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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stoj

One Reason Many People Do Not Have Financial Advisors: They Should All Over You.

The step model above is used by hostage negotiators the world over to convince people to do things, like release hostages, or change their minds about other things, like committing suicide.

Studies show that this strategy works, and I would argue that it makes intuitive sense as well. Then why do so few people use it? We are also programmed to believe that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Want someone to stop spending too much money? Just tell them to stop. Give them a few good reasons for good measure - you'll go broke, you won't be able to find a good life partner, you'll never be able to retire, etc. How many people think that's going to work?

Ok. What if we add detail? Like we tell them that they need a budget. In fact, there's a very successful budgeting software called YNAB ("You Need A Budget"). I've looked at it and recommended people use it. It is genuinely a good program. But, while popular, I can imagine droves of people failing to use it simply because it's "shouting" at them that they NEED a budget. The reaction again: What are they talking about? I don't need a budget. I am an adult, and I can handle my spending on my own, thank you.

Yet we persist in attacking behaviorally related problems the same way. I my case, the, "we" is the financial planning and advisory community. We are famous for telling people what they should or should not do. You should have a budget. You should have an emergency fund. You shouldn't invest in individual stocks. You shouldn't listen to the other guy - you should be my client.

See what I mean? We should all over you.

The difficulty lies in appropriately communicating things that are in people's best interest in a way that actually encourages them to take positive action, instead of allowing inertia to keep them from doing anything at all, or even having them rebel against your "advice" by doing something harmful.

Let's return to the step graph above. Important things take time. Teaching and learning both occur best in an environment of mutual communication and trust. Actively listening to each other - especially the advisor actually listening to their client - allows for the understanding and & trust to be built so that we can affect any necessary change. Of course, this is where we can again easily fall into that straight line trap, ironically, especially if we actually care about our clients or potential clients. Since we believe we know what they should do - what's in their best interest - we want to shout it from the rooftop.

Another challenge is that people tend to go to professionals to find out what they should do, but then leave without doing anything because they feel pressured or talked down to. When I'm speaking with a prospective client, or being interviewed by various media, the most frequent questions I get are phrased like this, "what should I do?" or "what should a person do in this case?"

See the problem? I cringe when I slip and hear myself answer the question the way I'm expected to, because I know I've likely lost a chance to really communicate with someone. This is why, if you read my blog or visit Verbatim's website, you will find information, but not "advice." I want people to be as encouraged to help themselves or engage in actions that are in their best interest as possible, and I don't want to turn them off by browbeating them. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, maybe you should be my client.

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