You’re Scared to Bring it Up

weber_bioBrad Weber AIF®, Regional Director, Retirement Plan Services

A 2004 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association says that 73% of Americans name money as the number one factor that affects their stress level. Number one. The New York Times reports that couples who reported disagreeing about finance once a week were over 30% more likely to get divorced than couples who reported disagreements a few times a month.1 So, in addition to being stress-inducing public enemy number one, money is also highly implicated in whether or not we stay married. It’s no wonder then that we tread lightly around retirement or don’t bring it up at all!

The most common behavior in response to the overwhelming anxiety of preparing for three decades of not working is that we may ignore the conversation entirely. After all, we erroneously suppose, “If I ignore it maybe it will go away.” As anyone who has ever put off a project can attest, it never goes away and anxiety is only compounded as a deadline approaches. In college this may have been as inconsequential as pulling an all-nighter and receiving a subpar grade. With retirement planning, it could quite literally have disastrous personal consequences.

A recent study by the American Institute of CPAs2 found that speaking to children about money to children was among parents’ lowest priorities. In fact, money issues were trumped by good manners, sound eating habits, the need for good grades, the dangers of drugs, and the risks of smoking in terms of perceived importance. Our reticence to talk about money is certainly not out of lack of need. An Accenture report states that Baby Boomers will leave $30 trillion to their children in the next 30 years. This doesn’t even take into account the almost $12 trillion that MetLife predicts that Boomers will receive from their parents. The fact is, money will be changing hands within families at an unprecedented rate in the years to come and we are ill equipped to make the exchange.

There are a number of reasons why talking about money may be so difficult. One is that there has been a vitriolic reaction against the wealthy in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the global financial crisis. This sentiment was illustrated quite vividly in the September 24, 2016 Fortune magazine cover article, “Is It Still OK To Be Rich In America?” Another reason for this taboo may have a higher source.

The Bible, the best-selling book of all time and a foundational text for a majority of Americans, mentions money no less than 250 times. While not all Biblical references to money are negative, there are certainly enough references to “filthy lucre” to give pause. To a nation founded on Protestant ideals about work and morality, the notion of wealth as potentially corrosive is one that is deeply embedded in the collective American consciousness.

John Levy, a counselor to people who have recently inherited money found the following reasons for the money taboo among his clientele (as cited in O’Neil, 1993):3

  • Good taste – “It’s just not done.”
  • Fear of manipulation – “It will give them power over me.”
  • Concern for spoiling children – “They will never make anything of themselves.”
  • Embarrassment – “I don’t deserve to be so much better off than others.”
  • Fear of being judged – “All they can see is my money.”

Perhaps some of the reasons above are resonant with your personal situation and perhaps not, but it seems difficult to deny that money is a subject that puts us all on eggshells. Consider a handful of your best friends. No doubt you could tell me much about their lives; joys and struggles, highs and lows. But I doubt if you could tell me their exact salary, savings or other relevant financial indicators, because we simply don’t talk about them. While this is fine in polite company, this tendency toward silence can extend beyond the cocktail party circuit. Conversations about money tend to be emotionally fraught and tinged with shame and as such, are best handled by professionals adept at de-stigmatizing and reorienting our sometimes misguided thoughts about preparing for our financial future.

Solution: Begin a dialogue around retirement preparedness today with a professional at your place of employment or through a trusted financial advisor. Just as silence leads to greater inaction, a simple conversation can lead to life-changing progress.

For 10 years, Brinker Capital Retirement Plan Services has been working with advisors to offer plan sponsors the solutions to help participants reach their retirement goals.  The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Sources:

1 “Money Fights Predict Divorce Rates,” Catherine Rampell, The New York Times, December 7, 2009.

2  “Money Among Lowest Priorities in Talks Between Parents, Kids,” AICPA, August 9, 2012.

3 “The Paradox of Success,” John O’Neil. New York: Putnam, 1993.

