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Advisor to Advisor: "Stop Jumping to Solutions"

The financial industry has been going through a Renaissance since the technology revolution, just as the world has.

The problem is we are confusing gathering and processing information with wisdom.

Easy access to information provided by the internet has advanced our society; there is no doubt. The internet can quickly answer the "what to do" and "how to do it" questions. The dark side of this easy access is it encourages us to oversimplify- assuming we know everything and everyone by what we find on the internet.

We crave speed. The faster I can pick out a keyword or two, the faster I can decide that I already know everything about you and how to fix whatever may be broken.

Got a rash on your arm? Google it, and you will have definitions, pictures, diagnoses, and treatment for more rashes than most knew existed. Not to mention the added bonus, you will now have treatment advertisements popping up all over your social media sites.

The same craving for speed holds true for many things, including financial advice.

Want to rebalance your portfolio? With an internet search, you will be given every theory around rebalancing, when to rebalance, and why you should, along with software or companies that will be glad to do it for you. Information is cheap and easy. Having information available is terrific, but that is not the debate.

Technology-driven decisions are easy, but using only data and algorithms is lazy and incomplete. There is much more to making a sound decision than using a single algorithm or one set of data.

When my youngest son Sean was diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things that his doctor said to us was, "Do not go on the internet for answers. The information will be overwhelming, and you likely will not find comfort in what you read. But most importantly, none of the information is about your son, it is only about his cancer, and the only thing you need to be concerned with is him."

His advice was the best advice about the internet I have ever received!

The internet could tell me nothing about my son's courage and strength in the face of adversity. The internet could not replace the instinct of the Medac doctor who asked for a blood test outside of the protocol based on Sean's symptoms.

Sound advice (medical, financial, or otherwise) is carefully built on top of information, not with merely accumulating information.

wisdom600x600Sound advice comes from wisdom. Wisdom takes time to acquire and has to be expressly sought after. It takes thought and experience. Wisdom is not a commodity.

You cannot click on "wisdom" and get a one size fits all answer. A more in-depth and more valuable approach requires time, commitment, money, and change. Yes, that's right, change in how we apply what we have learned and in how we view our clients and their needs!

The most significant financial breakthrough to date in my career is the recognition of how much psychology has to do with investing. The biggest separator between advice and potentially the best advice is learned from the study of psychology. In the world of finance, the branch is known as Behavioral Economics.

One of the best books I have come across to explain the "why" in our behavior is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He and his partner Amos Tversky did us all an excellent service by showing us how susceptible we all are to confidently make poor choices.

Behavioral economics is a relatively new school of thought to the investing world, yet it has shaken long-standing investment pillars to the core. We all would be wise to spend more time evaluating essential decisions through the lens of behavioral economics and not just existing financial norms.

Use technology, not for the quick answer, but to corral as much information and data as possible, then filter it through the lens of wisdom, taking into consideration potential psychological money traps that we are all susceptible to.

Until the advent of behavioral economics in the early 2000's, the most used financial theories were born from the idea that we all "maximize utility" (an economic term for making rational choices) and, given the same set of circumstances, any logical person will come to the same investment conclusion. This logic is the root of the beliefs in the financial theories of a random walk down Wall Street, modern portfolio theory, and asset allocation.

The financial world has given some ground on the influence of psychology in investing, but often still clings to the belief in the overriding validity of the earlier academic theories.

51DJaigYDeL. SX327 BO1204203200 In her book about playing poker, The Biggest Bluff, Maria Konnikova, a New Yorker writer with a PhD in psychology describes the results of her research that shows how quickly people make up their minds and how unwilling they are to change them. One of the great paradoxes of psychology is that while being wrong should make us question our assumptions; it regularly has the opposite effect. We very often choose to discard the evidence and dig into our prior beliefs even harder.

Unfortunately, it is also often easier for a financial firm's sales force to sell a simple or familiar approach rather than use what they really believe from the evidence is the best way to invest.

For example, asset allocation fits rather nicely into the mode of spreadsheet financial planning. Plug your savings rate into a software program that accounts for your anticipated spending in retirement against your income sources to determine if your shortfall can be made up by the end value of your savings efforts over some period of time.

