Fight or flight — or better, stick to the plan

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There are a lot of lessons to be learned from COVID-19, but now I am just sounding like my mother. Who wants to talk about lessons when I am going crazy, need to get out and socialize and do anything but be at home? So OK, my travel plans were canceled, I cannot see my extended family or friends or even colleagues. I am cross-eyed from staring at a computer screen all day. Finally, I am realizing what little I actually have control over. Certainly not the stock market.

Just a few months ago we were coming off one of the best years in stock market history and feeling great about our extremely low unemployment rate of just 3.5%. Now we feel like we are getting whipsawed watching our account balances bounce around like a ping-pong ball in the wind.

I am always about education, staying informed. I feel we are empowered to make good decisions if we have the right data. However, be careful where you get your news from. Turning on your favorite channel right now may be contrary to staying sane. No matter the source, the news is bad, ugly, and bound to get worse. And then there may be a glimmer of hope and the market goes down anyway. And then there is a negative first-quarter GDP (Gross Domestic Product) number and the stock market goes up. These illogical extremes create cognitive dissonance, according to David Greene of Greene Consulting.

“As more volatility continues, the more angst grows and starts to take its toll,” David said recently. He went on to explain that investors are getting bombarded with good news/bad news and likely feel like they should be doing something to improve their situation.

The current state of the economy has many people in turmoil: Business closures, rising unemployment, health scares, family issues, working from home and loss of retirement assets, to name a few. These feelings of loss of control and being overwhelmed to the point of not being able to function are alive and well. Therefore, this is not a good time to be making changes to your investments without substantial, credible reasons.

David describes some current investor behaviors as dealing with “iceberg risk”: What is below the water that we cannot see? This creates fear, anxiety, stress, indecision, and embarrassment in many cases. Emotions are heightened and logical or technical examples just make things worse.

So, what do you do? Our very human nature is to fight or take flight. Therefore, I just cannot sit still and do nothing.

The research in investor behavior at Greene Consulting states that it is important to take some action by going back to the basics. What was the original plan? You outlined the purpose of your accounts, the time frame, the amount of growth or income needed. Has that changed?

Most investors want to understand where they are. If you don’t know what you have and where you are, you don’t know if something needs to be fixed. Therefore, we start every meeting with first addressing where they are. The majority of time, clients find out they are not as bad as they thought based on watching the news. The second thing we address is if they are still on track. This is where we look to the future and create a trend line that indicates progress. We see if any priorities have shifted and identify what is most important right now.

The third thing we discuss is if we should take any action. Sometimes doing nothing and letting your plan work for you is extremely hard. The best call to action is to get busy and focus on things that fell to the wayside when you were too busy. Getting organized, updating your estate planning documents, having family meetings, decluttering your files.

Taking these steps is very important to keeping your focus on your priorities and not letting your emotions drive you to make rash decisions. Your financial plan is your anchor, your guidepost. Use it and you will likely come out just fine.

Source: Mariner Wealth Advisors Greene Consulting workshop

Patricia Kummer has been a Certified Financial Planner and a fiduciary for over 30 years and is Managing Director for Mariner, LLC d/b/a Mariner Wealth Advisors, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. Please visit www.marinerwealthadvisors.com for more information or refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website (www.adviserinfo.sec.gov). Securities offered through MSEC, LLC, Member FINRA & SIPC, 5700 W. 112th Suite 500, Overland Park, KS 66211.

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