60% of the Time, It Works Every Time

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

“Bonds Show 60% Odds of Recession.”

It was a bold, slightly jarring headline to an article I happened across one recent morning. I had done a solid minute of skimming before I scrolled back to the top and noticed the published date—October 22, 2011.  If the models cited in the article had bet their chips on red, so to say, then the U.S. economy continued to hit black for some time.  Over the next four years, the domestic unemployment rate nearly halved while the S&P 500 returned a cumulative 84%.  Say what you want about much of that return being multiple expansion (84% total return on cumulative earnings per share growth of 16%)—it would’ve been a tough four years for investors to sit on the sidelines.

I’m writing this from an investment perspective rather than an academic one, but it is still a preoccupation for both fields to monitor to the economy.  Why?—because, as quantified by Evercore ISI, S&P 500 bear markets have been more severe (-30%) when they predate what actually morphs into an economic recession versus times when dire signs of economic stress do not ultimately turn up (-15%).

The world is once again on “recession watch” in 2016; signs of financial strain include the offshore weakening of China’s yuan, widening credit spreads, an apparent peak in blue chip earnings per share, and spiking European bank credit default swaps (CDSs).  One telling recession indicator, yield curve inversion, has seemingly not reared its head.  As measured through the difference between 10-year and 3-month Treasury yields, the spread today stands around 150 basis points, while it has fallen like clockwork to zero or below prior to each U.S. recession since 1956. (Recessions are indicated by the shaded grey areas below, as defined by the NBER.)

Source: The Federal Reserve, Brinker Capital

Source: The Federal Reserve, Brinker Capital

A number of commentators have raised concerns that the statistics above should not warrant an “all clear” sense of thinking there won’t be a recession.  In full awareness of the folly of claiming that “this time is different”—well, this time may be different.  Breaking down the term spread into its two components—the yield on a shorter-dated bill and longer-dated bond—the short rates have been artificially held down by a zero-bound federal funds rate for the past six years, while the feature of positive convexity that is inherently more pronounced for long rates means that it is, in theory, very tough to close the gap” on the remaining 150 basis point spread that would indicate an inverted yield curve mathematically.  (A convexity illustration is shown below—the takeaway is that the yield-price relationship becomes asymptotic at high prices, meaning that the 10-year note would need to be exorbitantly bid up to bring its yield down to equate with much shorter maturities.)

Source: Brinker Capital

Source: Brinker Capital

So, what are the odds of a recession?  If it’s not clear yet, I’m not writing this to assign a current probability but rather to warn against viewing such a figure in isolation.  Following the logic illustrated in papers such as this one, statistical programs make it possible to truly fine-tune a model: plug in any number of explanatory vectors (time series variables such as industrial production or unemployment claims) and “fit” the historical data to the response variable, which is essentially a switch that is “on” during a recession” and “off” when not.  But as calibrated as the model becomes, there is still subjectivity involved: what is the proper “trigger” for alarm?  Should your reaction to a 70% implied probability be different from your reaction to a 60% reading?  An important consideration is the objective behind such a model in the first place—to create a continuous distribution (infinite number) of outcomes and assign a probability to a discrete event (red or black, recession or no recession).  When framed this way, often it is the unquantifiable, intangible narratives and examination of what’s different this time (rather than what looks “the same”) that can create a fuller picture.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Stress Management for Financial Advisors

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Founder, Nocturne Capital

The dictionary definition of stress is, “a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.” But one can scarcely conceive of a more pointless construct to define than stress, because just as the Supreme Court famously said of smut, you know it when you see it. This is especially true of financial advisors, who inhabit one of the most stressful professional roles in the modern corporate landscape.

shutterstock_247024930Health.com named financial advisors to their list of 10 Careers with High Rates of Depression.” A study titled, “Casualties of Wall Street” found that 23% of advisors surveyed had significant signs of clinical depression while another 36% percent showed mild to moderate symptoms. And a study published in the “Journal of Financial Therapy” found that the vast majority of financial professionals surveyed experience medium to high levels of post-traumatic stress in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

