Bear Markets: A Test
The clash between what a client wants to do and should do may never be clearer than in a bear market. “My primary objective during [market volatility] is to help clients stay invested,” says Brian Chang, senior wealth advisor at Kayne Anderson Rudnick in Los Angeles. “Time in the market trumps timing the market.”

Yet clients often don’t agree. If he can help them see that their asset allocation is designed to withstand volatility and drawdowns, he says, it’s not only better for the client’s long-term goals but also advantageous for the relationship. “Bear markets are a great time to develop a deeper understanding of clients’ biases and fears, which will strengthen the future advisory experience,” Chang argues.

Nevertheless, some advisors just don’t have time for that. “The ‘art’ makes the decision process take longer,” says Rick Polenske, a managing director at Robertson Stephens in Boise, Idaho. “Many advisors like to stay with the science and have the numbers run it all.”

He suggests employing a team approach—having one member present the hard data and another connect with clients on a more personal, intuitive level.

A Combination Of Skill Sets Works Best
Most advisors acknowledge that their job requires both art and science. Cameron Rahbar, a wealth strategist at Anchor Capital in Boston, says, “Our clients expect fluency in the science, but we think our effectiveness comes from the art.”

Others note that the science of compiling economic models and calculating financial outcomes isn’t really a science at all, or at least not a hard science. “Investing isn’t physics, and markets don’t necessarily follow immutable laws,” says Charles Lewis Sizemore, principal at Sizemore Capital Management in Dallas. “While we try to approach investing as scientifically as possible, it’s important to stay humble and accept that things don’t always work the way they’re ‘supposed to.’”

This kind of wisdom comes with experience. “As my career has progressed, I have come to believe that the capital markets offer fewer truths and ‘knowns’ than I had once thought,” says Christopher Sidoni, managing partner and chief investment officer at Gibson Capital in Wexford, Pa.

Can The Art Of Financial Advising Be Taught?
Which raises an important question: The quantitative aspects of finance can be taught, and knowledge of them is what’s tested and measured in licensing and certification programs. But can the less rigid, more qualitative sensibilities be learned, too?

“These so-called soft skills can absolutely be taught,” says Frank Corrado, managing director at Robertson Stephens in Holmdel, N.J. But the advisor has to be fully invested in the exercise. “There must be a mental power shift from brain thinking/reacting to heart listening/empathy,” he says.

Jeffrey Levine, chief planning officer at Buckingham Wealth Partners in St. Louis, says that advisors “can become even more impactful” if they take the time to learn about body language and nonverbal cues.

Similar advice comes from Ryan Roy, a vice president and wealth advisor at Girard, a Univest Wealth division in King of Prussia, Pa. He says that advisors should intentionally focus on the client’s verbal and nonverbal cues. “Imagine yourself in the client’s circumstances. And consider how your own emotions and responses influence your decisions and behavior.”

Doing so, says Steven Giacona, founder and CEO of Round Table Wealth Management in Westfield, N.J., requires a balance between IQ or “left brain” aptitude and EQ (emotional quotient) or “right brain” talents. “The more challenging part of becoming a successful advisor is learning to read what the client is really asking,” he says.

Without those skills, the exercise is likely to fail. “Part of our job is to bring definition to our clients’ plan, to help them understand what it means to them and their family,” says Nick Foulks, director of communications strategy and client engagement at Great Waters Financial in Minneapolis. “The plan won’t work if the client doesn’t understand it and believe in it.”

Learn From Pro Athletes
Advisors can improve their game by taking a tip from pro athletes. “Do a ‘game’ analysis after each client meeting,” suggests Tom Henske, a financial advisor at The Affluent Insurance Advisor in New York City. It will help you “develop a superior skill for interacting with clients, knowing what words to use, what questions to ask, and [how] to read the situation by the body language and tone of a client’s answers,” he says.

For diligent advisors, though, this should not be too much of a stretch. “Most advisors go into the business, in fact, because at some level they enjoy observing and learning from different types of people,” says Kimberly Foss, president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif.

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