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How Does your Advice Process Reflect the Findings of Behavioral Finance?

By Taylor Liao, CFP, Chinese Taipei

As a financial planner, it was hard for me to understand what it was like for my clients. Consumers get their information from and are influenced by several mediums such as the media and product sellers. Banks or fund houses, for the sake of selling more products, will release market information that a market has potential to grow in the future and usually this information causes consumers to invest, no matter how high the price of the fund is. On the flipside, consumers will sell their funds as soon as they receive any negative sign from the media.

The weekly BlackRock report shows that when the price of equity drops, the size of funds decrease simultaneously. Most investors keep making the same mistake: buy high, sell low. In the six step advice process of financial planning, even if the client completely agrees with you on how to improve their financial status, most of them won’t take action without monitoring afterwards.

Financial Planning Clients are only Human

Financial planners have to understand that it is natural as human beings to be influenced by a certain type of financial behavior. Some people will make mistakes such as the mental accounting bias; where people save money for a trip they are taking in 2 years by putting money in a savings account with an interest rate of 1%, while they have a credit card debt that charges them 18% interest. It is my opinion that clients need to be educated and that takes time to work with them. After years of practicing financial planning, I have modified my advice process to be more client-friendly.

After presenting the financial planning recommendations to a client, I ask them to use the App program on their smart phones to keep a record of their daily spending and email it to me at the end of the month. The software is easy to download, easy to use, and it forces them to think about their spending every day. At the end of every quarter, we review their progress of implementing my recommendations. 

I have found that financial planning services aren’t successful if they are limited to two short meetings a year. After clients walk out of your office, they might return to their old philosophies of what it means to manage their spending, but by tracking their spending, I can interact with the client on a continual basis.

Asking the Right Questions

Aside from using apps to track spending, I have also changed the format of my questionnaire that gathers the client’s information/goals in the initial meeting. This questionnaire helps me to better understand how the client makes financial decisions. For example, 3 weeks ago, a client filled out the questionnaire and given the question, “Compared to others, do you prefer high risk investment?”, he answered “No.” On the next question, “In an investment, which one is more important: potential profit or potential risk?”, he answered “potential profit.”

I asked a few follow-up questions and discovered this individual was doing high-risk investment that included him loaning money to a client of his in which he received a 30% interest rate. Because of this experience, his expectations for other investments were equally high. Most questionnaires don’t dive very deep and do not get enough information about the client. Based on the information he told me, my recommendation for him was influenced.

Most clients have a blind spot when it comes to financial management. By asking effective questions, I am able to gauge clients’ financial behavior and decision making patterns, and adapt my communication with them to better meet their needs. 

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