Ways to help clients understand market downturns
June 22, 2023
June 22, 2023
You know that at some point, markets will decline—possibly prompting questions and concern from your clients. It's a difficult position to be in when clients call in the midst of a downturn, second-guessing their investment strategies and diverting you from serving them in more productive ways.
As not only an advisor but also a coach, you can help clients put matters into proper perspective by proactively defusing their emotional responses to the markets' unavoidable dips.
Below are ways to help you have those proactive conversations, including links to resources to share with your clients.
Clients hear lots of financial terms referring to downturns bandied about by their friends, their colleagues, and the news media. Those terms may not always be used accurately or in the appropriate context, which can feed clients' worries. You have an opportunity to help clients by clarifying what the terminology actually means—and by offering a reality check for clients on the long-term significance of temporary downturns for their portfolios.
Downturns aren't rare events: Typical investors, in all markets, will endure many of them during their lifetimes.
Declines of 20% or more, at least two months long.
Declines in economic conditions for two or more successive quarters (refers to declines in the broad economy rather than the financial markets, though the two can be linked).
Notes: Number of bear markets based on MSCI World Index from January 1, 1980, through December 31, 1987, and the MSCI AC World Index (price return) from January 1, 1988, through December 31, 2021. Number of recessions based on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s US Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions data.
Still, you know that clients can find these events traumatic simply in contemplating them. The good news: You can work to proactively dispel their dread by displaying empathy while pointing out the importance of maintaining a long-term view.
Ultimately, the most helpful thing for clients is that you focus on what you and they can control. You and your clients can proactively discuss the facts and their feelings and make a plan together for how to weather market and economic disruption.
Knowing that they are fully prepared should help clients have a more positive outlook.
Share this piece with clients to help them gain a better understanding of market declines and how to respond to them.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the investing examples you show clients could be worth a fortune to them. We can look back to the global financial crisis and Great Recession, the country’s most severe financial shock since the Great Depression, for instruction. If a client had $1,000 invested in a balanced 50% stock and 50% bond portfolio through that big upheaval—and didn't add a penny more—the client would have nearly tripled their money 14 years later (see chart below).
Share this piece with your clients to help them understand the benefits of a long-term investing strategy.
For clients who had grown accustomed to a bull market, it could be easy to forget that volatility includes stock prices going down as well as up—and that such movement is quite normal. In fact, history shows it's practically guaranteed. You can remind clients to zoom out from any particular period and focus on the long-term trend. Assure them attaining their goals is worth riding out any turbulence.
Volatility and index prices for the S&P 500 Index, January 1, 1980, to December 31, 2020
Volatility sometimes presents a great opportunity to rebalance. You can remind clients of the importance of asset allocation in achieving their long-term objectives. To the degree volatility makes it possible for you to advise clients to sell concentrated equity positions or high-cost active equity holdings with no tax penalty, clients can witness how you add value.
Share this piece with clients to help remind them to place their long-term objectives ahead of worries about short-run turbulence.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of market downturns for clients is the perceived loss of control. That dread can be exacerbated by the constant drumbeat of dire news coverage of the financial markets and global and U.S. economies. You can reframe the situation by reminding clients of the means they do possess. They have the power to follow the actions that historically have resulted in success weathering market lows. You can help them to:
Tune out the noise
It's OK for clients not to check their balances when the market is plummeting. Turning off the financial news might be smart if it prevents them from making mistakes motivated by rash actions.
Revisit their asset allocation
For clients at certain life stages, such as near or in retirement, or for those who lose sleep over downturns, you may need to reevaluate their risk tolerance.
Control what they can: Costs
Expenses eat returns, and their bite is particularly painful during market corrections.
Set realistic expectations
Vanguard anticipates higher investment risks and lower returns over the near and medium term. Advisors can work with clients to develop plans that still achieve the clients' goals, informed by this guidance.
Downturns provide advisors the opportunity to remind clients how different asset-class and sector exposures can help manage risk in their portfolios. Talking with clients about their risk tolerance also gives advisors an unparalleled window into clients' thoughts on investing, deepening the relationship.
Share this piece with your clients to help them understand that often, the best action to take in a falling market may be no action at all.
Our research has shown that demonstrating your understanding and empathy for client concerns—such as changes in their portfolios' balances in the midst of market disruptions—builds trust, deepens relationships, and increases the likelihood of referrals. With well thought-out behavioral coaching—used to reinforce a solid financial plan—you can guide your clients to better decisions no matter what the markets are doing.
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