We live in an age where anyone with an internet connection can become an investor and financial advice can be delivered by an algorithm-driven robot. It’s easier than ever to manage your own financial plan, but there’s good reason not to.
When UK Sport ran a study in 2016 to determine what factors contributed to Olympic athletes taking home the gold, they found that it came down to the coach-athlete relationship. Winning athletes weren’t only technically supported by their coaches, but also emotionally.
Like sport, money can be emotional. No matter how much research you do, knowing the facts often isn’t enough. You need an expert coach. A coach who knows the ins and outs of all the technicalities, but, importantly, can formulate a plan and keep you on track with your plan when life gets bumpy.
Data vs expertise
Information is easily accessible, but how that information is applied and interpreted is what makes the difference. A pro-athlete is unlikely to follow a YouTube training regime because a good strategy requires knowledge and experience of how to apply the data most effectively to the athlete’s unique circumstances and goals.
It’s the same in the world of personal finance, where you want to consult someone who can take a holistic view of all of the factors that make your situation unique. A financial planner doesn’t just have the data, but knows how to best apply it, as illustrated so effectively in this graphic compliments of Zechariah Schaefer, founder of Ascent Personal Finance in the US.
What does a financial planner bring to the table?
It’s a misnomer that a financial planner’s job is only to invest money. Financial planning isn’t a once-off portfolio creation. It’s more like an ongoing relationship that takes your own, individual, goals and circumstances into account and creates a roadmap that will get you where you want to go.
In addition to this outcomes-based roadmap, a financial planner has expert knowledge about how you can optimise your earnings through tax reduction (investing money in a tax-efficient manner, the correct use of tax wrappers, tax reliefs and the avoidance of tax "errors") and maximise various tax breaks and allowances. Some of the other services they can provide are retirement advice, mortgage advice, insurance advice and estate planning.
But perhaps the most important function of all is emotional support. Your financial planner is someone who can listen to you, guide you and anchor you. Over time your adviser will get to know you and help you focus when emotions start getting in the way. In times of volatility like we’ve seen recently, a financial advisor is an objective voice of reason who’s aware of your personal circumstances and can remind you of your goals.
Psychological factors that can derail your financial plans
No matter how rational you are in general, you are still human. In fact, there’s a whole field of study (called “behavioural finance”) that looks at the psychological influences and biases that affect the financial behaviours of investors. These are just a few examples of what can subconsciously come into play when you’re trying to make decisions about money.
People are likely to follow the majority. If you’re hearing about a lot of people making a particular financial choice, you’re more likely to make it too even if it’s not a sound choice for your personal circumstances.
Your understanding of value relies on benchmarks that might no longer be relevant or may only be relevant in certain circumstances. This can cause you to hang on to an investment too long while hoping it will reach your anchor price, or even purchase an undervalued investment based on your concept of what it should be valued at.
You’re more likely to believe information that confirms what you already believe, even if it’s flawed.
A part of human development is the creation of psychological blueprints for how things should happen. It’s critical for understanding of cause and effect as we grow. However, when it comes to finance, it means that once we’ve experienced something once, we often expect the same thing to happen again, no matter how unlikely it is to happen in reality.
Sunk cost fallacy
When we lose something like money or time, it’s natural to have trouble letting it go. Rather than accepting the loss and moving on, we tend to throw good after bad in hope of making back what we lost. This is the sunk cost fallacy. In reality, we’re often more likely to double up those losses.
System 1 hijack
Even when we’re level-headed and aware of our own biases, we’re all subject to baser instincts at times. Psychologist and economist, Daniel Kahneman, divided our minds into two systems. System 2 is the conscious mind that’s educated and informed, but we also have another system, which he labelled System 1. This system is our animal side that reacts emotively and is driven by fear and greed. In times of volatility, even the most pragmatic investor can make rash decisions.
This is where it makes sense to have a financial planner who has the emotional distance and impartiality to make the calls you can’t rely on yourself to make objectively.
A good financial planner is like a good coach. Not only do they have a thorough technical knowledge and record of success, but they can also be an anchor, confidant and ally.
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