor’s job is to help the client keep their focus on the positive steps that can be taken to meet those goals instead of reacting based solely on emotions!

About the Author

Sid graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in accounting and has been practicing as a CPA since 1975 and financial advisor since 1987. Sid received the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER certification in 1987 and in 1988, received the AICPA Certificate of Education Achievement in Personal Financial Planning. In 1989, Sid received the designation of Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and in 1991 the AICPA specialty designation of Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS).

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  1. Financial Planning Impact?

    Some professionals know immediately when their work has a positive impact for their clients or customers. An electrician finds a short in the lighting system and restores power. A car mechanic makes a repair and sends someone on their way. A doctor prescribes just the right medication and the patient gets well. An attorney wins a lawsuit.

    In other professions, the effect on clients isn’t as obvious or easily measured. It can take years for a therapist to see changes in a patient’s behavior. Similarly, a minister has no way of knowing the full impact of a sermon. Neither does a financial planner see the immediate impact of many recommendations, especially in retirement planning where judging success can take decades.

    This is why I was intrigued when I read about a recent research study titled “A Comparison Of Retirement Strategies And Financial Planner Value.” The study, by professors Terrance Martin and Michael Finke, was published in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning.

    The research evaluated the impact, if any, the use of financial planners had on retirement savings. The study used 2004 and 2008 data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a random sampling of 12,686 people which began in 1979 and now consists of participants who are in their late 40’s and early 50’s.

    The survey found that 70% of US households hadn’t done any evaluation of their retirement standings. That didn’t surprise me, as other studies I’ve previously cited show that 70% of Americans live month to month. It doesn’t shock me that people with no retirement savings haven’t evaluated their retirement needs; I’m guessing most of them are smart enough to know there isn’t anything to evaluate. Retirement income for them will consist of their Social Security plus, if they are fortunate enough, their company or government pension.

    Of the remaining 30% of US households that had evaluated where they stood for retirement, more than a third—13% of the overall study participants—evaluated their retirement needs themselves. Eleven percent used a comprehensive financial planner to help them evaluate their needs, and 6% used a non-comprehensive advisor who had not done a retirement needs analysis for the client. The last group included a higher proportion of financial product salespeople.

    The research found that the clients who engaged a comprehensive financial planner had significantly more income, net worth, and retirement savings than either of the other two groups. Interestingly, the group that did their own planning had more retirement savings than those who used a non-comprehensive advisor.

    Obviously, one possible reason for this difference could be that those with higher incomes and education could afford the services of a financial planner. However, the study considered that possibility by controlling for the economic differences of the groups.

    This study highlights the connection between successful saving and assessing your retirement needs. Apparently, those with no clear idea of how much money they’ll need for comfortable retirement living are less likely to save. Providing that assessment may be an important part of the value provided by comprehensive financial planners.

    A similar result is found in another study done in 2011 by Aon Hewitt. This study, “Help in Defined Contribution Plans: 2006 Through 2010,” found that people who used professional investment help averaged earnings of 1.86% a year more, net of fees, than those who did it themselves.

    The bottom line in acquiring retirement wealth is that there is no quick solution outside of winning the lottery. It takes careful planning, good advice, and lots of patience to realize the goal of providing well for one’s retirement.


    Rick Kahler MS CFP®


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