Financial Advisor magazine recently checked in with Nick Murray, a popular contributor, about his take on recent events.

FA: As an advisor to financial advisors, what’s your view from 36,000 feet these days?

Murray: Well, we’ve had a global pandemic, an economy barely emerging from cardiac arrest, the fastest major bear market ever, civil unrest on a scale not seen since the annus horribilis 1968, and the prospect of the most bitterly hyper-partisan presidential election in memory. In short, total chaos. The future is always unknown, but this situation is a perfect Cloud of Unknowing. Thus, it’s a golden opportunity for the authentic financial planner—one that we get once in 10 or a dozen years if we’re lucky. 

FA: How so?

Murray: Six months ago, after the equity market had compounded at 16% for more than 10 years, people thought they had it all figured out. Today, when our mass-affluent target demographic feels itself totally beset and besieged, with absolutely no idea what’s going on, there is no one—no one—we can’t prospect with the offer of a calm, rational second opinion. Moments of maximum uncertainty for them are invariably moments of maximum opportunity for us if we will but act on them.

FA: But if we’re in a Cloud of Unknowing, as you call it, what can advisors tell people?

Murray: Clearly, that it’s time to tune out all the unknowable noise—much of which will probably be in the rearview mirror within a year—and put the focus back where it belongs. That is, on their multi-decade goals of a dignified and independent retirement, kids’/grandkids’ education and legacy.

FA: The variables they can control …

Murray: … instead of the ones they can’t. Exactly.

FA: But isn’t the advisor’s job to analyze the economy and the markets, and to express, or at least have, a coherent view on these?

Murray: Depends on your definition of “advisor.” If he’s merely a portfolio manager, striving against all reason and logic to outperform, then I guess he’s doomed himself to the living hell of selection and timing. But if she’s a holistic financial planner who’s helping people achieve lifetime and even multigenerational goals, then selection and timing become not just unknowable but irrelevant. From that perspective, the right time to invest is whenever you have the money.

FA: How do you see all this playing out, in terms of the society and its values?

Murray: Eternal optimist that I am, I’d like to believe that on a financial level we’re going to be much more careful, in terms of being properly insured, of having more robust emergency cash reserves, and the like. On the human level, I hope we’ll cherish our families, friends, neighbors and communities more consciously and deeply. I suspect that we all have a lot of stored-up hugs and handshakes, and that we’re eager to distribute them liberally.