New Year’s Resolution for FAs – Take a Pause for Yourself and Your Clients

Julius Buchanan, Contributing Editor, Wealth Solutions Report

Krishna Pendyala Counsels Us to Pause, Grieve and Heal from Pandemic-Driven Emotional Pain

Fresh out of college, we put our shoulders to the grindstone to build a career as a solid foundation for a prosperous future. With time, we develop that future into client relationships, families, leadership responsibilities and a range of other activities. 

Graduation is not the end – it’s the beginning.

These are wonderful things, but all of them bring stresses and demands that erode our mental health unless we actively control stress, balance our lives and nurture our minds – duties we typically prioritize last.

Then an event comes along that shakes our souls to the very foundations – usually as individuals but sometimes at a societal level – and the global pandemic has shaken the world to the core, putting our neglected stresses and demands into overdrive, rocking our emotional states and peaking our anxiety.

Krishna Pendyala, Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer, ChoiceLadder Institute

Human Emotion and Making Better Decisions

To understand our pandemic-induced emotional roller coaster, we recently caught up with Krishna Pendyala, Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of the ChoiceLadder Institute

Mr. Pendyala developed an interest in human emotion early in his career, when as a tech entrepreneur he theorized that emotionally intelligent people handled stress better, then proved his theory by hiring emotionally intelligent employees who successfully managed the stresses of tech-startup life.

Driven by a passion to gain deeper understanding of human emotion and judgment, Mr. Pendyala spent nine years as the Chief Operating Officer and Coach to every team member at a fast-growing wealth management firm, then founded ChoiceLadder Institute to study the field of human judgment and develop programs and workshops that cultivate leaders’ and professionals’ decision-making ability.

We asked Mr. Pendyala to share his thoughts on the health of our emotions post-pandemic, for both advisors and clients.

WSR: Anecdotally, financial advisors across the country have reported that client anxieties about their financial security have spiked despite the markets being up overall and strong economic indicators. This seems to be happening across the demographic and wealth spectrum. Why do you think this is happening? 

Pendyala: We are living in a truly unprecedented time for the emotional condition of our entire society. Anxieties about financial security in many ways mask broader, unspoken worries and grief that are tough to articulate.

When live gives you stress, keep calm and squeeze.

The reality is that COVID-19 changed so much. Some of us have settled into a work-from-home routine and now feel more comfortable alone than in an office setting. 

Others crave to re-enter the world, surrounded by family and friends. And many people remain worried or otherwise impacted by the latest phase of the pandemic.

The pandemic and its fallout have divided some groups, while bringing others together.  Meanwhile, many people still grieve the loss of a loved one or a life path that disappeared in COVID-19’s wake – or both.

WSR: What’s the broader solution to this worry and grief that seems to be an unspoken force for many clients that financial advisors are serving?

Pendyala: When nebulous financial worry is a proxy for grief, financial advisors need to ask bigger and deeper questions of their clients to help them reach a greater level of understanding about what actually troubles them, rather than diving straight into a technical discussion about financial planning or investing. While this might come easily for some financial advisors, it certainly isn’t that way for everyone in the industry.

But until we come to terms with this collective grief that hangs over our society like a cloud, the broader financial anxiety that clients voice will continue to be part of the industry picture.

Look at things through the lens of logic or emotion.

The pandemic caused a great upheaval in our country, and every great upheaval brings an opportunity for reflection. 

WSR: What’s the one bit of advice you would give to financial advisors who are feeling extremely anxious, or who are trying to have the deeper, bigger conversation with a client who seems gripped by nebulous worries, and are reacting in financial terms (i.e., panic selling, extraordinary demands for liquidity, sudden pushes to make their portfolios much more aggressive, etc.)?

Sometimes, you just need to take a pause.

Pendyala: In decision-making moments, we can look at things through the lens of logic or emotion. When the turbulence of change and challenges swirls around us, it’s easy to lead with emotion and try to logically justify our actions and decisions later. For those farther from the center of power, the desire for a sense of belonging and agency may also inform the decision-making process.

Whether or not those are sound ways to make real-time decisions is a topic for another day, but this illustrates the importance of hitting the pause button before making choices. Otherwise, our human need for instant gratification often rushes us to an answer – especially when a situation feels uncomfortable. 

Looking ahead to 2022, I encourage financial advisors to sit with that feeling and get comfortable in the uncomfortableness of our lives right now, and when the opportunity presents itself, counsel clients to do the same.

It all comes down to this: Instead of making knee-jerk reactionary decisions based on feelings in a fleeting moment, slow down and think things through in order to decide if a choice is good for just this moment or if it will serve you in the long run.

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