So what’s an advisor to do? Well, the tips for managing of stress are often simple and intuitive. So simple in fact, that they may be overlooked by advisors accustomed to a life filled with risk and complexity. Notwithstanding their simplicity, try the tips below to start feeling better today:

Tame technology – The 24/7 availability of technology such as email has done a great deal to increase the stress level of people everywhere. Having a means of being reached at any time by your clients means that you are in a constant state of heightened readiness. Set limits on your electronic availability by turning off or limiting the times of day when you “plug in.” These periods of electronic disengagement will allow you to connect with others socially, exercise, and pursue hobbies, all of which have been proven to combat stress.

Damsel in Eustress – One common misconception is that stress is always the result of negative events. Recently, an advisor was crying in my office, unable to pinpoint the reason for her feelings of anxiety. As I learned more, she revealed that she was overseeing a number of projects at work, preparing for a wedding, and readying herself for a move. Although each of these things was positive, the cumulative effect of all of this positive change was quite stressful. Remember, the body cannot distinguish “eustress” (literally, good stress) from bad stress, so be sure to take a moment to relax, even when things are going your way.

shutterstock_41447092As a Man Thinketh – Too often, we accept the fact that things just “are” and that we have little control over our lives. Viktor Frankl said it best, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” The things that happen to you can be as positive or negative as you construe them to be. If you choose to interpret life events in an upbeat and optimistic manner, you will position yourself for success in all areas, and achieve that success with calm confidence. For practice, try and think of five positive things to emerge as a result of the most recent economic volatility (e.g., spent more time with family).

Little Comfort – It is a strange paradox that all of the so-called “comfort foods” have the very opposite of the desired effect on stress levels. Caffeine causes elevations in heart rate and respiration that can mimic a panic attack. Alcohol depresses our mood and impairs decision making, and eating fatty foods provides a brief period of pleasure followed by sustained periods of regret and lethargy. While we understand that an evening run or a healthy meal may be advisable, our short-sighted bodies tell us differently in times of stress or sadness. The next time you are feeling down, let your brain drive your decision-making; your body will thank you later.

Fake Out – Have you ever heard the old saying, “fake it ‘till you make it?” Well, it turns out that science substantiates this pithy phrase. In the past, the conventional psychological wisdom was that we felt a certain way, and then exhibited behaviors that conveyed that emotion. Put simply, “I’m happy, therefore I smile.” What more research has found, is that the opposite is also true – “I smile, therefore I’m happy.” Research subjects who were instructed to smile, regardless of whether or not they were actually happy, saw an increase in mood. This recent evidence suggests that being proactive, maintaining a schedule, and acting happy can start to improve a negative mood. It turns out that, some of the times you feel least like acting upbeat are the times it could benefit you most.

The market is extremely volatile right now, but that doesn’t mean that your life needs to be. 2 to 3% of outperformance achieved by those who work with advisors, is predicated on your being an effective behavioral coach during times of uncertainty. It is only as you take steps to manage stress in your own life that you can effectively model the kind of behavior that most benefits your clients.

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of Nocturne Capital, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Managing Emotions During Life’s Disruptions

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

It seems like a new survey comes out daily revealing how ill-prepared Americans are for retirement. Well, to reference one, now there is a study that shows two-thirds of those who have saved for retirement may still fall behind.

TD Ameritrade’s 2015 Financial Disruptions Survey shows that unexpected events have cost Americans $2.5 trillion in lost savings. [1] Typical scenarios involve unemployment or having to take a lower-paying job, starting a family and/or buying a home, assuming a care-taking role, experiencing poor investment or business performance, suffering an accident/illness or disability, divorce, separation, or becoming a widow or widower.

