Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Investment advisors should not have bedside manner

My beautiful girlfriend and I have just gotten into the intriguingly interesting show Lost. This weekend we were watching an episode where the doctor, Jack, was explaining the risks of a procedure to a patient on the island. Another character, Hurley, says, "what's that thing where doctors can make you better just by talking to you?" When Jack responds, "bedside manner," Hurley quickly retorts, "yea, yours sucks." Lost has a way of mixing backstory with the action on the island, and the back story playing during this time revolved around Jack saving awoman who had a severe spinal cord injury. His father tells him to give her hope, because that alone can have miraculous effects on patients.

After the episode, I sat thinking about the connection between bedside manner for doctors and the investment advisory profession. There should not be any correlation. In fact, I believe the relationship should be exactly opposite. If the aim of doctors is to instill hope about a good procedural outcome by placing a positive spin on small odds then investment advisors should do the opposite - by stressing the small odds of a large drop in value. Investment advisors who ignore the small, but significant negative tail risks are doing their clients a disservice, because they are reinforcing their client's pre-existing dreams of "castles in the sky." [Advisors who shamefully boast their past results or have grand predictions for the future do so to lure in money so they can earn their management fee, or worse steal it, are irresponsible and should be avoided]. This case is different from the medical purpose of bedside manner which is to shed the patient's (again, pre-existing) stress of their medical maladies in order to positively impact their health. The difference between the two lies in the client/patient's mindset - patients are likely to dwell on the negative and investors on the positive - which is what the advisors/doctors have to countervail for them in order to achieve the best possible outcome: a happy customer.