On Wall Street – 'It's Not 2008': Advisors Try to Quell Client Fears

August 2015

A hard tumble for the markets had advisors worried — about panicked clients. With the Dow dropping more than 1,000 points in early trading and ending the day down nearly 600 points, a 3.6% decline, many feared a deluge of calls and emails.
But that didn’t happen, many advisors said, which was even more scary. “It has been spookily quiet this morning,” says Colleen Schon, an advisor at Raymond James & Associates in Clarkston, Mich., a town about 40 miles north of Detroit.
And Schon wasn’t alone.
“I’ve been surprised at how few calls have come in,” says Kit Paulin, a managing director and branch manager at Benjamin F. Edwards in Decatur, Ill.
Although the phones were quiet, markets were volatile Monday. The S&P 500 fell nearly 4% to 1,893 by the close. The NASDAQ composite dropped 3.8% to 4,526.
Despite plummeting markets, advisors say client reactions this time are proving different. Proactive approaches are paying off, especially with clients known to be “nervous nellies,” advisors say. Paulin, for example, began sending out performance reports to clients on Friday.
“I find that people just need to touch base and make sure that we aren’t hiding under our desks,” Paulin says. “When they see the reality of their accounts, that they are appropriately diversified, that is comforting.” Nick Barringer, financial advisor at Alpha Financial Advisors, said he too sent out emails last week and again at the start of this week.
“We have not really had many calls from panicked investors,” he says.
In addition to reaching out to clients most likely to be rattled by volatility, other preemptive moves may have mollified client worries before they mushroomed. Some advisors say that they recently upped cash portions of portfolios.
IT’S NOT 2008
But clients may still become more anxious should markets continue their decline and volatility persists over the days and weeks ahead. Some advisors may have to do more hand-holding. “I think our clients except to see volatility, but the problem arises when it is actually upon us,” says Scott Tiras, a Houston-based independent advisor affiliated with Ameriprise.
“As the days pass, and the markets stay volatile, clients will start to get fatigue and start to think this time is different,” Tiras says. The last financial crisis also remains fresh in clients’ memories.
“What we have been trying to get through to clients is that this isn’t 2008 again. We don’t have the structural problems,” Kevin Guth, a managing director and advisor at Snowden Lane Partners, says.
Still, the New Haven, Conn.-based Guth says that it can be hard to battle headlines.
“One of my clients heard on ‘Good Morning America’ that markets were down. When that happens it makes people nervous. And the hype involved generates more volatility,” he says.
Should some particularly nervous clients insist on making changes to their portfolio, advisors say there is little to do but let them.
“The most important thing that they can do is get a good night’s sleep. But if they really want to get out [of the market], they can do that,” Tiras says.
After all, it is the client’s money, advisors say.
To help ease those kinds of client concerns, some advisors suggest building wiggle room into their portfolio.
“One of the problems is that clients feel like they have to do something. So if we have the ability to tweak things here and there, that provides comfort,” Benjamin Edwards’ Paulin says.
Craig Bartlett, division consulting manager of U.S. Bancorp Investments, suggests advisors tell worried clients that the “worst move you can make is to react on very short-term movements in the market.”
Schon of Raymond James takes another approach.
“I always tell them it’s their money and their choice,” she says. “But the reason that they hired me is because of my experience. I always remind them that these are the conversations we had in the past, and here are the goals we set up. Has anything in your life changed or have the goals fundamentally changed?”
It all comes down to communication, she says.
“Yes this business is about managing money, but it’s much more about managing expectations, managing risk and managing your client relationships,” Schon says.

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