Using this type of planning exclusively is not worth the time or money spent, in my opinion. Mostly the time, because this familiar industry standard comes with little cost in time or money and, sadly, value. Although the ad campaigns will say this planning will change your life, it is an overpromise and under-delivery experience for sure.

Before we can discover true financial wisdom, especially for our clients, the motive underlying that search must be determined. Much of our media today – social media, news media, including financial media – are less concerned with an individual's welfare than they are getting as many individuals as possible to watch their pitch so they can increase their ad revenue.

As a result, we constantly find ourselves caught in a "dialogue of the deaf"— a situation in which people share their views without actually listening to or acknowledging each other, including in the world of finance. As long as we are still partaking in this dialogue, we'll never reach a good conclusion.

Many financial institutions and advisors are less concerned with a client's well-being than they are with gathering their assets. Good planning cannot be done in our current "cheap is better" financial advice market. Sound planning and discipline are key to avoid costly trial and error finance.

Yes, some things are better as a result of all the access we have to information, but quicker and easier access to information has often come also at the cost of civil discourse. I am not only referring to how we treat each other but our willingness to use easily accessible information to marginalize each other and narrow our approach to clients as well. We are all more than whatever box someone uses to describe us.

Much of what we get wrong financially is following what feels 'right' or 'good' to us. Look at these examples of familiar behavior. A basic rule of thumb is to buy an investment at a low cost and sell it for a higher value. Yet most of us have done the opposite, if we are being honest. Buying life insurance is not what any of us want to do with our money, and the result is many find themselves in financial hardship at the death of a spouse. We insist on holding on to an unprofitable investment, compounding the loss, hoping it will turn around while knowing that the more you lose, the higher your return needs to be just to break even.

It is our humanness, our psychology, which prevents us from doing the right thing while making it easy to do what everyone else does. Let's all jump to the same solution.

We can connect with the people who see things our way and, unfortunately, marginalize everyone else. We can join the herd mentality. We can jump to simple solutions immediately. We have information from people just like us, and we can do what they do, giving no thought at all to what other considerations or points of view may add to our search for direction.

Or we can transform this "dialogue of the deaf". We can really listen to other's input, including our client's story, and use all the tools at our disposal to find the best solution.

Forgive me for sounding trite, but it all starts from within. Some self-searching, combined with a little humility, could go a long way to a better you and ultimately a better us, acknowledging that people are not commodities, and our complexities make us interesting.

The great news is we can all apply the basics and then hopefully grow beyond them- whether in our personal lives or in our finance practices!

The proper marriage is combining the 'free' universal rules of wealth accumulation with more profound thought processes required to pursue the best possible outcomes.

Professional advice is for the "what happens after the basics are covered". A client is now ready for specific tailored advice that is beyond a one- size-fits-all formula. Realistically, a fee will be required for this. (Sorry, wisdom and its application come with a price.)

Typically, this advice flows through the six pillars of sound financial planning- investment management, real estate strategies, insurance services, estate planning, tax planning, and liability structuring. But as mentioned earlier, Behavioral Economics has shaken these long-standing investment pillars to the core.

We need to see these pillars in a new way- through taking real time with real people and with the wisdom that comes when we are able to seek advice from those who can enrich our knowledge, and be willing to listen when someone offers to come alongside and help- even if they are seemingly coming from a different place or point of view.

Being willing to mentor, to coach, and to teach each other when the need arises (as well as knowing which type of help fits the moment) allows for a wise decision.

No matter how old you or your clients are or what part of life you or your clients are now experiencing, the financial basic rules are the place to start. (I believe the beginning is not related to your age but instead to the time when you decide to work toward your best.) How are you or your client going to attack life from this point forward?

We all look for information and seek wisdom in our lives and work, but to what end? Do we see a bigger picture that includes a history and builds a legacy? Or, are we more comfortable staying in territory we recognize and understand?

Are we going to be a "Competer," a "Completer," or a "Retreater"?

