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Understanding Advisor Stress

Understanding Advisor Stress

Dr. Alden Cass, psychologist to Wall Street bankers and brokers, is among the subjects of a new documentary chronicling the consequences of economic uncertainty among white-collar professionals.

For years British filmmaker Katharine Round wondered how rampant economic uncertainty in the western world affected the day-to-day lives of everyday citizens.

The plight of people in developing nations has been the subject of a number of films, she says, but “I hadn’t really seen anything on the social and psychological cost of financial inequality in the developed world.”

Inspired by a new body of research into the subject, she launched a project to make a documentary on the global economy and its impact on the working practices, lifestyles and psychology of people from Wall Street to Main Street, including financial advisors and brokers. “Security, Insecurity and the Future of the West” is slated for release in early 2015.

“I discovered something very interesting,” Round says of the project. “As tough as things have been for folks at the bottom of the economic scale, they seem to have been just as tough for the affluent in a different way. Wages have stagnated there, and it seems to take a lot more time, work and money to simply maintain what they already have.”

She’s interviewing well-known names from the world of finance, including Min Zhu, the deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Amartya Sen, the Nobel-winning economist and Sir Martin Sorrell, the CEO of advertising juggernaut WPP.

She also spent a week following and filming NY-based clinical psychologist Dr. Alden Cass, who has studied the psychological health of financial professionals for over a decade. His doctoral dissertation, publishing in 2000; it was a behavioral healthcare study of retail financial advisors entitled “Casualties of Wall Street: An Assessment of the Walking Wounded.” The study found that 23 percent of the group of advisors measured met criteria for major depression (versus only seven percent in the general population), and that financial advisors were at higher risk for emotional exhaustion, substance abuse, depression and anxiety than the general populous.

“That was when the market was smoking hot,” he says. In fact, it’s when times are good on Wall Street that financial advisors can often have the most stress, he says. Consider that today, prescription drug abuse among advisors is on the rise, and rehabilitation clinics that cater to Wall Street professionals are filling up.

On-the-job stress in the face of rising affluence isn’t a new story to most folks who work in the retail brokerage industry, including the managers of top producers. It is a phenomenon Cass, and others, term “the ‘new normal’; people having to work longer and harder for less— or just to survive.” Cass is the head of Competitive Streak Consulting and helps senior executives, including financial advisors and branch managers, reach their professional goals.

Last month, Round spent a week filming Cass at work and at home. While his work as a psychologist gave her a glimpse into the stresses facing affluent professionals in today’s society, the two also realized Cass himself was a perfect profile for the film.

“In many ways, my own life mirrors those of the people I coach,” Cass says. “I’m a 38-year-old professional with a wife who works full-time and two young children. We, too, are struggling to adjust to the ‘new normal’.

Without a doubt, it’s affecting people working in the financial services industry, he says. “Young brokers are burning out. They aren’t making the kind of money they thought they would. And, since there are so many more regulations and compliance issues to deal with, many of them are getting the sense they have to be ‘perfect’ to survive in this business.”

Older advisors are also postponing retirement for monetary reasons, he says. And office managers are having a tough time. “Even when economic times were good, they were overburdened, and, they had to deal with advisor egos on top of everything else.” His advice for managers?  “They have to give advisors hope— but not false hope— that they will manage to adjust to this ‘new normal’.”

Through her filming thus far, Round says she’s seen that “people in the western world have more in common than they probably realize. Wanting the best for our children, trying to balance the pressures of work with home life, and achieving control over our lives seem to affect us no matter where we stand economically.”

(If you would like to be interviewed for the film, send a brief email outlining why you think you’d make a good contribution to [email protected])

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