May 9, 2013, 12:11 p.m. EDT
Study finds emotional fallout had lasting impact on decision making
Financial advisers were shellshocked in the months and perhaps years following the 2008 financial crisis. Many couldn’t sleep, they suffered bouts of anxiety and depression and self-doubt. In fact, according to just-published academic research: some 93% of advisers and planners surveyed wrestled with post-traumatic stress disorder. And many are still reeling from the effects.
Nearly every single financial professional interviewed as part of the research reported medium to high levels of post-traumatic stress, according to the study published in the Journal of Financial Therapy. The survey — “Financial Trauma: Why the Abandonment of Buy-and-Hold in Favor of Tactical Asset Management May be a Symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress” — found that another 40% of planners reported severe symptoms. The respondents managed assets with an average value of between $20 million and $40 million.
“A lot of these financial planners I worked with couldn’t sleep at night,” says Brad Klontz, an associate professor at Kansas State University and co-author of the study. “They shoulder a great deal of the financial and emotional responsibility when they manage client assets.” Indeed, a separate 2008 survey by financial planner Katherine Vessenes also found that 90% of financial planners reported that the fall in the market had increased their stress levels, and 30% said their work lives negatively affected their sleep.
To meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of post-traumatic stress, people must exhibit disturbances like the inability to sleep or concentrate at work for more than a month. “People with post-traumatic stress disorder experience intense negative emotions, particularly anxiety and fear,” says E. David Klonsky, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. “Risky behaviors like substance use, aggression and thrill-seeking can sometimes provide temporary relief.”
During the height of the crisis, may financial planners did increase their risk-taking, the research found. Almost half of those financial planners followed by Klontz reported that the financial crisis caused them to dramatically rethink their strategies. Over the past five years, Klontz tracked the changing investment of financial planners. “There’s an entire industry that’s moving to tactical planning or market-timing,” he says.
A slew of recent studies of investment strategies have also confirmed as much. Some 83% of financial planners are moving away from buy-and-sell and toward market-timing, according to a 2011 survey carried out by newsletter and website publisher Bob Veres, a financial planner based in San Diego, Calif. Another survey by account provider Curian Capital similarly concluded that 63% of over 1,000 independent financial advisers also began switching to more tactical asset-allocation strategies.
“These findings provide an academic view of what I’ve seen,” says Tom McGuigan, principal with Exencial Wealth Advisors in Old Lyme, Conn. But, he says, the change in strategies due to stress or anxiety does not yield the best results. “I’ve come across odd things in prospective clients’ portfolios,” he says. They include “tons of cash” in money markets and certificates of deposits, he says, and portfolios worth their weight in gold and crude oil. “Those folks have certainly lost out,” McGuigan says.
With the Dow now crossing the 15,000 mark, some advisers could be forgiven for having flashbacks, experts say. “Most CFPs who bought the optimal asset-allocation dogma lock, stock and barrel, without questioning some of the fundamental assumptions, are having a crisis of confidence,” says Eric Schaefer, chief investment products officer at American Independence Financial Services in New York. In 2008, many advisers cut their losses. “This is one of the reasons for the proliferation of tactical strategies and explosion in ETFs,” he says.
And others don’t want to be caught out when the market does turn — and say they’ve merely become more engaged with their clients. Finding new strategies are crucial, particularly as the market is “manipulated” by Federal Reserve bond purchases, says Doug Lockwood, branch president of Hefty Wealth Partners in Auburn, Ind. Over the last five years, his firm has increased market commentaries and has a tighter monitoring of planning tools. “Every strategy works some of the time, but no strategy works all of the time,” he says.