November 14, 2008 / 9:13 PM / 9 years ago

Stress balls, books being used to calm investors

4 Min Read

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stress balls, history lessons, and de facto book clubs along with more handholding than usual are becoming means of communication and support between financial advisers and their clients as they try to weather turbulent times.

"Be there," says Richard Stein, a San Francisco-based adviser. "Dana Carvey joked about phoning his broker only to hear, 'No broker here. Bye, bye.' You don't want to be one of those pathetic jokes."

In the worst bear market in 30 years, it is crucial to be constantly available and to play armchair psychologist as investors try to counterbalance two fears: losing their savings by staying in the market and missing out on a recovery by pulling out now.

"In behavioral terms, it's the risk of omission versus the risk of commission," says John Nofsinger, a Washington State University professor who studies behavioral finance. "It's failing to do something versus doing something that turns out wrong, and a lot of people get frozen in between."

Some advisers are turning to literature, current and classic, to put the economic downturn into context.

Shannon Eusey of Beacon Pointe Advisers in Newport Beach, California, has been pointing clients to the book "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable," which argues that humans, while quick to devise explanations for events after the fact, are woefully unprepared for randomness.

"There is no question about the legitimacy of the Black Swan comparison to the financial markets," said Eusey, whose firm sends out lengthy newsletters to an ultra high net worth client base, often making reference to various pieces of literature.

"So many events that don't fit the patterns investors have observed in the past are happening now, so we need to communicate in a creative way and quite often," she said.

"Because so many investing strategists rely on the markets' past behaviors to predict its future ones, they don't see black swans coming."

Client meetings, which can be cordial in a bull market, tend to be tense during hard times.

"In a bear market, guys act like an ostrich, putting their heads in the sand and not coming up," said Christopher Jordan, chief executive of LEXCO Wealth Management in Tarrytown, New York, who is known to bring stress balls into client meetings,

"By not adding value to how you assist a client, you do a disservice ... to them but also to your own practice," he said.

Jordan has been setting up conference calls that allow his clients to interact with economists with whom he has established relationships, including Dr. Jeremy Siegel from The Wharton School of Business.

While advisers such as Jordan reach outside their companies for experts to answer clients' questions, the larger brokerage firms use in-house economic minds to host Q&A sessions with clients.

James Tracy, executive vice president and director of Citigroup's Global Wealth Management unit, sees these informational programs as crucial for client satisfaction and as a way of using the company's back office to help increase client retention.

"No matter how well you communicate, remember that clients are free to take their assets and move," he said.

Beacon Pointe also brings in guest speakers for clients and uses an internal teleconferencing line that links clients with big names in investment strategy.

"We just had Liz Ann Saunders, the chief investment officer at Schwab, talk with clients," said Eusey.

"With a 99.9 investor retention rate, we must be doing something right."

Reporting by Robert Margolis; Editing by Toni Reinhold

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