Journal of Financial Planning: July 2019
When we fly, we are told that in an emergency, we should put our own oxygen mask on first before helping others. The reason is simple—if you pass out putting someone else’s mask on, there’s no guarantee that there will be someone to return the favor for you. That same advice applies to managing stress.
If you are faced with moderate or significant levels of stress, and if that stress impacts your ability to function at your best, then it’s important to assess your own habits before advising others on theirs. By considering your own level of stress first, you are “walking the walk” and are in a better position to fully care for your clients.
Stress comes in two forms. Negative stress prevents us from achieving goals or motivating us, while positive stress gets us moving in the direction we aspire to go.
We’ve all heard that the impact of negative stress is far reaching, both personally and professionally. So we recently conducted a survey in partnership among Janus Henderson Investors, FPA, and Investopedia to quantify the scope and impact of negative stress on investors and financial advisers; to examine the drivers of such stress; and to identify the ways to respond. The results confirmed our assumption: negative stress is a significant issue for both investors and financial advisers and one that has a major impact.
The survey gathered input from 649 people between December 2018 and January 2019, including 336 investors and 313 financial advisers.
Of those surveyed, 71 percent of advisers and 63 percent of investors say they experience moderate or high levels of negative stress in their lives. The majority agrees about the need to better manage or reduce their negative stress levels, yet for many, the survey results show that stress levels have intensified over the last 12 months rather than declined.
Begin by Putting Yourself First
Prioritizing your own needs will allow you to be fully engaged and present your best self to your clients. As part of our study, we looked at some of the things that may be keeping you up at night. Specifically, the survey addressed your biggest challenges, the things that were getting in the way of achieving your goals and that you found most stressful in your business or the profession. We found that financial advisers are stressed by a number of factors, but primarily by the challenge of maintaining a reasonable balance among work, life, and building a business.
Barriers for Advisers
Addressing the drivers of negative stress begins with identifying them. This study revealed that some advisers feel they are getting in their own way when it comes to reaching their goals. The top three barriers were poor time management, the adviser’s own mindset, and ineffective use of technology. Once your biggest challenges and barriers are recognized, then you can begin to prioritize those needs and address them.
Drivers of Negative Stress for Your Clients
It is equally important to understand the drivers and barriers of negative stress for your clients. We know from the survey findings that negative stress for investors correlates with their level of financial security. Among those in the low-stress category, 77 percent feel financially secure, a figure that drops to 39 percent among those who feel high stress. We also know that investors who have greater clarity about their goals, feel knowledgeable about investments, and have a clear plan are experiencing lower levels of negative stress.
So, how can you help your clients manage the drivers of negative stress? Aside from addressing their financial security and helping them design a plan to achieve their goals, consider helping them prepare for the unanticipated. This is an opportunity to change the conversation and begin supporting investors in tackling the issues that create stress in their lives. The top three drivers of negative stress among the investors surveyed were personal financial situation, career progression, and personal health.
Providing support starts with a clear understanding of these concerns but also involves taking the lead in addressing them.
Wait, you might be saying, I’m now supposed to be providing personal health advice and career counseling? We’ll leave that choice to you, but at the very least, we suggest that advisers become aware of resources that their clients can access in their communities that will help with these topics. Becoming knowledgeable about these topics and resources can only further differentiate you and your practice from other advisers.
One of the most striking data points in our study was the gap between what investors are hearing and what advisers claim they are saying. In one example, 87 percent of advisers stated they proactively address their clients’ concern that their “partner/spouse is taken care of should he/she [the investor] pass away first,” while 23 percent of investors responded that they actually bring up the topic first. This resulted in a –64 percent gap between what the adviser perceived to be true and what the investor perceived to be true.
According to investors, financial advisers are more likely to raise investment-related issues, such as coping with a market downturn, creating a retirement income plan, or understanding the markets and investments. This prompts an important question: are we effectively communicating with our clients and ensuring that our message is being heard clearly?
What Can We Do? 3 Steps to Get Started
The data is clear: whether an investor or a financial adviser, negative stress is a very real concern. Not only are relatively high percentages of people feeling negative stress, but they also point to significant personal and professional implications of that stress, including adverse impacts on health, sleep, mood, as well as decision-making capabilities and the likelihood of achieving overall goals. For investors who seek to plan a comfortable retirement or for financial advisers who seek to manage and grow a business, there needs to be a focus on reducing overall stress. Here are three steps to get started:
Determine what causes negative stress in your life. Let’s face it; life is getting harder, not easier. Our “always on,” 24/7 culture has put unprecedented pressure on us to perform in our personal and professional lives. Recognizing the sources of our stress and the habits that are being formed by that stress is the first step to taking corrective action. When we know the sources of our stress and our reactions to them, we can start to develop new strategies for coping. If you can’t be there for yourself, you can’t be there for your colleagues, friends, family, or clients.
Understand the key concerns of your clients. Communication is the exchange of information; and our study shows that there is often a big gap in what we think we say and what is heard by others. It’s possible—and even likely—that when it comes to clients, some top concerns haven’t been addressed at all. Regardless of what you think you’ve said about your services and what your clients have said about their concerns, consider how these matters were raised, reinforced, and documented with the client. We suggest developing a process, which includes asking clarifying questions and documenting those discussions, to ensure key concerns are being addressed.
Take a proactive and positive approach to stress. In a physical sense, if you stress a muscle by lifting weights, you stimulate it to grow and become stronger. However, if you work the muscle every day in the same way, it takes longer to grow. Our brain works in much the same way. Stress can stimulate personal growth but only when you allow yourself the proper recovery period that enables you to learn from the experience. Think about the first time you experienced a very stressful event. How about the next time you went through the same event? While the first time was very stressful, the next was probably a little less so. When we are stressed, we can later take a step back and think about the situation to recover.
When experiencing high stress, consider that stress takes us out of our comfort zone, much like stressing a muscle. Stress is also a stimulus for personal growth, as long as we take the time to disengage and recover.
Michael Futterman is head of Knowledge LabsTM Professional Development at Janus Henderson Investors, where he is involved in research and curriculum development for professional development programs. He is a frequent speaker and coach to adviser and client audiences.
Access the full “War on Stress” report at janushenderson.com/waronstress.
For a deeper dive into the study with representatives from Janus Henderson Investors, FPA, and Investopedia, access an on-demand version of the June 12 webinar, “What Is Keeping Financial Planners and Their Clients Up at Night,” at Learning.OneFPA.org.