There are numerous factors that every advisor must consider when objectively assessing a client’s risk tolerance. And if the concept of risk wasn’t already complex enough (as it considers a multitude of facets, including tolerance, capacity, composure, perception, and literacy), the variety of available tools to measure risk tolerance – from written questionnaires to various FinTech software tools and simply having the advisor-client “risk conversation” – often results in inconsistent (or even contradictory) results (especially given that clients vary in their own risk literacy to navigate such assessments in the first place).
In addition, recent research reveals that the modality of the risk tolerance assessment process can itself influence the results. For instance, one study found that when advisors verbally discuss risk tolerance with clients of the opposite sex, the client’s self-reported risk tolerance tends to be higher than if the client would have responded to an advisor of the same sex. This implicit gender-bias behavior is thought to be driven by subconscious psychobiological tendencies of the client, possibly influenced by a desire to appeal to a person of the opposite sex (even if not otherwise attracted to or interested in them).
In turn, alternatives to the conversational approach to risk tolerance – such as using pen-and-paper written questionnaires, or FinTech-based software tools for assessment – also appear to have an influence on the results. For instance, while scores for men and women were equal in a pen-and-paper assessment, men scored significantly higher than women in a technology-based video assessment that included the exact same questionnaire as the pen-and-paper test. And although it might be tempting to conclude that the pen-and-paper assessment is better for eliminating the gender gap between men and women, studies have shown that an inherent difference in risk does indeed exist between the sexes, where men generally report higher risk scores than do women. Given that this gender difference was preserved in the technology-based assessment suggests that perhaps gender-neutral technology-based assessments may have the edge over pen-and-paper assessments in most accurately assessing clients’ risk tolerance levels.
On the other hand, it’s also important to recognize that not all technology tools are similar for assessing risk tolerance. In practice, risk tolerance software can be best leveraged by understanding the methods used to measure risk tolerance and also by knowing how risk literate clients are, as certain assessment modalities may resonate more for clients depending on their risk literacy levels. For instance, clients who are highly risk-literate may relate better to econometric measuring technology, such as the software platform provided by Riskalyze. Other less risk-literate clients may relate better to FinaMetrica, another software platform that relies more on psychometric criteria than economically complex quantitative risk trade-offs.
Despite the advisor gender bias observed in risk tolerance studies between men and women and the appeal of gender-neutral technology risk measurement tools that are readily available, conversations with clients should not be eschewed altogether. Instead, they may be effectively used after a (software-based) risk tolerance assessment has been administered, and perhaps by a team of male and female advisors, not only to review the assessment with the client and help them understand the results, but also to supplement the process with a human element involved in helping clients improve their overall risk literacy. Because technology tools are still no match for a person-to-person connection for an advisor to gather the subtle nuances about their clients that software programs are simply unable to detect.
Ultimately, the key point is that there are many factors affecting how clients perceive their relationship with risk, and at least some of these are subconscious influences on human behavior. And as technology-based assessment tools may minimize a client’s bias that can arise in response to their advisor’s gender (while leaving the inherent gender gap that exists between men and women intact), connecting through conversations in person (after the technology-based assessment is administered!) is still the best way to grow relationships and develop trust with clients.