There is growing sentiment that technology is largely responsible for the high stress levels we’re all experiencing today — financial advisors included. In an always-on and connected world, we find ourselves working constantly with few signs of this pace slowing down.
Life has sped up because of technology and we all struggle to keep up. With 24/7 service availability a reality, client expectations are higher now. People want information immediately, and they can get much of it online right away through their mobile devices. We email each other at all hours of the day and night, as information flows freely, uninterrupted by office hours or vacations.
As a result, there’s no escape now from stress as work permeates every aspect of our lives, with the smartphone acting as a constant tether. Clearly, freedom comes at a cost. Chronic stress is a big problem and the concept of “downtime” — once a daily ritual called “the coffee break” — is always postponed. What breaks we do take are used to decompress and counteract the stress we endure on a full-time basis. This is not what a healthy work/life balance should be.
In addition, downsizing has led to more work being done by fewer people, so we work longer hours with less sleep and relaxation. We adopt technology to become more productive, but now know that working on the computer late at night leads to sleep disorders. We’ve invented a new disease, fear of missing out (known as “FOMO”), which is common among social media users who spend too much time checking their friends’ and family’s Instagram and Facebook accounts. We stress that we’re missing out on a better time elsewhere. In short, we are abusing communications technology.
Although many people are stressed, advisors, in particular, are under siege. Equity markets are terrible, down by 20% from their 2014 high, and investors are agitated, wondering when their portfolios will recover. Advisors who try to reassure their clients through frequent updates unwittingly fan the flames through daily market recaps, newsletters and other efforts to distil market information into smaller sound bytes.
The global financial crisis in 2008-09 took its toll on many investors, but also on advisors who were trying to help their clients through the meltdown. Although the market correction has not been as extreme this time, the emotional impact and memories from the global financial crisis are fresh in everyone’s minds. Since then, the emphasis has been on greater regulatory disclosure, more transparency and repercussions to advisors who fail to adhere to new suitability requirements. All this only puts more responsibility on the advisor, with all the stress that it carries.
So, how can advisors reduce stress levels for clients and themselves, given all the communications channels at their disposal? The answer lies not in new technology, but in an old practice. Specifically, stop typing and pick up the phone — or even go see your clients. Another email or newsletter intended to reassure the investor and convince them to “stay the course” will have far less impact than if the client hears your voice or looks you in the eye. For all its benefits, technology has not replicated these human connections.
By far, the most effective communication medium is face-to-face; it promotes trust and a two-way dialogue. Combining face-to-face communication with something written will usually have a calming effect both on you and your clients.
Although the landscape looks a little bleak at the moment, the good news is that investors’ need for advice is not going away. Advisors may feel the added burden of serving their clients in this fast-paced, technology-enabled marketplace. But one result of information overload and 24/7 access is that investors have less time to manage their investments and do their own financial planning. In fact, fewer than one in 10 people are “do-it-yourself” investors. Indeed, your clients feel just as stretched as you. So, advisors who offer a healthy balance of personal and technical support to investors will strengthen their client relationships and overcome the most stressful situations.