On March 9 we passed the ten-year anniversary of the bull market that started in 2009; almost tripling the duration of the average bull market. Since March 9, 2009, the S&P 500 has quadrupled. Now, by just looking at the duration of the bull market and comparing it to past bull market lifespans, that would be a rather simplistic approach to arriving at a prognostication of what the future holds in the market. Although my intent is not to “prognosticate” anything in this article, I have my opinions and will say that the more “analytical” approaches to coming to a prognostication would indicate that we could be in for a rough ride. I research the market a lot and I believe that more can be found in the behavior of the bond market than the stock market. Without going into a long description, I will say that inverted yield curve is not good! An inverted yield curve has preceded every recession in the last 60 years.
As we face the possibility of being confronted with significant angst from our customers, I thought it would make sense to repeat a message from one of my Broker World articles from a couple of years ago as I believe it warrants repeating.
About ten years ago I had a 6:00 am Southwest flight out of Omaha to Phoenix. I was dead tired because I had to wake up at 3:30 am to get on the flight. Nevertheless, I dragged myself to the airport. Waiting at the gate to get on the airplane seemed to take forever. All I wanted to do was get on the plane and take a nap. As I boarded the plane I was happy because there were probably about 50 people on the flight which would mean that I would likely have plenty of room to get comfortable and take my nap. Indeed, after I sat down I noticed that in my row it was just me and somebody across the aisle in the other seat that looked like he was probably a frequent traveler, as am I. Without going into detail, this guy looked the part. Anyway, as I sat there in my seat I started to doze off into a half-conscious state. I could feel the plane pull back from the gate and go through the long process of idling out to the runway. The feeling of the plane lumbering along through the obstacles to get to the runway is kind of a soothing feeling, a lot like rocking a baby to sleep. In my half-awake state I could then feel the plane’s full thrust kick in as I was pushed back in my seat. It was obvious we were now making our way down the runway. As we made it down the runway we were nearing the final stage where you just begin to feel the front wheel lift as we go airborne. Then, suddenly, BOOM! This is the point when my whole world got rocked. It felt like we hit a brick wall as I was jolted wide awake. We were then skidding down the runway as I pulled myself to the window in panic to see where the end of the runway was because we had to be close. I also glanced over at Mr. Frequent Traveler across the aisle, whose eyes were the size of dinner plates. He was looking back at me for confirmation we were not going to die, which I could not provide him. He was panicking, the other passengers were panicking and, worse of all, the flight attendants were panicking! By the way, when the flight attendants panic, you should panic too!
What felt like a lifetime finally came to an end. We finally slowed down and got it under control. As the dust settled and we began that slow idle back to the gate I could hear people sobbing toward the back of the plane. That is when the captain came on the intercom to tell us what had just happened. What did he say? In a very calm and stoic voice he comes on and says “Hello folks, sorry about that somewhat uncomfortable take-off attempt. As we began to get airborne we had a diagnostic code tripped in the system that indicated the right-side engine was failing so we had to abort our take off. We will have to take you back to our gate and see what we need to do to get you on your way home. We do apologize for the inconvenience and greatly appreciate your patience as we get you home safe and sound.”
With those calm words from the pilot, suddenly everything seemed OK! You would have thought that the pilot had been there and done that a million times! Isn’t it amazing how a few calming words can put you at ease? I had flown hundreds of flights a year up to that point and I knew that this incident was not normal for me nor for anybody else, including the pilot! I knew that flight was a near death experience. I knew this, my friend across the aisle knew this, and the flight attendants knew this. Even more interesting is, even though I also knew that it was the pilot’s job to project a sense of calm even if he were to think we were all going to die, it still worked! A lot like when you tell yourself a salesman is going to try to sell you something and you aren’t going to buy it. But once you hear the pitch you buy it hook, line, and sinker.
The calm reassuring voice of the pilot put me and everybody else at ease even though I knew it was his job to create a false sense of security. The pilot became an instant hero. As a matter of fact, as we were deplaning I noticed several people hugging the pilot as they walked past.
When we got into the gate I called my friend who worked for another airline who pulled the incident up in his system. He said that incident I had just gone through was indeed a very big deal. He said that the airplane had been so far into the takeoff process that it passed what is called “V1” which is basically the speed of no return. He had stated that for the pilot to make the call to abort the takeoff at that point was a tough call because it was a choice between either getting airborne and having the plane fail in the air or aborting and running out of runway and crashing on the ground. The pilot chose option number two and fortunately it turned out fine.
My point is, you are your clients’ airplane captain. When they call you up because they are hitting turbulence in their lives, whether because they are losing money in the market, have a death claim, a long term care claim, etc., your value in these times lies in the way that you handle the situation. This is your opportunity to become a hero by doing the opposite of panicking and instead being a steady hand to those that are panicking. This is what top financial professionals do. They project a sense of “I have been there and done that and we will remedy this situation.” Imagine instead if that pilot came on the intercom and screamed out “Take cover! We are all going to die!” Panic is contagious and so is calmness. And people remember the “heroes” that gave them calmness in times of distress.
Are you that calming voice even at times when you are also scared for the client?
When I was getting started in the business there were times where I would get “panicky” because of a big meeting I had to conduct, a bad message I had to give to somebody, or a large audience I had to present to. I had a mentor back then who would always say, “You have done this a million times, and have you failed yet? No, you haven’t! So why panic now?” He would then go on to say “So what is the worst that can happen if you were to fail? It’s not like they can kill you.” For some strange reason those words have always stuck with me, “It’s not like they can kill me.”
We take our business very serious but keeping a perspective of what is important in life will also help you to not panic when things get stressful. We tend to let the negative trash in our heads believe that it’s a life or death situation if we fail at a task. It is not. This is why I have the utmost respect for our courageous men and women in the military. Their bad days on the job are way beyond the average person’s.
Not panicking is not only healthy for you, it is also healthy for your clients and your relationship with those clients. This is because having a positive mindset is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meaning if you are always positive and never panic, clients feel that and will, in turn, be positive and will not panic. You are looked at as the “pilot” and therefore the creation of a positive environment is in your hands. Prospects/clients look to your mindset to form their own. And, the mindset that you have over the coming years could be extremely important if the market does what it is overdue to do.
Also remember, in almost any study out there that asks consumers why they left their advisor, the top response is almost always about communication or lack thereof. When the going gets tough, the tough communicate with their clients.