I believe we must become Competers or Completers, not Retreaters to successfully grow our practices and to find richness in our work. Let me explain in terms of a special and personal kind of competition, the Ironman race.

I started doing Ironman racing to honor my youngest son Sean's cancer journey. At the time of this writing, he is nine years removed from his diagnosis. He is fortunate to be listed as a survivor, but like most childhood cancer survivors, he deals with long term health issues from the lifesaving treatments.

Each year the Ironman has become a celebration for us, another year of a hard-fought victory. He is here, and that is something I am very grateful for and do not take for granted. Did you know a child is diagnosed with cancer every 2 minutes, and 2 out of 5 will die? My day is already great the minute I see Sean come down the stairs in the morning to say Hello.

I will never win, place, or show in an Ironman race, because I do not compete to win. I am a Completer, one step at a time, savoring every minute of the journey until I finish the race. I am not a Competer, pushing to win. Competers strive to be the best. I do not have to be the best at something to feel complete. I just have to know that I did my best. With that said, we have much in common.

I do not have the desire or the skills to be a Competer, but that does not diminish my satisfaction and enjoyment of completing the 140.6 miles of this grueling physical test. I admire the Competer's will, determination, their God-given talent, and their skill that, when combined, allows them to get to the finish line faster.

However, it is important to note that we both (Competer and Completer) know what is required to do long-distance endurance racing. We share much of the same experience, equipment, technique, and knowledge. Combining all of this information into wisdom allows us to finish the race. However, much of this wisdom came from others willing to help other competitors make better use of the information available.

Whether a Competer or a Completer, participating in the race allows one to come alongside and help others do the same. My family does whatever we can to go alongside other families with children fighting cancer. Helping each other with humility, bringing more than just information, is what Competers and Completers can offer others if they so choose. They can bring a partnership- a partnership of individuals who listen to each other.

People helping people is crucial, just like our client-advisor relationship.

This leads us to the "Retreater". One hopes we never fall into this category. This is the change we must strive for in our industry. Avoiding this mindset and kind of practice is critical.

Social media has given this type of person a platform. They are quick-to-judge and categorize, to poke fun at the people putting in the work. We all know at least one naysayer like this- only one if we are lucky. The worst of this group are the people who add a voice to their division-making.

You know who they are, they are the voices that speak of the problem and tell you who is to blame while offering up what you should do about it with little to no thought to alternatives. "We are in this together only if you see it from my point of view," they say. "I am so enlightened, and you are not."

Their passion and energy does not come from building another person up but from tearing another person down for their benefit or to boost their position. They imply, "I am right, and you are wrong" or worse, "not only are you wrong, you are not even a person". For Retreaters, other people are commodities used to measure themselves against.

The problem with this shortsightedness is that Retreaters look for advice only from "our people" not from the people who are best prepared to help. Acting on advice that at best does not harm is not the same as acting on advice that is in our or our client's best interest.

The wrong advice or "workable" advice means better advice is available, and, when that realization hits, trial and error finance occurs, but that is not their concern.

The Retreater dismisses collaboration with others or other ideas as too much work for little benefit. After all, they are so enlightened and the technology so superior to yesterday that they believe they can skip straight to the answer, jumping to solutions. Besides, Retreaters don't need to change. It's everyone else who does.

Where the Competer and Completer both see value is in getting help, finding advice from those who can help and are willing to offer to come alongside. To allow someone to mentor, to coach, and to teach when the need arises (as well as knowing which type of help fits the moment) allows for wise decisions and strategies.

Growth comes from the appeal of direction over solution. The answers come from putting in the work.
Competers and Completers finish races because they fight and win the battles, small and large, that occur all along the way. The lens of finishing the race keeps the focus on finding the right answers as problems arise, rather than just giving standard answers and pat solutions.

Competers and Completers are not looking for cheap solutions. Cost is not their concern as much as value is. The Competer and Completer are not afraid to enter this type of arrangement because ultimately, they want to finish the race. They are willing to work through the uncomfortable.

Time is your most valuable commodity. Wasting time stuck in the loop of trial and error investing and finance is the major roadblock that Competers and Completers are trying to avoid. If you want to live life to the fullest, you cannot get stuck in this loop.