No surprise that any one of these events would cause stress. As explained in the best-selling book, Personal Benchmark, Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management, stress triggers a move away from a rational and cognitive decision-making style in favor of an effective style driven by emotions. Research also has suggested that we experience a 13% reduction in our intelligence during times of stress, as valuable psychophysiological resources are shunted away from the brain in service of our ability to fight or flee. [2]

When under stress, emotional decisions tend to be myopic. We privilege the now and forget about the future. Decisions made under stress are also reactive. Since our body is being signaled that something dangerous is imminent, we tend to react rather than reason. Reacting is great for swerving to miss a car, but not such a great impulse to follow when it comes to setting a course that will traverse the next five years.

What we learn from the study is that the average length of the disruption was five years. These weren’t one-time events or blips on a radar screen. They were prolonged periods over that necessitated several financial decisions.

84% of those who suffered from disruptions indicated that prior thereto, they had been saving $530 per month for long-term financial goals/retirement. During the “disruption” savings were reduced by almost $300, which had a cumulative adverse impact on their long-term goal, on average of over $16,200.

Interestingly, the TD study asked how they could be better prepared for the unexpected. The vast majority focused on what authors of Personal Benchmark suggest in helping to manage emotions during stressful times, which is to focus on matters within their control. The top five responses included:

  • save more (44%)
  • start saving earlier (36%)
  • better educate self on investments (26%)
  • consult with a financial advisor (19%)
  • pay closer attention to investments (15%)

There are two key takeaways from this study. Expect the unexpected by doing as much advanced planning and saving as possible. And, when life does throw you a curve ball, manage your emotions by focusing on matters with personal significance and those that are within your personal control.

[1] http://www.amtd.com/files/doc_downloads/research/Disruptor_Survey_2015.pdf

[2] Dr. Greg Davies, Managing Director, Head of Behavioral and Quantitative Investment Philosophy at Barclays Wealth

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Two Ways Advisors Can Help Clients Reduce Financial Stress

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

While all of your clients are unique when it comes to financial outcomes, they are likely to share one unifying factor—money being the top cause of their stress.

The American Psychological Association, which releases figures on stress, documented in their final report for 2011 (published in 2012) that, “More adults report that their stress is increasing than decreasing. 39% said their stress had increased over the past year and even more said that their stress had increased over the past five years (44%). Only 27% of adults report that their stress has decreased in the past five years and fewer than a quarter of adults report that their stress has decreased in the past year (17%).”

The same report shows that the top source of stress is money (75%), with work coming in a close second (70%) and the economy getting the bronze (67%). These results were validated by another study in which 63% of survey respondents indicated that they had some financial stress and another 18% rated their stress level at high or overwhelming[1].

It has been well established that stress triggers a move away from a rational and cognitive decision-making style in favor of a style driven by emotions. As the book Personal Benchmark: Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management states, “Research also has suggested that we experience a 13% reduction in our intelligence during times of stress, as valuable psychophysiological resources are shunted away from the brain in service of our ability to fight or flee.” Experts suggest that emotionally-charged decisions are myopic (nearsighted), reactive, and associative.[2] All three of these predictable responses to stress are powerful ingredients for disastrous investment results.

Advisors can help clients manage emotion and associate stress in two ways:

  1. Manage the volatility in their portfolio. As the highs and lows of investments are brought under tighter control, so too will the emotions of the investors that hold them.
  2. Refocus clients’ attention on the appropriate things, such as matters with personal significance and those that are within their own control. Far too often, clients worry about externalities that have no direct impact on them or their wealth but which create a sort of vague anxiety that can never be truly calmed.

“By managing volatility as a means for controlling emotional extremes and by focusing on germane financial matters within personal control, investors can reap the benefits of appropriate stress without the paralyzing effects of excessive worry” (Personal Benchmark).

[1] http://www.financialfinesse.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Financial-Stress-Report_2014_FINAL.pdf

[2] Dr. Greg Davies, Managing Director, Head of Behavioral and Quantitative Investment Philosophy at Barclays Wealth

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.