People have always been passionate about politics, but partisanship has gotten much more extreme and unpleasant in recent years. Consider an August 2022 Pew Research Center survey, in which a soaring percentage of both Democrats and Republicans describe members of the opposite party as more immoral, dishonest, and closed-minded than other Americans.
Financial advisors regularly get an earful from clients about politics and other hot-button topics—if they allow it. But advisors’ job is giving financial advice, not listening to Thanksgiving-style tirades. So for this week’s Big Q, we asked advisors: What do you do when clients launch into a rant about politics or other topics?
Nancy Daoud, private wealth advisor, Ameriprise Financial: Operating very heavily in New York and the Bay area of California, it’s kind of an every meeting thing. When they start going off the deep end with the subject matter, I basically stop them and say, “Look, I’m an immigrant, and it’s a very foreign concept for me to understand even the differences between a Republican versus a Democrat. To me, you’re all American, as am I. So as far as I’m concerned, none of this makes any sense. But what we should understand better is the financial implications of each party and how it relates to you, because that’s what’s really relevant in this conversation.”
Scott Tiras, president, Tiras Wealth Management (Ameriprise): Just like at a family Thanksgiving meal, it is generally best to stay away from client conversations relating to religion and politics. However, politics is a topic that is brought up often down here in Texas, and it is a bit more one-sided. It is usually easy for me to navigate as I focus on the underlying topics. And being moderate, I can generally relate to both views. While the conversation can be difficult, I allow clients to vent and listen to their concerns.
But I am quick to remind them that historically, U.S. politics have little to do with market performance: The statistics show that the markets’ returns are very similar during both types of administrations. We try to turn and redirect the attention to the more impactful realities like the Fed, supply-chain disruption, the war in Ukraine, and so on.
Victoria Greene, chief investment officer, G Squared Private Wealth: Politics can be a very fast way to lose a client or a prospect. You have to think like a doctor or a surgeon and focus on the problem and not the noise. In reality, politics moves the markets far less than people realize. The markets actually do best under a divided and balanced government, as they like stability versus a major overhaul.
Typically, it’s best to let clients talk about their concerns and then figure out what they are really worried about. For some of it, you can provide historical context. Other times you may just need to redirect. You cannot underestimate how personal and fervent politics has become to some people. They need to be recognized and heard.
But we aren’t supposed to be yes men. We are here to give good, sound advice. Some of it may need to be put into context or messaged correctly in order to be heard. But the best discussion is when you educate with facts, data, and historical context to help them put their concerns into perspective.
Kevin Myeroff, principal, senior strategic director, Sequoia Financial Group: Half of our clients are Democrats and half are Republicans, so stuff like this comes up all the time. I split political topics into two different groups. One is economic and financial politics, and the other is global warming or abortion or things of that nature. The economic and financial stuff is easy because I believe I can give unbiased perspective on how things such as proposals to change Social Security or estate taxes may affect you. So I make the discussion about their situation, and I talk to their situation. I don’t have a point of view other than, if you were my client and you had to pay $100,000 more in taxes, I would say “That sucks for you.”
The harder one is all the others. These issues are almost always emotional, and people have strong views that they really care about sharing. My tactic is to acknowledge that I hear what they’re saying and have empathy. If you said to me, “Kevin, Trump’s the biggest jerk I’ve ever seen in my life,” I’d be like, “I hear what you’re saying. And I understand your point of view.” And it usually never has to go any further than that. I’m lucky because I’m a centrist. I can understand views on both sides.
Matt Gulbransen, president, Pine Grove Financial Group: Navigating politics is always a touchy subject, but unfortunately the markets have never been more aligned with political policy. Thus it is unavoidable. Clients may want our perspective, and if that results in us sharing some thoughts on political policy, we must do it. For example, passing stimulus or increasing the budget doesn’t help reduce inflation. However, both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for getting us to this point. Avoiding the topic isn’t realistic.
For me, I do my very best to accept all opinions, whether I agree or disagree. Since we have good relationships with clients, we tend to know where they fall politically, so you usually can be prepared to discuss or avoid hot-button issues. I have several conversations with clients who feel differently on a specific political issue, but I have never felt it has damaged our relationship nor made it uncomfortable to advise them. I guess I am lucky to have great clients.
John Ippolito, president, New York Tri-State Region at BNY Mellon Wealth Management: It’s really an artful dialogue with clients. It’s not our job to always agree with their viewpoints. It’s to hear them and then counter that with what we know is the best advice for them. There are people with strong opinions on a variety of things—economics, political parties, types of investments—that can cloud their judgment. And that potential bias is extremely dangerous for them. So countering that, using the right soft skills, is really critical.
We want to be thoughtful and seek to understand how they feel about almost anything. But we obviously do not want something to take over a meeting that is going in one direction when our clients are paying us for broader advice.