I only thought of time indirectly until my son's cancer diagnosis. My son's experience continues to alter my view of time. Most activities I participate in are taken under the microscope of evaluating the best use of my time and deciding what else I could be doing that is more valuable. There is much to say about this subject.

For now, I offer up two thoughts relating to time and the financial planning industry. Financial independence is different than just retirement, and a legacy is not something that gets determined after your death.

Financial independence starts with your first paycheck and ends with your last portfolio distribution.
We make decisions every day with what to do with our money, and those decisions have consequences. The best "consequence" is that the goals, if achieved, are really important to us. They speak to who we are and what we are about. Many goals are never realized, because we don't know that we missed them, because we never bothered to think about them.

Most of us do not have the means to make our stories whatever we want, which makes our choices even more important.

And a final thought. It is never too early to make a difference for others. Legacies are built over a lifetime. They are built from the simplicity of doing, from every goal reached, from all the shared moments accumulated through living.

Sean, during his treatments, became enamored with the Statue of Liberty. He talked about Lady Liberty often and that she gave him hope that things could be okay. Post-treatment, we took a family trip to see the Statue of Liberty. The experience of standing in the crown of the statue was priceless. Life found expression through tears of joy on my son's face. He was celebrating beating cancer just like we do at the finish line of every Ironman event.

These individual events are beyond just a bucket list. They are part of my family's story. A story we work to write a piece of every day, building over time what financial independence means to us, creating our legacy with each shared experience.

The sum of our choices is what we celebrate in the end. Our celebrations come at a price- of the time and money spent on our experiences as well as the opportunity costs (what we chose not to do). My family realizes that we are blessed. We know way too many beautiful families whose future shared experiences were lost when their child's cancer battle reached an unimaginable conclusion.

Sean travels to Washington every year to remind our elected officials that they are not doing enough for kids fighting cancer or the survivors like him who do not live a "normal" life. My son is not concerned with building his legacy. He is concerned for the next kid having to go through his experience, which will ultimately be a piece of his legacy. Sean is already leaving this world a far better place than he found it.

No one can fully appreciate the end of the race until they reach it, but all milestones along the way should be celebrated because life does not come with a guarantee. The important thing is to keep going because you will never know how far you can go until you try to go far.

Every Ironman race is the same distance, but all that leads up to getting ready for that race and each race itself is different. I savor every experience while never losing sight of the "why" I race in the first place. Good Morning, Sean!

I have recently discovered a financial reality of helping others find their way through this technological world – economies of scale.

The first sixteen years of my career were spent trying to get away from the canned process, advice, and products of the big financial companies to strike out on my own. In the next ten years (after building a process and discipline to help people achieve), I found frustration in working around technology that fell short.

It has been my experience that the larger firms cannot deliver on the type of process discussed above because it is not easily replicated across their sales force. They are not concerned about individual differences and needs, just getting bigger.

Many smaller firms recognize the need to take time and be client-centric, but cannot do that efficiently because they cannot afford the technology that produces the best results.

Having fallen in the latter category, my business partner and I looked for a partner who shared our vision and also had the technology to deliver the goods.

We've now lived the Goldilocks story with our career paths. We are now in a partnership that's not too big, it's not too small, but it's "just right".

I am so looking forward to what clients will be able to achieve through their experience with us as a part of Hayden Royal.

Process, discipline, wisdom, and technology combine to help each client find and live financial independence, while building true legacies, one experience at a time.

Hayden Royal is an investment adviser registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any level of skill or training. The information presented in the material is general in nature and is not designed to address your investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs. Prior to making any investment decision, you should assess, or seek advice from a professional regarding whether any particular transaction is relevant or appropriate to your individual circumstances. This material is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney, or accountant. Consultation with the appropriate professional should be done before any financial commitments regarding the issues related to the situation are made.

The opinions expressed herein are those of Hayden Royal and may not actually come to pass. This information is current as of the date of this material and is subject to change at any time, based on market and other conditions. Although taken from reliable sources, Hayden Royal cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information received from third parties.

 

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