We have experienced a year of economic collapse and uncertainty not seen since the Great Depression. Yet, a year later, the S&P 500 has surpassed 10,000 and gold is solidly selling above $1,000 an ounce. These are levels we may have thought impossible 12 months ago.
If our economy is able to resume normal economic growth, then the economic and market punishment of the last year will have been remarkably short. Newsweek recently nicknamed the current disconnect between the economy and the market strength “Boom and Gloom.” Perhaps more simply, we are experiencing the all-too-recognizable struggle between fear and greed.
Clients are hearing many mixed messages on the economy while they’re seeing market averages move higher. They want to participate in market momentum to rebuild their wealth, yet they’re still understandably scared by their recent losses. Some clients are calling their investment counselors to check if they are participating in this surge; others are calling to find out if their financial advisors are selling into strength and raising cash for them.
How should financial advisors be responding to them?
YOUR OPINION IS...
It is difficult to address clients’ questions when the future is so disturbingly unclear.
But here are four steps financial counselors can take to ensure they share their best thinking and deliver value—no matter what direction the market heads through year-end.
(1) Clarify an opinion and strategy relative to the market’s strength—Financial advisors also may be feeling uncertain, and can share this with clients. But first they should be asking themselves, “What are my specific points of uncertainty?”
Whether they focus on economic indicators, market valuations or individual corporate fundamentals, they need to clarify in their own minds the major indicators that shape their view of the risks and rewards of the next few months and next few years.
They do not have to be a fundamental researcher or rely only on their personal expertise. If they have favorite authorities in the field, they should review these experts’ latest work for their inspiration.
Then, they need to make a list of the three to five indicators they find most compelling and, in a sentence or two, explain why, including their thinking and what they’ll be looking for going forward.
This exercise will increase their resolve and help them formulate a clear message to clients.
(2) Communicate that position with a clear and persuasive market commentary—Once they’ve honed in on a few important indicators, financial counselors should determine the best method of delivering their message.
Perhaps they’ll write a letter, create an email blast, or produce a visual brochure with graphs. Whatever their favored means of marketing, they need to create a physical message that delivers their view of the markets. And they need to deliver it in such a way that it’s not part of their regular communication cycle.
We all need this commentary to break through the usual clutter and be the basis for meaningful conversations between investment counselors and clients.
(3) Listen to, and validate clients’ concerns—All advisors are told to communicate more with clients and listen carefully. With still so many future unknowns, listening may be the best client satisfaction strategy today.
Good investment counselors will not only share their market commentary, but also ask clients how they’re feeling. Ask them what their greatest concerns are. The goal is not simply to assuage them. Beware simple responses like, “Yes, we are all feeling that way.” Or “Yes, I have other clients saying the same thing.”
Instead, clients need to know that their investment counselors truly understand their feelings. “That must be unsettling for you,” delivers a more meaningful level of empathy.
It’s important that clients’ concerns are validated. Only then can counselors share strategies for helping them navigate the uncertainty.
(4) Give thanks—No need to be corny, but there are very few times that we can end discussions between investment counselors and clients with thoughts of thanks. Now is one of those times. The holidays are coming. We’ve made it through a terrible year.
This is a good time for financial counselors to take the opportunity to thank clients for their confidence in them throughout the past year. Perhaps the counselors are fortunate enough to say: “I’m just so thankful we positioned you as we did so that this past year has left you still able to achieve everything we had been planning.”
But at the very least they can say that the world’s economies seem to be finding stability and we can all move forward from here.
The exact message may not be as important as the fact that counselors take the opportunity to make a positive connection with clients.
It is easy for financial advisors to avoid extended client conversations when there is so much uncertainty. But they should muster the courage. Clients need guidance more than ever. Financial advisors who are in conversation can prove their value by helping them balance their fears with a healthy desire for portfolio growth.