CNBC: Public Enemy #1?

November 1, 2012

A recent article at AdvisorOne suggests that CNBC is detrimental to the well-being of your clients.  In truth, it didn’t really single out CNBC.  It was applicable to any steady diet of financial news.  Here’s what the article had to say about financial news and client stress:

Clients get stressed by things you wouldn’t predict. This is a classic example, uncovered at the Kansas State University (KSU) Financial Planning Research Center by Dr. Sonya Britt of KSU and Dr. John Grable, now at the University of Georgia, in their recent paper “Financial News and Client Stress.” They found that contrary to what you might think, client stress goes up when watching financial news, and hearing that the market went up causes stress levels to rise even higher. “Specifically, 67% of people watching four minutes of CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox Business News and CNN showed increased stress, while 75% of those who watched a positive-only news video exhibited an increase in stress,” they wrote.

Why? “Financial news was found to increase stress levels, particularly among men,” wrote Grable and Britt. Surprisingly, positive financial news, like reports of bullishness in the stock market, created the highest levels of stress, they found, suggesting that positive financial news may trigger regret among some people. The authors referred to previous studies of regret that found “people tend to feel most remorseful when they look back at a situation and realize that they failed to take action.” The authors’ conclusion: Financial advisors should think twice about having office TVs tuned to financial channels.

Surprising, isn’t it, to find out that clients were stressed even when the market was going up?  The ups and downs of the market appear to elicit client’s concerns about their financial decisions.  Anything that undermines their confidence is probably not a positive.  In fact, one of the important things advisors can do is help clients manage their investment behavior.  Financial news appears to work at cross-purposes to that.  (Other things do too; the full article has a host of useful thoughts on what stresses clients and how to reduce client stress.)

The relationship between high levels of stress and poor decision-making is well-known to psychologists, researchers and sports fans around the world. “Our brains operate on different levels, depending on circumstances,” Britt told me in an interview. “Under high levels of stress, our intellectual decision-making functions shut down, and our emotional flight or fight response kicks in.” Added Grable: “People will adapt to low levels of stress differently, but overwhelming stress results in predictable behavior. When we are stressed, our brains cannot move to make intellectual decisions.”

If we want to help our clients stay calm and stick with their plan, maybe we should ask about their family, their pets, and their hobbies in a relaxed setting rather than inundating them with market data.

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