What Makes a Competent Advisor?

A trusted, competent advisor must provide the knowledge and insight necessary to chart an investment course for his clients – as well as the discipline necessary to keep them invested when markets get choppy. Moving away from the nautical metaphors, I recently heard an advisor’s role compared to a pedestrian bridge over an eight-lane highway. Yes, it’s possible to cross those lanes of traffic on your own, but getting to your destination will be a little more harrowing than if you cross safely over a pedestrian bridge.

In addition to providing investment expertise, getting clients safely over the bridge requires helping them to make good decisions. Naturally, those situations are intensely personal. However, if asked for some generic financial decision-making advice, I would say to avoid “trusting your gut.” In fact, our instincts can lead us astray when it comes to our finances. For example, the primitive “flight or fight” impulse that causes us to flee from danger is the same feeling that prompts many investors to sell on a stock’s downturn, precisely at the wrong time. The flip side, of course, is that, pumped up by what Alan Greenspan referred to as “irrational exuberance,” investors are more than willing to overpay for hot stocks.

The emerging field of neuroeconomics probes these financial decision-making idiosyncrasies—and opens pathways to better decisions. Importantly, neuroeconomics teaches that the instinctive regions of the brain constantly, and more immediately, react to stimuli all day long. Yet, we only intermittently apply the slower, more advanced cognitive part of the brain because it requires more time and energy.

Therefore, the competent advisor must ask questions, listen to clients’ answers, develop thoughtful investment and wealth management strategies, carefully monitor their progress, and serve as his or her clients’ personal Chief Financial Officer. This process keeps clients from reacting emotionally in times of market stress and keeps them on the road to reach their goals.

(Note: For a discussion of the six core characteristics–Six Cs–an advisor should have, read What Makes a Great Financial Advisor? and the Six Cs blogs on this topic.)

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