In times of volatility, see people, not just their portfolios

March 8, 2018

Don Bennyhoff

Don Bennyhoff
Senior Investment Strategist

Hey, how are you doing? With the return of stock market volatility, an even better question is how are your clients doing?

It's a simple question and one I'm certain was posed to countless clients in February. Probably more than ever, advisors appreciate and embrace their role as a behavioral coach—a role that encompasses not only portfolio management but also relationship management. Our new research clearly illustrates the importance of relationship management to clients and the imperative for advisors to adopt it.

Evolve beyond asset management

Our industry needs to continue to evolve beyond asset management as the sole basis for its value proposition. Yes, you can be an investment professional without being a professional investor. What's the difference, you might ask? A professional investor might be defined as an advisor who believes that his or her clients are only concerned about their portfolios and, therefore, only contacts them about their portfolios. An investment professional sees the people, not just their portfolios.

This is an important distinction because holistic wealth management is most often broadly defined to include asset management, financial planning, tax and estate planning, insurance needs, and the like. The value of helping preserve and protect a client's state of mind may be often overlooked, except by investment professionals.

Reinforce your value

So what can you do to allay your clients' concerns and also reinforce the value of the relationship they have with you? Well, a "hey, how are you doing?" call is a great start. It shows them you think of them as a person and not just a portfolio. This is critical if you want to earn the highest degree of trust from your clients, since valuing clients, respecting them, and understanding their investment objectives and feelings are major contributors to clients' trust. So what can you do to check all the boxes and, in the process, reinforce your value?

Try using our VALU framework for client conversations (see below). It may help them better understand your role in the relationship and your concerns for them as valued clients. In the end, you may not change anything in their portfolios, but hopefully you will have helped them better understand the advisor's alpha you strive to provide.


Validate the financial plans you designed especially for them. While the headlines have changed, odds are clients' objectives haven't.


Assure them that uncertainty and volatility are normal. Let them know that you anticipated it, which is why you built their portfolio with an emphasis on asset allocation and diversification. These are the two most effective and widely available risk management tools, and you don't have to pay more to benefit from them. Quite the bargain.

L—Low cost

The cost-effective implementation of your portfolio strategy is one important way for you to potentially add value in the average client relationship. When investment returns are more modest than you expected over the longer run, the advantages of lower-cost and/or more tax-efficient funds and strategies become even more apparent.


Well, them. Remind your clients that successful investing often relies more on taming emotions than on taming the markets. In your partnership with clients, you excel at the role of the emotional circuit breaker who helps them when their emotions are in danger of overwhelming their reason. Emphasize to them that the reason they're investing and the reason you've built their investment strategy is all about them—their goals and their aspirations.


  • Vanguard ETF Shares are not redeemable with the issuing Fund other than in very large aggregations worth millions of dollars. Instead, investors must buy and sell Vanguard ETF Shares in the secondary market and hold those shares in a brokerage account. In doing so, the investor may incur brokerage commissions and may pay more than net asset value when buying and receive less than net asset value when selling.
  • Investments in bonds are subject to interest rate, credit, and inflation risk.
  • Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.
  • Investments in stocks or bonds issued by non-U.S. companies are subject to risks including country/regional risk and currency risk. These risks are especially high in emerging markets.
  • All investing is subject to risk, including possible loss of principal.

Don Bennyhoff

Donald G. Bennyhoff is a senior investment strategist for Vanguard Investment Strategy Group.

He is a member of the group responsible for capital markets research and the asset allocations used in Vanguard's fund-of-fund solutions, such as the Target Retirement Funds. The group is also responsible for maintaining and enhancing the investment methodology used for advice-based relationships with high-net-worth and institutional clients.

In addition, Mr. Bennyhoff has authored a number of research papers on topics of concern for institutional and ultra-high-net-worth audiences. He earned a bachelor's degree from Furman University, has been in the financial services industry since 1991, and is a CFA charterholder.

CFA® is a registered trademark owned by CFA Institute.


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