My takeaways and thoughts after an excellent webinar
In January I attended an excellent webinar on financial wellness. I got a lot out of it and it prompted a number of additional thoughts, which I’ll combine in this blog post. I wish I could remember exactly who said what, but I was in a blaze of writing and couldn’t always keep track of the sources. I do know that I got something from each one of the experts on the panel. So if you ever come across any of these names, know that I’m mightily impressed by them. Also, I don’t know if a variant of the Chatham House Rule applies, meaning I can’t attribute a quote to a specific person – so I won’t say who said what, though in this case it’s OK to identify the participants.
The webinar was held by Canadian Club Toronto, and moderated by Melissa Leong, author of Happy Go Money. In alphabetical order, the experts were Jackie Porter, financial planner; Bruce Sellery, personal finance journalist and author of Moolala: Why smart people do dumb things with their money (and what you can do about it); Idan Shlesinger, President, Retirement Solutions and Executive Vice President, Morneau Shepell (and whom I know independently because I’m a board member of one of Morneau Shepell’s subsidiary companies); and Shannon Lee Simmons, founder of the New School of Finance. My grateful thanks to all of them, and I hope I’ve recorded them accurately.
Financial wellness is a psychological state, of comfort with one’s financial position and outlook. (That’s my definition.) So you can tell that financial wellness is a personal reaction, not an objective financial state. And it affects the way we feel and the way we think about things and the way we behave.
How do we feel, right now? One expert led off by revealing the results of a very recent Canadian survey (subsequently published here):
- Financial uncertainty is the biggest contributor to employee stress. The biggest factor here is whether the employee has access to emergency funds. If not, they feel trapped. This is not a surprise. I wrote a recent blog post on the importance of emergency savings.
- 4 out of 10 believe they’re doing worse than others like them, and that’s at all income levels. Clearly an emotional conclusion! So this is an opportunity to provide education.
- 25% of employees say their financial concerns affect their ability to focus, when at work. Hence again an opportunity and an incentive for employers to help their employees.
I noted several observations on feelings:
- One expert mentioned how important intangibles are in influencing how we feel. For example, think of those going through a divorce: often it’s not the money involved that causes the strongest feelings. And since these are feelings, remember that friends are a great resource. Add to that the need for a plan and for action to implement the plan.
- A second expert said that it’s useful and important to look at the situation and map it out – you’ll find it’s rarely as scary as you think it is. (I cheered to myself when I heard this. It echoes one of my early blog posts.) And the expert added practical tips: When you make a plan, develop a micro-timeline, because reaching mini goals gives you a sense of control and enhances confidence. And yes, build that emergency account.
- A third expert reminded us that it can be scary to read the media, because it’s their job to scare us; remember, it’s not their job to be our friend. And also beware of what can be called “comparisonitis”: don’t compare yourself with your neighbors, and especially don’t compare yourself negatively. Much better, just focus on something you are doing well.
In remarks aimed specifically at employers, one expert suggested:
- Understand your workforce and their issues – and how diverse they are as individuals and how diverse their fears also are.
- There’s lots of bad information and sales-oriented stuff out there – use it as an opportunity to educate your employees.
- All that you’re already doing for your employees is great. But remember, one size doesn’t fit all.
To which another added: “Nudge” your employees into virtuous behavior (a reference to the wonderful book Nudge by Nobel Prize Winner Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein) – for example, the Save More Tomorrow (aka SMART) approach originated by Thaler and Dr Shlomo Benartzi that catalyzes employees into action on retirement saving.
Focusing again on individuals, one expert suggested that an excellent starting point is often to calculate your net worth, that is, your assets minus what you owe.
Finally, the experts were asked to suggest one money priority for 2021. I noted these four suggestions:
- Seek a secondary stream of income (a lesson from pandemic experience).
- Make a plan, to relieve your panic and fear, and focus on the first few small steps. I made an added note here, that if you don’t have a plan, your money will find ways to escape from you.
- Recognize that money is a tool, like Zoom or a screwdriver: get better at using the tool.
- Don’t lose hope; keep your eye on the long game.
In fact I see these bullet points as excellent ways to start conquering your financial fears, at any age and any stage of your life.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.