The New Normal in the Financial Advisory Profession

The one consistent aftermath of a crisis is that it would have created an abrupt change in the system due to a catalyst—so damning and so destructive—we cannot return to past routines. The COVID-19 pandemic is one such catalyst that has wreak havoc in so many areas of our lives, which forced healthcare, schools, and business to make a rushed re-think their operations models.

It has ushered the age of online education, despite its shortcomings, as the primary mode of distant learning. Companies hastily deconstructed their business models to adjust to the new normal. Starbucks has, for a moment, abandoned their Milan-style cafe set-up and reduced their stores as take-out counters. KFC even changed how it encourages them to eat their fried chicken from “finger-licking’ good” to “forkin’” good. Brick and mortar stores have gone the way of Shopee and Lazada, like most sellers, to become exclusively an e-commerce business.

Obviously, changes in operational models are about survival in a recession. At the same time, it is an indicator of the company’s willingness and foresight to adjust to present predicaments—either to serve customers better or retain the profits or both.

Yet in the vast arena of the financial industry, there are not enough changes that have happened since the beginning of the new normal. Insurance is still pitched with the same old proposal; while financial literacy programs still rely on teaching the tricks of the trade and other “money moves”.

Yet for the few of us, financial planners, there had been a quiet transformation, which may have been talked about in a hush. But we have evolved in light of the recent crisis (some of us have done so much earlier). As in all manners of evolution, in its most useful form, are the subtlest things when they happen. No one speaks of it in popular media. It happens barely with a wink and a nod in acknowledgment. It brings the tide of change in a peaceful manner.

The evolution in our profession as financial planners is therapy. Because money problems are not just about numbers, it has a lot to do with one’s emotions. The thought of one’s savings, the willingness to invest, or just thinking about one’s expenses would create a variety of emotional stress points. Think about your standing debts and suddenly your blood pressure spikes. Or think about this: Does anyone owe you money past its due. Do you feel angry, anxious, or disappointed even? Hence, the pure logic that a typical financial plan just won’t cut it, especially if the client has a lot of emotional baggage.

Financial therapy is a natural outgrowth of financial planners who have realized that a plan won’t mean a thing unless emotional hang-ups are resolved. Therefore, a financial plan has become, more than anything, a comprehensive emotional work. Though not enough of us are trained to the practice of digging deep into the client’s psyche, we acknowledge that financial PTSD is a real thing and that anxieties don’t disappear with bigger savings, or bigger salaries, or more passive income sources.  There’s a lot of counseling, understanding, motivational talk, and forgiveness in the building of a financial plan.

In times of pandemic, financial therapy has become critical as the overall financial stress has risen exponentially. Many are talking about pandemic fatigue and worsening mental health. Rather than just talk of plain routine concepts of financial literacy, financial planners need to shift toward offering an emotional support system and positive mind-setting.

Our country may need financial therapists in the months and the years to come. It will not only need financial consultants, it will need professionals that will allay our fears and help us build a heart and grit to rise again. It will need thought-drivers and behavioral therapists that inject Filipinos with hope.

Now is not the time for sales talk that pitches insurance out of shock or fear. It does not need agents that plant unwanted scenarios and worry into people’s minds. Doing so borders the unethical. They become a threat to the very people they intend to help. Creating such thoughts (even for illustrative purpose) will linger into someone’s mind, and then as a consequence of their subconscious thoughts, the fear manifests itself and becomes real.

It used to be just sales just two decades ago. Then it used to be just about problem-solving to your most pressing financial concerns just several years ago. Then just about a year ago, it used to be about solution-finding. All of these changed with the pandemic. Today, we’re all in the business of understanding and cheer and the pursuit of hope. Indeed, we’ve come to the new normal.