Against a background of stock market turbulence and political unpredictability, financial advisors need to be the voice of reason for panicky clients. It’s simply part of their job — though they themselves may be struggling with market angst as well, says psychotherapist and performance coach Jonathan Alpert in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.
His clients include advisors, traders, analysts and bankers. In 2012, Alpert kicked up a fuss with a controversial New York Times Opinion piece he penned headlined, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already.”
In the interview, the therapist, 47 (www.jonathanalpert.com), compares how veteran advisors and less seasoned FAs experience Donald Trump’s unorthodox presidential behavior and offers advice for upping advisors’ odds for success by becoming “fearless.”
Indeed, Alpert has authored an how-to book called “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” co-written with Alisa Bowman. The 2012 hardcover edition has been expanded and was just released in paperback (Center Street, Jan. 8, 2019).
A licensed therapist who early in his career worked briefly for the FBI, Alpert employs a goal-oriented program to help clients gain a healthy lifestyle and reach their potential.
In the interview, revisiting what he calls rampant marijuana use among Wall Street professionals, Alpert discusses the reason some of his advisor clients are trying earnestly to give up the habit. As for hard drugs, alcohol and massage parlors, consumption of these persists as part of Wall Street culture, he says.
ThinkAdvisor recently spoke with Alpert, on the phone from his New York City office. The conversation eventually turned to New Year’s resolutions, at which point he offered suggestions on how to boost the likelihood of achieving results.
Here are highlights of the interview:
THINKADVISOR: How are your financial advisor clients handling the market correction and volatility?
JONATHAN ALPERT: They feel the anxiety day to day. I’m trying to calm their anxieties and have them look at the bigger picture and not get taken down or become highly anxious by big drops in the market.
Are they saying that their clients are calling them in a panic?
They are. If there’s a bad day in the market, they’re getting anxious calls from clients: “What should I do? Should I change things around?” The advisors are having to be the voice of reason. But it’s part of their job to manage clients’ anxieties and expectations and to educate them. They should tell them that investing is a marathon — so let’s not get freaked out about one quarter, a bad week or a bad day of trading.
What’s the attitude on the part of financial advisors and traders about President Trump?
Generally, Wall Street seems to like Trump. They understand he’s not the most charming person in the world, but his policies seem to make sense to them. I find that the banking and finance industries aren’t as anti-Trump as other professions are. They have a better understanding of tariffs and trade; so they don’t necessarily see that as a problem. They understand that sometimes you have to take a few steps backward to go forward.
How do advisors perceive Trump as a person?
They see him as a brash New York businessman. He’s not the most well-mannered person, or even presidential. I tell advisors, and other clients, to try to separate the policy from the personality.
But Trump consistently generates angst over what will happen next.
He says things for reaction. I tell my clients in the financial industry that we’ve seen this before with him: There’s a day or two when he says something that dominates the headlines — but then it’s back to normal.
Is there a difference between the way veteran advisors and younger ones react to Trump?
The less seasoned advisors are more sensitive to some things going on in Washington, while the more seasoned are able to look at the big picture. That’s what they should remind their clients to do. The [veteran] advisors take [Trump’s behavior] with a grain of salt.
How does newer advisors’ “sensitivity” about what’s happening in Washington manifest?
They’re anxious. They feel the anxiety of their clients. But I think they’re able to eventually see that this is just Trump trying to dominate the headlines and get people talking.
In our last interview [April 23, 2018], you indicated that Trump’s bringing up matters likely to impact the technology sector made advisors and traders nervous. Now that tech has in fact taken a big hit, how are they reacting?
Naturally, they’re concerned. It’s part of their general anxiety over the uncertainty of our leader. Trump has a rather unpredictable style, and Wall Street usually doesn’t respond well to unpredictability. When there’s good news, like the [recent] report that 300,000 jobs were added [to the economy in December 2018], it seems to calm some of the anxieties that financial folks have.
Last time we spoke you said that many financial advisors were reliant on marijuana, and you thought that pot use was responsible for a loss of performance edge. To what extent are they using now?
I see a lot of marijuana use. I have countless clients who are heavy pot smokers, and they’re trying to get off it. Marijuana isn’t helping financial advisors optimize performance.
What effect are advisors looking for when they use it?
Pot use is more of a nightly ritual, a way for them to calm down at the end of the day.
How does that impact their job performance?
From my perspective as a therapist, there’s zero benefit from pot smoking. The heavy-smoker clients of mine recognize that it dulls them. I think it breeds laziness and [negatively] affects motivation and concentration. The most successful clients I have, across the board, including those in finance, aren’t smoking pot every night.
Have the advisors and traders slowed down in abusing other substances?
People are still popping prescription pills and still drinking. Drug use remains prevalent on Wall Street. I don’t see a change there.
Are your financial clients still using cocaine, as you’ve indicated previously?
Yes. That’s still alive and kicking on Wall Street. I think they use it to celebrate, to party. They have the money to spend on it because Wall Street folks have more money than the average professional.
Are advisors still frequenting massage parlors, as you’ve said they were?
Yes. That’s all part of the culture of Wall Street: the drugs, the cheating — the extracurricular sexual activities.
You’ve just released a paperback version of your book, “Be Fearless.” How can financial advisors become fearless?
A lot of people, especially those in finance, are restricted by their thoughts and limiting beliefs, like: “I can never move up to being a managing director.” “I can never sell ‘X’ amount because I’m new.” Those kinds of negative thoughts limit their performance and keep them stuck. My book is about changing the way we think about things and how to set ourselves up for success. A big part of that is reframing all the negative talk in our heads — the voice that says: “You can’t.”
What New Year’s resolutions might advisors make to be “mentally fit,” as you put it, in 2019?
Financial advisors should set a performance plan and [resolve] to speak with their supervisor about how to advance and how to set themselves up for a bonus.
That’s a really specific resolution.
One reason people often don’t succeed with their resolutions is that the resolutions are vague. For example, they might say, “I want to have a successful year.” So I encourage people to be very specific about what that means: “I want to max out my bonus potential.” “I want to gain ‘X’ amount of new clients.” Really spell out what you hope to achieve. Also, framing the resolution in a positive way can be helpful.
People will often say, “I won’t eat junk food this year,” whereas [resolving], “I’m going to eat healthy food, like vegetables” is specific, positive — and prescriptive.
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