Not all advisors are fielding more client calls after markets dropped on Monday and remained volatile on Tuesday.
“This is business as usual,” says Jason Pereira, senior financial consultant at Woodgate Financial and IPC Securities Corp. in Toronto. “We’re not even technically in correction territory—it hasn’t been a 10% drop yet. It’s a lot of headlines right now.”
The S&P 500 experienced sharp losses over the past three days and is down 6.6% from the record high set on Jan. 26. The TSX ended last week down 4% and closed down another 1.7% Monday before rebounding slightly on Tuesday.
Steve Barban, principal and senior financial advisor at Gentry Capital and Manulife Securities in Ottawa, also said he hasn’t noted much alarm. His clients are largely equities-focused, he says, but most of them experienced the 2008-2009 crisis, when the S&P had a 57% drop.
He notes that markets are almost double where they were before that crash eight years ago. “We’re still in great shape. Economies are doing well,” he says.
Marie DeLauretis, financial planner at Desjardins Financial Security Investments in Calgary, hasn’t had many client calls either, though she proactively phoned two clients who would be most concerned—one is retired and typically asks lots of investing questions, and one has recently been given retirement projections.
George Biggar, owner of Biggar Wealth Management and advisor at Aligned Capital Partners in Fonthill, Ont., had about 10 clients contact him this week—to say they want to make RRSP contributions ahead of the deadline in order to take advantage of market prices.
Four clients called with market concerns: two wanted to know why the market dropped, and two were newer clients with little experience of market ups and downs.
The calls came after he sent clients a communiqué yesterday, explaining the sudden drop (for example, there are rising inflation expectations following strong U.S. wage data), as well as how healthy economic indicators and corporate profits continue to bode well for equities.
Biggar sends clients such explanatory messages when he feels he should be proactive, which could be once a month, depending on what’s happening. (Regular investment newsletters are automatically sent to clients weekly.)
Talk it out…
Pereira says the timing of the market drop is fortuitous, because he’s in the process of speaking with clients for RRSP season. “We’ll be talking to all of them in the next couple of weeks, just by due course.”
In years when clients experience outsized returns, Pereira lets them know that those returns aren’t typical. Client coaching is done all year round, he says, not just when market performance is poor. (He’ll be sending out his usual newsletter as scheduled next week, with new content to address the drop.)
And, since clients have well-diversified portfolios with proper asset allocation—including a healthy exposure to bonds—”over time, the clients learn that the market is not their portfolio,” he says.
Barban says he’s been reminding clients about the cyclical nature of markets “at every opportunity”—in person and in regular, quarterly communications. Clients need to know their accounts will regularly go down, he says.
Biggar says advisors must show leadership in communication instead of hiding. “I’ve trained my clients,” he says, meaning he’s educated them about investing and repeatedly told them he’s not a stock-picker.
…But don’t make things worse
Though advisors should rightly “comfort and counsel” clients, says Barban, they must do so carefully.
Adds Pereira: “Trying to be proactive about these things often ends up being as much trouble,” by causing panic.
For example, if clients haven’t heard from their advisors in a year, they might be alarmed by an out-of-the-blue communication. “If the doctor panics, maybe the patient is going to panic as well,” says Barban.
Communication should also be put in context, he adds. For example, the market drop might have put a client back only by a couple of months.
“We’re only down maybe 6% overall,” he says. In contrast, markets dropped 23% in one day on Black Monday. “Even with that number, the markets were back up in about seven months to where they were before,” he says.
DeLauretis stresses the importance of each client’s personal situation: “The last thing [a client] needs to be worrying about is the reaction of the stock market. [… Maybe] what they should be worried about is their personal debt,” she says, or their lack of disability insurance.
She helps clients identify what’s truly bothering them. Clients might blame their negative reactions on the stock market, but the root cause is deeper—”something within their life,” she says.
For example, she has clients transitioning away from the oil industry into different careers. “Currents in the market might be feeding other things that they’ve already been stressed out about,” she says. What they really want to know is that they’re going to be OK financially, she adds.
Biggar is concerned about new clients: “The new ones are going to see a hit on their accounts,” he says. Though with the extended bull run, he says one client of less than two years has been up about 51% overall in that period.
Take the good with the bad
Barban says the drop is ultimately a good thing since it “takes out some of the mania of the market,” effectively separating the wheat from the chaff.
“There are too many people who think this is really easy—this investing business,” he says. In an extended bull run, participants enter the market—both advisors and investors—and try their hand at stock picking. But the key to making money in the market is “time in, not timing,” he says. Good advisors provide “patient, long-term wealth creation.”
Another positive to market drops is they can result in advisors gaining new clients, because clients with inappropriate asset allocations shop around when their portfolios take the full hit of the drop. Says Pereira: “They get fed up and start looking for other options.”