Advisors occasionally encounter situations where their recommendations conflict with a prospect’s or a client’s opinions or beliefs. When encountering this resistance, the advisor has a choice to make: either to alter their recommendation to make it more acceptable to the client’s way of thinking, or to dig in and attempt to change the client’s mind on the subject (or, in the most extreme cases where the difference cannot be resolved, to re-evaluate the engagement and perhaps end it altogether).
In some cases, it is clear to advisors that it would be inappropriate to try to persuade a client to go against their values. For example, when a client and advisor are divided on a subject stemming from the client’s religious beliefs (e.g., a client who is requesting to use Shariah-compliant funds), few advisors are going to try and talk a client out of those beliefs. And if the advisor is not familiar enough with such religious funds to advise on, the advisor may simply refer the client out to another advisor who is a better fit. But in other cases, such as when a prospect or client wants to follow the advice of a popular financial guru, the advisor may be more tempted to push back.
For advisors in this situation, the Japanese martial art aikido can provide perspective on how to respond. In aikido, rather than fighting or resisting an attack, a defender redirects the attacker’s energy, rendering it harmless. Likewise, when advisors receive pushback from clients which they feel could be harmful to the client if carried out, rather than arguing or persuading the client to change their mind, it may be helpful instead to think about how they could redirect that energy in a harmless (or even beneficial) direction.
While many financial advisors may disagree with the opinions espoused by pundits like Dave Ramsey and others (e.g., their views on asset allocation or paying down debt), nonexperts often find them very compelling. Furthermore, in some cases, following the advice of a financial guru might have had a real positive impact on a client’s life – meaning that, for the advisor, convincing a client to simply ignore a popular pundit’s advice and start following the advisor’s (possibly conflicting) recommendations might be a difficult and even unrealistic proposition for the client.
Advisors in this situation can consider using the lessons of aikido. Instead of trying to change their clients’ beliefs, it may be possible to channel them in a more productive manner. For example, if a client wants to follow a pundit’s asset allocation advice, an advisor could – rather than taking a hard line – try to see what it is about the pundit’s advice that appeals to the client, and then construct a portfolio that aligns with those values (while still being sound from the advisor’s perspective).
From this perspective, building the portfolio becomes an exercise that is similar to any other values-based investment philosophy (e.g., Socially Responsible Investing). In order to best align with the client’s values, the advisor may need to operate from a slightly limited fund universe – which, despite not being 100% optimized from the advisor’s perspective, can still be a worthwhile compromise as a way to build a portfolio that aligns with a client’s bigger-picture values (and that they, therefore, may be more likely to stick with in the long run).
Ultimately, the key point is that for financial advisors, understanding and appreciating a client’s values can make all the difference between working with an engaged and enthusiastic client, and one with whom the advisor might fight long and hard to ‘detox’ of their beliefs (and potentially end up losing the battle anyway). This is the core of investment management aikido – instead of fighting the client’s values, an advisor can redirect their energy in as beneficial of a way as possible!