Why do people hire financial advisers? The answer might surprise you. Sometimes they are merely looking for someone to pull the trigger for them when they’re too shell-shocked to invest for themselves. Other times it’s a scapegoat thing - when investments go bad, it’s a small comfort to some that “it was all his idea.”
In a perfect world, financial advisers could go about their duties to clients knowing that they were hired only for their expertise. But this is a very imperfect world (Arrested Development was cancelled and yet Two and a Half Men is in season 39). In this world, the one we actually inhabit, there is a notable swathe of the investing public that feels better putting the decision in someone else’s hands so that they can agonize over something else. And that’s quite alright, part of the job description when you get into the business of Other People’s Money.
I’ve brought in a few dozen new clients in the past year and about a third of them were holding one hundred percent in cash in their brokerage accounts and IRAs - some of them have been in this same state of liquidity since the credit crisis. These are very bright people who know full well that their purchasing power was evaporating with every sweep of the second hand, but they simply couldn’t bring themselves to move. Did they need guidance? Of course they did. But what they may have needed more than anything else was the confidence in someone - anyone but them - to go out there and do some buying. What they needed, after mass exposure to European debt headlines and a nauseating amount of “America is over” talk, was a Trigger Man. “Here’s my portfolio, do what I know I’m supposed to do and allocate it for me.”
There is another personality type out there that advisers often find themselves catering to: those who feel better having someone to point a finger at during difficult times. And that’s okay, too. I like blaming people also - whenever I can’t find something around the house, the only solace I have is that my wife or the kids probably misplaced it. After all, I am smart and responsible so there’s no way it could’ve been me, right?
There is evidence that a great number of people are primarily working with an adviser as opposed to managing their own money for the sake of having a scapegoat - look no further than the amount of customer complaints and arbitrations that arise in the midst of a market meltdown. According to Finra, total arbitration cases filed against investment professionals dropped to 4,729 last year, a 17% drop from a year earlier. Consider the fact that 2011’s total is a far cry from the 7,137 cases of 2009 (which jumped 43% from 2008) and it’s about half the number from the aftermath of the dotcom boom (a whopping 8,949 cases filed in 2003). In other words, people don’t like when their investments decline in value and, regardless of market conditions, they are quick to point the finger when that happens.
So mazel tov on the new client additions you pick up in 2012, just understand that some of them see you a guy or gal that can pull the trigger for them and some of them see you as a person to blame if things don’t work out.
Joshua Brown is a New York City-based financial advisor at Fusion Analytics, the author of The Reformed Broker blog and a contributor to RegisteredRep.