If you’ve been an RIA for any length of time, you know your clients well. The day after the Dow takes a 500-point dive, your phone is ringing off the hook as you walk into the office. She’s terrified. Does this mean she’s going to lose her life savings? Should he take all his money out of the market? Can she switch everything to bonds right now? And the one that’s probably your favorite: why didn’t you warn me that the market was going to drop like that yesterday?
You take a deep breath and say the same things you say every time you get that call. Nobody can predict the market with any accuracy. Corrections are a normal fact of life. The market is still safe. We’re planning for the long term. Those stock funds are still your best choice, given that you’re 20 years from retirement. Even with the drop, the Dow is up 1500 points this year. The President said something that spooked the big investors and the program traders followed. Everything will be back to normal by next week.
The simple fact is that both disruption and correction are inevitable elements in the world of investments. You gently remind your clients about that on a regular basis, but some still panic every time there’s a blip in the market. You counsel smart allocations to reduce market risk, but many either demand choices that are too aggressive or too timid for their goals and circumstances.
You regularly prepare your clients for those inevitable disruptions and corrections, but what have you done to prepare your RIA firm? It’s not a hypothetical question. When a big correction sends the market sinking, the value of your assets under management drop, too. That can reduce your fee income. Even worse, some of those frightened clients will react by pulling money out of the market, reducing your revenue even after the market recovers. If you were in business when the World Trade Center fell, you remember just how hard that event hit the economy and how long it took for investors to recover. Well, investors weren’t the only ones who were hurt; their RIAs felt the impact, too.
It’s wise to plan for disruptions and corrections on two levels. The first is the well-being of your own firm. Just as diversifying assets reduces risk for investors, diversifying your client base can reduce the impact of a correction or a disruption. A wide mix of clients means that a panic on the part of any one group — such as the nervous folks on the cusp of retirement — won’t affect your overall firm as much.
The second preparation involved how you prepare your clients ready for the inevitable. Part of every conversation with clients should include a reminder that markets are inherently volatile, and downturns are a fact of life. Show them what you’ve done — or what you think they should do — to insulate their portfolios. Remind them that savvy investors don’t get overly optimistic or panicky. They have a realistic view of the economy and their prospects, and they invest accordingly.
That way, when things take a big hit, they’ll be less likely to tie up your phone line, and you’ll be less nervous about the long-term impact to your RIA firm.