It’s so easy to succeed. It’s so easy to retire in comfort.
You control your own destiny. You needn’t rely on others. You can do it all yourself.
And yet… and yet… we’re told by oh so many smart people there’s a retirement crisis.
Making matters worse, and feeding the fears of the average retirement saver, the market began the year with its largest drop ever.
Are we about to repeat the awful years of 2008-2009? Will 401k participants again panic and quit their long-term investing?
How do we, as professionals, convince them not to let their emotions guide their investment actions?
That’s a subject of great interest among the provider community (see, “3 Rules for Retirement Savers During Falling Markets,” FiduciaryNews.com, January 12, 2016). These folks clearly have been around the block when it comes to market cycles.
It’s like they have special glasses, glasses that can see into the future. When the market goes down, they see a future when the market rises; hence, they seek buying opportunities.
Likewise, when the market goes up, they can sense the inevitable sell-off and search their holdings for selling prospects.
These seasoned veterans have a developed wisdom when it comes to anticipating market moves. And that’s great if all they do is manage their own investments.
The challenge comes when they start managing other people’s money.
Once this threshold is crossed, advisors enter the dominion of behavioral psychology.
They might not have immediately realized this — after all, if they wanted to work in an office with a couch, they would have selected a different major in college.
As we’ve discussed often, we can consider this as the acid test for the fiduciary. The test occurs when a client decides his emotions trump his reason.
He then makes a decision to do something unwise. He really believes, say, unloading his entire equity position in his 401k plan is the absolutely right thing to do. And, as for anyone who disagrees with him, well, he can just take his business elsewhere.
This all-too-familiar scenario presents the fiduciary with a difficult conundrum.
Should the fiduciary succumb to the emotions of the client, or should the fiduciary issue his own ultimatum — “Either you allow me to manage your money or you can take your business elsewhere.”
No one said firing clients would be easy. Then again, no one said abiding by one’s fiduciary duty would be easy.
The key for the successful fiduciary, then, is to not only anticipate market moves, but to anticipate client reactions to those market moves. That’s where we, as fiduciaries, have an advantage.
We know the ever-predictable routine of the market. We may not know exactly when the market will go up or go down, but we it will go up at some point and it will go down at some point.
With this knowledge, we must extend the knowledge of these two inevitable realities to our clients.
That means we must continually teach them. This education process has to supplant the usual meeting agenda, which habitually emphasizes investment selections and investment performance.
There’s a temptation, when the results are great, to spend a lot of client meeting time swaggering about performance. Unfortunately, that’s also the ideal time to discuss what happens when the market unavoidably drops (and it will).
Soothe the client’s potential fear of a falling market when the market is rising, because all attempts to do it when the market is falling are doomed to fail.
So, teach your clients well.
Remember, a fiduciary has one purpose in life: To take up arms against a sea of psychology and convince retirement savers to do the right thing.