One of the most important roles for financial advisors is that of behavioral coach and information curator. While many investors need encouragement during stock market downturns, I’m beginning to think that financial advisors should make sure we continue to coach and encourage during bull markets. Advisors are humans too, and it can be easy to relax when markets are moving in a positive direction.
I wrote the post below in one of my newsletters during the crazy market swings of 2020. I think the message should be heeded in all market seasons. Check out the original commentary, and try to remember how you were feeling during the scary market of 2020….
About 10 minutes away from our office in Fort Mill, SC, there’s a theme park called Carowinds. For years, there was a ride called Thunder Road. It was an old wooden coaster, so it was pretty much a relic compared to the sleek roller coasters they have today. Thunder Road still held some popularity because it had big hills, and it was a fun ride.
It WAS a fun ride.
A few years ago, I jumped onto Thunder Road in an effort to relive my childhood; and I hated every second of it. I had grown accustomed to the smooth and fast turns of newer coasters, and I had completely forgotten how rough the ride was with Thunder Road. It was so brutal that I knew a chiropractic adjustment was in my near future.
This would be the last time that I would ever ride that coaster. These (older) bones just couldn’t take it. The potential pain just wasn’t worth it.
I imagine those feelings of whiplash are how many investors are feeling at the moment. The last few weeks have been tough to endure, and the truth is that we aren’t out of the woods yet. The fastest 30% decline in stock market history combined with some of the largest daily moves (ever) were more than enough to bring Mr. Fear to the table.
Add the unknown of a global pandemic and 24/7 sensational media coverage, and we may as well have Mr. Fear move in with us. If you’re scared and full of anxiety right now, be encouraged. You are not alone. It’s a scary time, and those feelings are perfectly normal.
Over the last 2 weeks, one way that I’ve been dealing with my own emotions is to search for the good things that are happening. Yes— there are so many good things happening. Private companies are stepping up in a huge way. There is a global effort to combat this virus that’s happening on a scale we haven’t seen in a generation.
However, we are not done with the economic impacts of this virus, nor the economic shutdown it has caused. In the coming weeks, we will likely see some scary headlines. My hope is to prepare you in advance by reminding you of some mythology. To be specific, we’re talking Greek mythology and the story of Odysseus. Odysseus was the main protagonist in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey.
In this story, Odysseus and his men are sailing home from the Trojan War; and they are going to have to sail past the Sirens, who were known for enchanting sailors with their song. In a daze, these sailors would sail their ships too close, aching to hear the Siren song; and they’d crash their ships on the rocks. Odysseus devised a plan that would allow him to hear the Siren song and not fall victim to his impulses. He had his men tie him to the mast of the ship, and he made every sailor put wax in their ears. They were under strict orders to keep him tied firmly to the mast, and if he asked to be loosed, they were to tie him even tighter.
This was Odysseus’s plan to keep him from harming himself and his men. He actually wanted to hear the Siren song, so maybe we need to talk to Odysseus about risk management… but he had a solid plan for how to deal with his impulses.
What are some practical ways that we can “tie ourselves to the mast” in the weeks ahead:
1. Be informed, but guard your mind. A huge percentage of the “news” we receive today is sensationalized and negative. I’ve stated many times that most news today is actually news commentary that is full of opinions about facts. If you need to turn off the tv, turn it off.
2. Stop checking your investment balances every day. Investment success is measured in years (really decades). It is definitely not measured in days. Making a daily habit of looking at investment or retirement accounts only heightens anxiety and fear in rough times.
3. Look for positive stories. And yes, you may have to look because they don’t always get the exposure they deserve. Like I said, we have to guard our minds right now so that our fear and emotions don’t take over. Searching for positive things is a great exercise during times like these.
There are also some proactive steps we can take during this time. Here are some financial planning conversations you can have right now:
🧩 Review Durable Power of Attorney documents and Advanced Healthcare Directives
⚖️ Review Cash Flows and Breakdown Family spending into Wants vs Needs
☂️ Create a “What’s Next?” plan if your Emergency funds get low or run out
✅ Take inventory of assets and investments to look for areas of opportunity
🆘 Review the SBA guidelines about the emergency loans to see if you can qualify for a low interest, forgivable loan
🔀 Consider a ROTH conversion for some of your IRA funds
👨🌾 Review taxable accounts for tax losses to harvest against taxable gains
Our financial planning team is very fortunate in that we are able to operate virtually at almost 100% capacity during this unusual season. If you’d like to review your situation or explore some areas to be proactive, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
It may be difficult to read this and truly remember how scary that time was for some of us. There are still many families that are hurting because of the coronavirus pandemic. Investors and markets have largely recovered and moved into higher territory– in some case, much higher territory.
Instead of hearing the siren song of Fear, investors may be hearing the siren song of Greed.
It’s a wild time right now.
The pendulum with markets can swing both ways. This is why younger investors that are planning for retirement or older investors that are working their retirement income plans need to consider what’s happening and make decisions within the context of their plan.
Sometimes our emotions can tempt us to stray from the path because we:
- look at others making money and think we are missing out
- watch the news media pumping huge market gains and think our strategy is too boring
- listen to friends or family that suddenly have all kinds of investing ideas or opinions
As a financial planner, it’s not uncommon for the latest investing trends or topics to be a hot button of discussion. I love having those conversations with our investors; however, I still maintain a “Plan First” philosophy. What does this mean?
It simply means that I believe you should have a well-crafted, detailed financial plan in place before anything else. Want to pay off debt? Want to save for college? Want to invest? Don’t let your feelings about timing hold you back.
Let’s make a plan.
The power of a strong financial plan can help you make investment decisions in good times and bad. The old cliche is that investing should be considered “a marathon not a sprint.” Think about the entire race you’re running—not just the current circumstances. A good financial plan can help you remain steady (think diamond hands) in good times and bad.