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Advisors Keep Clients Calm Despite Media's Best Efforts

By Thomas Coyle March 5, 2018

The stock market -- essentially flat for the year as of pre-open on Friday -- slumped again last week, this time on the U.S. president’s promise to stiffen tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

That left financial news outlets like CNBC and Business Insider screaming early Friday about markets plunging, floodgates opening and, inevitably, what to buy in the dip.

This style of market coverage "is worse than noise" for investors, says Dan Solin, a sales coach to financial advice firms and a best-selling author on investing. "It’s harmful because people like to believe there are experts out there we should be listening to in times of crisis."

In fact, though, says Solin, there aren’t any experts on investing in bouts of volatility other than those who urge caution and calmness.

"You know there’s trouble when you’ve got people telling you when to get in and out" of the market, Solin tells FA-IQ. "That’s a good message for those who own trading platforms but the investor is always left holding the bag."

In Solin’s view the media has "figured out they can capitalize on this inclination to believe people who are put out there as experts and sell the greed and fear and anxiety that pleases their advertisers."

With this frenzy as a backdrop, financial advisors say they’re getting swamped with calls from reporters wanting to know what they’re doing to keep clients calm.

And at least one FA isn’t playing along. Mark Smith of Vision Wealth Planning in Glen Allen, Va., says he regularly gets requests for comment from the press. But when volatility ratchets up the calls from reporters start pouring in -- six or eight a day, "All of them asking, what am I doing about the market, what am I telling clients, is this the beginning of the next bear, and so on," he tells FA-IQ.

In the market retreat about a month ago, Smith, who manages about $30 million and charges on an hourly and project basis, says he "responded to none" of the media requests on the premise that "if you want a fire to die down, you stop adding logs."

“The media has figured out they can capitalize on this inclination to believe people who are put out there as experts and sell the greed and fear and anxiety that pleases their advertisers.”
Dan Solin

Smith clarifies: "The best way to help clients steer clear of news hype is not to add to the news hype," he says. "If I want clients to focus on things other than the market, like planning items that are actually in their control, those are the things we discuss."

Echoing Solin, Edward Snyder of Oak Tree Advisors in Carmel, Ind., says his first message to clients in periods of market volatility is "that bad news sells." In the face of "attention-grabbing headlines" about losses, selloffs and downturns, he urges "people to turn off the TV and remember their long-term plans."

But the real work of countering media hype "starts long before the market slumps," says Snyder, an independent affiliate of Commonwealth Financial Network. "From the day we meet with a prospective client we let them know that we will develop a financial and investment plan for them and we will not react to market declines or economic news of the day."

Dan Solin

More crucially, Snyder drives home to clients "that the success of their investments in meeting the needs of their financial plans will mostly depend upon how they behave with their investments, especially when the market is volatile."

The antidote to panic and intemperance is "discipline and patience," adds Snyder. "We remind clients that volatility is short term and their goals are long term."

But Scott Fligel of Fligel Financial Services in Charlotte, N.C., tells FA-IQ he likes "to let clients vent regarding their feelings about market volatility, negative news and disappointing statements."

Then, crucially, he follows up. "I then ask if there is anything else," he says. This has been key because many times "there is something else on their mind."

If there is, they tackle it together. "If not, I ask their goals and what has changed" since the last check-in, says Fligel, an affiliate of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management. "Bottom line, if the goals have not changed, the plan should not change and ultimately investments should not change."

But the obviousness of that message doesn’t detract from its power, says Fligel. If he’s learned anything from 25 years in the business it’s that "clients like hearing everything is going to be OK" -- despite braying headlines and breathless updates.