Being a financial advisor is a high-stakes stressful job. Not only can it be emotionally exhausting to be the supporting pillar for our clients during their times of emotional stress, but for most of us, it’s also our livelihood, and our family’s livelihood, and our employees’ livelihood when they rely on the business for their jobs… and of course, we may be responsible for dozens or hundreds of our clients and their life savings. Which means being a financial advisor comes with its own emotional rollercoaster as an advisor – from the wonderful feelings that come from times of great business and client success, to the pressure and stress that come from more difficult times. Which raises an important question: Where do you as a financial advisor turn for support to deal with your own emotional stress of being a financial advisor?
In this week’s #OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces, my Tuesday 1PM EST broadcast via Periscope, we discuss where financial advisors can turn to deal with the emotional stress of being a financial advisor, and why it is so important to build a social support system for yoruself that may include different “tiers” of support, since you will likely need to turn to different people for help with different problems and needs!
For most advisors, our first support system for the ups and downs of the business is our support system for all the ups and downs of life: our spouse, other family members, and/or our close friends. These people are close to us and we can trust that they want what’s best for us, so they are great for support – whether it’s just someone to vent to or a shoulder to cry on, or to give us candid and sometimes critical feedback when we need it. Of course, the biggest caveat to going to friends and family as your support system for the business is that they don’t necessarily know anything about the actual advisory business. So while they may be able to provide some basic emotional support – which may be crucial during tough times – they often won’t be able to provide the type of advice that may be needed to truly change an advisor’s situation for the better.
As a result, the second tier of support for financial advisors is peers and colleagues in the business. Much like how support systems evolve around people facing similar problems in many areas (e.g., AA for those suffering from alcoholism), sometimes the best people to go to for support are your peers who have similar experiences. For many advisors, these are co-workers in their office, but particularly for those working under an independent broker-dealer without a large local branch, or starting an independent RIA (which may not even have an office), this support system can be formed through friends outside the firm but in the advisor industry. The benefit of this support system is that these advisors can better commiserate with you on the challenges you face, and give even better context for what’s really a big deal, and what’s not. The downside to this support system, however, is that sometimes the relationships may not be intimate enough for you to truly turn to when you need help (e.g., people you only communicate with occasionally on message boards), and other times they may not be people you can openly communicate with regarding certain issues you may be facing (e.g., you may not feel comfortable discussing career opportunities with your manager or at an association meeting).
The third tier of an advisor support system – the study group (or “mastermind” group, since it’s not really about “studying” but finding experienced peers) – can help address some of these prior issues. Due to the smaller and more intimate setting of study groups, you can form deeper trust and make yourself vulnerable to the people in the group. Additionally, since study groups are formed by people far enough removed from your own situation that they won’t have conflicts of interest in how they advise you (unlike an employer or co-workers), you can receive more objective feedback. The challenge for many advisors in this tier is forming a study group in the first place. But fortunately, the process isn’t that complex (find a half a dozen advisors or so that you want to trust and get to know better, invite them to be in a study group, start meeting regularly, and form those connections!), but it does take time and effort.
All of that being said, sometimes people simply do not prefer to interact in a group setting when dealing with certain issues, which brings us to the fourth tier of an advisor support system: mentors and executive coaches. Finding a mentor means finding someone who has at least a little more experience than you, and hopefully a little more wisdom and perspective from that experience, that you can go to with your problems. Mentors can provide great support, but the challenge here is that not everyone will be a great mentor (even if they are a great advisor), and sometimes it’s simply too hard to find a great mentor. As a result, some advisors will decide to hire an executive coach. Notably, this is not a consultant for technical business issues, but instead, someone who can help you figure out what you want from your business, hold you accountable when needed, and sometimes just provide a bit of emotional support. Of course, coaches aren’t cheap (especially for financial advisors), but a skilled coach can have a really powerful impact that more than recovers their cost.
The bottom line, though, is just to understand that you need to have some kind of personal support system, to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that come from being a business owner in general, and a financial advisor in particular. We’re all human, so we need to keep an eye on our own mental health. So make sure you have the support system you need. And if you don’t… go find someone!