Prepare your clients for the fact that their portfolios will experience periods of disappointing performance. I often share this advice in my presentations on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read,” but I’m always seeking more specifics on how to do this. At the NAPFA Spring 2019 Conference, I picked up practical ideas for how financial advisors can achieve this.
Financial plan as source of certainty
In “Improving Investor Behavior Through Behavior Coaching,” Jay Mooreland of the Behavioral Finance Network touched briefly on how financial advisors prepare investors for volatility. He suggested focusing on the financial plan as a source of certainty.
Talk less about performance, and more about the plan, he urged the audience. “Remind them that your plan accounts for this volatility,” he said. After all, as he said, we can’t control market volatility, the economy, or politics. We can, however, control our investment strategy and our behavior and our reactions. In fact, you can coach clients to view volatility as their friend. That’s because it gives people an opportunity to “buy low.”
Mooreland suggested creating a “pre-commitment plan.” Tell your clients you understand that it’s difficult to buy during volatility. That’s why you have clients commit in advance that if the market falls X%, they’ll move Y% into stocks. You can make plans for multiple levels of market declines. “From a behavioral standpoint, it can be powerful,” said Mooreland.
Mooreland also showed two market performance graphs that reinforced why investors shouldn’t let short-term volatility upset them. If you fell asleep on September 1, 2018, and woke up on Easter Sunday, 2019, the market would be at roughly the same level. That investor wouldn’t have experienced volatility.
The perception of volatility is a function of how often you look at the market, said Mooreland. The more often you look, the more often you’ll see what is ultimately a good investment look bad.
Use your communications to reduce the volatility and stress that your clients feel. Both you and your clients will benefit.
Of course, don’t promise that the financial plan will protect clients from harm in any scenario. You know how the SEC feels about guarantees. Still, there’s plenty that you can do within the constraints imposed by the regulators.