What Are You Afraid Of?

John Diehl   |  Tue Oct 31 08:00:00 EDT 2017

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Halloween is a time when fear is at the forefront, and we willingly watch scary movies, walk through haunted houses, and dress up as a witch, ghost, or zombie. But have you ever asked your clients what their biggest fear is? I’m willing to guess that it isn’t monsters or the undead or other fictional entities that make the hair on the back of their necks stand up, but rather the seemingly more tangible threats, like natural disasters, a stock market crash, nuclear war, hackers, or any other fear-inducing headline of late. So how can advisors curb their clients’ fears of losing everything?

Think back to what you were afraid of as a child. I was afraid of what was hiding under my bed and of the ghost I swore I saw wandering around in our backyard. What I didn’t understand in the moment was that it wasn’t a monster or ghost, but really it was just one of my siblings trying frighten me. Once I understood what I was actually dealing with (my sibling), I wasn’t as scared and could make plans on how to deal with it (revenge).

My point is that we are frightened of what we don’t understand. Losing our home to a hurricane or fire, suffering major asset losses in a stock market plummet, or having our identity stolen by a hacker, those possibilities are certainly risks, and since negative news headlines command our attention and trigger our emotional responses, our fear would have us believe those things we worry about will happen tomorrow. Before your client gets into a tailspin of what-ifs, hit the pause button, and ask them three questions:

1. How likely is it that one of this catastrophic events will happen to you?

2. What impact would such an event have on your overall portfolio and net worth?

3. What is the root cause of your fears?

In asking these questions, you are engaging your client in a thoughtful, rational conversation, during which you can share personal insights or research that can help dispel the client’s fears. In addition, you can find out whether these fears have always existed, or if they have been triggered by recent events, media coverage, or personal experience. This information can also help you shape your response based on what your client needs and the information they need to hear to feel more prepared and protected.

Whether it’s a ghost, a strange noise in the basement, or a stock market crash, what we are afraid of, in reality, is the unknown. But in all of these cases, if you can find the source that’s causing the fear, then those fears might not look so scary after all.

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John Diehl

John Diehl  

CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®
Senior Vice President, Strategic Markets Hartford Funds


John Diehl is senior vice president of Strategic Markets for Hartford Funds. He and his team are responsible for engaging and educating financial advisors and their clients about current and emerging opportunities in the financial-services marketplace. These opportunities range from tactical strategies in areas such as retirement-income planning, investment planning, and charitable planning, to anticipating and preparing for long-term demographic and lifestyle changes. John also oversees Hartford Funds’ relationship with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab.

John joined the company in 1988 and was promoted to assistant vice president in 1991 and vice president in 1997. He was named senior vice president in 2007, while he led the Retirement and Wealth Consulting Group, which was responsible for building awareness and knowledge of retirement challenges and the latest planning strategies to address them. In 2012, John was named Senior Vice President, Strategic Markets; in this role, he devotes his efforts to serving the needs of financial advisors and their clients.

John has been widely quoted in consumer and trade publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Financial Planning, and On Wall Street. He has also appeared as a featured guest on CNBC and Bloomberg Television to discuss his views on retirement-related topics.

John attended Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. He has been a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) since 1991. In addition, he holds the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®) designations. He is also FINRA Series 6, 7, 63, and 26 registered and holds a life and variable insurance license.


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