Staying Sane: Helping Your Reps Survive this Tumultuous Market

The sub-prime mortgage lending crisis and resulting market tumult isn't just taking its toll on investors: A nearly constant flow of bad economic news from the media is shaking up advisors, too.

The sub-prime mortgage lending crisis and resulting market tumult (the likes of which some analysts say we haven't seen since the Great Depression)-combined with record high oil prices and recurrent rumblings of recession-isn't just taking its toll on investors: a nearly constant flow of bad economic news from the media is shaking up advisors, too. Many reps have described recent months as the most stressful of their entire careers. And, industry-based behavioral experts caution, that if left unchecked, this stress can lead to depression, anxiety, burn-out-even substance abuse. So, we asked some of them how you-the branch manager-might help your reps ward off such problems before they have a chance to take root.

First off, keeping the lines of communication between you and your reps wide open is critical in times like these, says Dr. Alden Cass, a licensed clinical psychologist and performance coach who heads Manhattan-based Catalyst Strategies Group, a coaching service for financial-services professionals, and recently co-authored a book about stress and burnout in the financial-advisory business titled Bullish Thinking: The Advisor's Guide to Surviving and Thriving on Wall Street (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

"Too often, reps view a manager's closed door to mean that he/she doesn't have the time for their problems," explains Cass. Consequently, they'll often try to solve them on their own, which can lead to advisor burnout, client litigation-a whole slew of problems. To prevent this, he says, "BOMs must stress that they're always available to their advisors, and ready to put their 'therapist' cap on."

Such "communication," says Cass, should extend beyond market-related problems to home-based issues as well. "Half the battle in averting the problems rough markets can fuel is in knowing your advisors. When you sit down with them to discuss a business plan," he says, "find out about their personal lives-and any life changes or challenges they're facing. Are they married, do they have kids, are they expecting a child, etc.? These issues can affect production as much as any business growth or marketing strategy."

It is also critical, he says, to pay close attention to their office behavior, so you can spot changes that may signal deeper trouble. "Is a rep having explosive outbursts where he typically wouldn't in the past? Are you receiving complaints from his clients? Do you see changes in the times he typically gets to or leaves the office? Is he taking off more time than usual? Does he look sick or hung-over?" It's important not to turn a blind eye to these things, he says.

What each advisor internalizes is likely very different, adds Tom Kane, a former financial consultant, branch manager and regional sales manager who is president of Investment Business Solutions, LLC, a wealth-management consulting firm in Fairfax Station, Va. "For example, one rep may be worried about losing his job, while another may be worried about paying the bills." Some may be working longer hours in an effort to calm their clients and generate the same level of production they had in good times, which might be causing friction at home, he says. "They might feel they have to let their sales assistant go, or make a move they would rather not, but feel they need to for the signing bonus." You need to know what the underlying concerns are before you can help, he says.

Of course, these days, it can be difficult for BOMs to find the time to do a lot of hand holding considering all of their other responsibilities. "I know that with miles of regulatory red tape and shaky bottom lines to deal with, managers have more responsibility now than ever," says Cass. But, if there are behavioral fires to put out, some of these issues can be delegated to an operations manager, he adds.

If your typical conversation with your reps tends to be somewhat superficial in nature, when they're having serious problems they may think you don't care enough to hear them out, Cass says. "It's critical to dispel that notion. Sit down with a several reps each month to see not just what their numbers look like, but how their lives are." Offer them guidance in dealing with clients in these very emotionally trying times, he says.

If a BOM feels he's in over his head, it may be necessary to call someone in-like a business psychologist or coach-to help, Cass says. But most firms also have an employee assistance program in their benefits package, Kane notes. "I've recommended this to a number of employees, and was pleasantly surprised to see how many actually sought help," he says. Keep these resources in mind, he says. "While it can be a hard subject to broach, you might be surprised by the positive results."

In addition, depending on the size of your office and your budget, consider engaging a consultant or speaker for a meeting to address coping with stress and change, Kane adds. "Perhaps you can get a wholesaler to sponsor the speaker." And there are plenty of good books on the topic too, he says. "Read up so you can help your team implement some of the more salient strategies. And, make the material available to your reps as well."

The bottom line, says Cass: BOMs must be "proactive"- rather than reactive. "The outcome of the latter is almost never good. It's much easier to put out a brushfire now than to battle a raging forest fire down the line."

For further information, you can contact Dr. Alden Cass at: [email protected] and Tom Kane at: [email protected]

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