A while back I was in the Midwest for a visit and went out with a friend. My friend brought another friend, a guy I know, but not very well. Since I was last home, he had become a psychiatrist. So as we sat in a bar in south St. Louis I told him that I was reading a lot about behavioral economics. As I had hoped, he took the bait and asked what that was. So I gave him my canned response: “a cross section between economics and psychology,” which I thought might have intrigued him. I added that it focuses on the issue of irrational decisions.
He seemed rather unimpressed and replied that people rationalize their actions.
I think about that whenever I see surveys reporting that people hate the banking industry but love their advisors. It’s a common theme and it makes some sense. Most people have separated their advisors (even those who work for the big banks) and the banking industry. “Their guy” versus “The Man.” Or Main Street versus Wall Street.
But I wonder if the psychiatrist would simply dismiss that as rationalization. After all, nobody wants to admit they have a bad advisor. Instead of taking the pains of finding a new advisor, perhaps they convince themselves they don’t need to; the one they have is just fine, thank you very much. It’s a version of the old joke about how everyone’s kid is above average.
Advisors could take comfort in this, of course. Their clients are inclined to love them, even irrationally so. Talk about customer loyalty, that’s it to the Nth degree.
But I would take that comfort with a grain of salt. I say that as I see the flurry of news about the $25 billion settlement that regulators reached with Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial. (Our sister publication American Banker had a good piece predicting that the settlement is “just the beginning.”)
Consumers never really had a sense of closure after the financial crisis. We all felt the “populist outrage” in 2008 and 2009, but it was never satisfied. At best, it’s been on simmer while the banks got bailed out, paid the money back and proceeded with a “no harm, no foul” mentality. A lot of people, meanwhile, lost their homes and were financially devastated. Despite the strong argument to be made for more personal responsibility, many consumers wanted to see more punishment doled out to the banks—a day of reckoning that they never got. Until now.
If this really is just the beginning, the question on your mind should be: Will the fallout affect me? It’s true that in the past, clients often separated their advisors from the wrongdoing. In fact, that same dynamic of loving the individual while hating the institution applied to government. While voters often want to “throw the bums out,” they usually exempted their own congressman. But exceptions do happen in the extremes. Every now and then, there is indeed a wholesale turnover in Congress. And probably a lot of good Congressmen get tossed out who don’t deserve it. Their political careers over, they are victims of the times.
Is this one of those times? Hopefully not. But you should be working double time to re-connect with clients to solidify your value proposition in their minds.
If they can rationalize years of enduring a sub-par advisor, they can certainly rationalize firing one who’s good.
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