(Courtesy of Elozor Preil) As much as we might want to believe there is a magic formula for personal finance which simply requires plugging in the right numbers, success or failure has a lot more to do with our psychological makeup and personal habits than getting the numbers right. The math is the easy part; it’s the human element that gums things up. Consider just a few of the “essential” personal factors necessary for financial well-being:
- healthy lifestyle habits.
- stability in career and personal relationships.
- the discipline of living within one’s income, and learning to save.
- a willingness to delay gratification to achieve long-term goals, while allowing enough immediate rewards to stay motivated and content in the present.
- an acknowledgement of risks, and how to address them, whether it be through insurance, guarantees, or appropriate management strategies.
It’s no wonder there is a burgeoning field of research called behavioral finance, which “seeks to combine behavioral and cognitive psychological theory” to help individuals achieve better financial outcomes. This could mean re-framing a concept (seeing your retirement goal as a monthly income instead of a lump sum accumulation), or applying behavioral “nudges” like automatic withdrawals to make sure saving occurs. And it might be understanding what—or who—we can blame if things go wrong.
Getting Help—So There’s Someone to Blame
Passing the Buck: “Delegating Choices to Others To Avoid Responsibility and Blame,” is a July 2016 research article by Mary Steffel published in the professional journal “Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process.” Here’s the opening statement from the executive summary:
“In seven experiments, we found that participants who were tasked with choosing meals, hotels, investments, or tasks to complete, were two to three times as likely to delegate if the choice affected others and if the options were unappealing.”
We might think of “delegating” as passing an assignment off to a subordinate, such as a boss delegating a project to one of her reports. But delegating in this context is different: it’s seeking someone above us—in knowledge, expertise, or authority—to make the decision. And if things go wrong, there’s an implied understanding that the delegate will bear responsibility for the outcome.
Steffel’s research makes another thing very clear: Delegation must be conferred upon a real person, not an inanimate process. Arriving at a hotel choice by flipping a coin or using an Internet search engine does not qualify as delegation because the responsibility for the decision remains with the person who flipped the coin or selected the technology.
It is also important to note that “delegating up” did not improve outcomes; it just gave the initial decision-maker cover in case things went awry. And while that might sound cowardly, it might be desirable. Better for their relationship if a couple can blame a third-party “expert,” instead of having to deal with either the failure or disappointment of one person toward the other.
What about Delegating Money Decisions?
There are certainly personal finance scenarios where our choices could affect others and the options may be unappealing. First, there’s a recognition that financial decisions have consequences, not only for the individual, but for a spouse and/or family members. Then there’s an awareness of our limited financial knowledge, whether it involves investments, insurance, taxes, borrowing, etc. Add the challenge of scarce resources, of often not having enough money to address every issue immediately. The “it’s-all-on-you” responsibilities in personal finance can be daunting.
At this point, we may seek help, and delegate parts of our financial program to someone else. But is expert assistance intended to resolve our challenge, or simply relieve us of the responsibility for the decision? And do we have enough self-awareness to answer this question truthfully?
Michael Kitces, a registered investment advisor who blogs frequently on client management issues, offers an interesting insight on how a consumer’s desire to off-load responsibility may result in less-than-optimal decisions when working with financial professionals.
“Unfortunately, the delegation blame-game also helps to explain why so many advisors with strong personalities and sales skills, but little actual competency, still succeed in gaining clients. (T)he decision to delegate is more about the perceived authority of the delegee to accept blame, than their actual expertise to make a better (financial) decision.”
In short, a desire to delegate may make us more susceptible to sales tactics and less objective in our assessment of both the recommendations and character of the person we’re working with. One of the best ways to mitigate against engaging a financial professional simply to off-load responsibility is to establish a relationship with one before there are hard decisions to be made. When a working relationship has time to develop without pressure, both parties have a better chance of forming a successful working arrangement.
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This article was prepared by an independent third party. Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice.
Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS), 355 Lexington Avenue, 9 Fl., New York, NY 10017, 212-541-8800. Securities products/services and advisory services offered through PAS, a registered broker/dealer and investment adviser. Financial Representative, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian. Wealth Advisory Group LLC is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian.
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Neither Guardian, PAS, Wealth Advisory Group, their affiliates/subsidiaries, nor their representatives render tax or legal advice. Please consult your own independent CPA/accountant/tax adviser and/or your attorney for advice concerning your particular circumstances.
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