Home > Advisor Blog > Improving Client Experience Through Better Risk Tolerance Assessments

Improving Client Experience Through Better Risk Tolerance Assessments

Heading into the end of the year, investors may be starting to rethink their investing strategies and re-assessing their risk tolerance.

Though the U.S. stock market made it through September and October — notoriously bad months for the market — recent polls of economists and American voters indicate great concern about a looming recession. This means that advisers need to be in tune with the changing needs of investors and actively assess the risk that they are willing to take in a potential bear market. Inaccurate, confusing, or outdated investment risk assessments could result in investors with unrealistic expectations and pose a major risk for financial advisers.

Risk Perception

Risk tolerance, which is an investor’s willingness to withstand variable investment returns, is only a small component of managing risk for clients. Investors may believe that they have a high risk tolerance and are able to handle downturns in the market, but they may not actually understand how to be prepared in a bear market. This is why advisers need to consider a holistic view of a client’s perception of risk. Goals should be evaluated frequently to ensure that investments match time horizons. Advisors should also assess the investors’ understanding of risk. Do they know what percentage of their investments are stable, and which may be lost in a market downturn? Although they may feel prepared to take risks while the markets are looking up, that perspective can quickly change when the market takes a dive.

Other risk determinants that should be considered by an investor are risk capacity and risk perception. Risk capacity relates to the amount of risk that the client can actually afford to take or needs to take to reach certain financial goals, regardless of their perception of risk. This capacity can change based on age or lifestyle factors, and it needs to align with an investor’s time horizons and goals. Risk perception is psychological, and refers to how an individual will actually process financial losses. Although investors may feel like they can and want to take risks, recessions create a very different risk assessment, as investors will see what these risks look like in actuality. Poor investment advice in a market downturn can result in legal liabilities for advisers and could turn investors away from the market completely.

Aligning Investor’s Risk Tolerance

Advisors need to be aware of a number of factors in order to set investors up for success. Alignment on the goals of the investment funds, including the time horizon, will be especially important when deciding the mix between equities and fixed income investments. Typically, younger investors have longer time horizons for their investments, as retirement can be close to 50 years away. This allows them to take more risk and invest a higher percentage in equities. In a potentially unstable market, though, it is still important to ensure that their investments are not completely lost. Traditionally, a balanced portfolio of equities and fixed income, with a diversified portfolio, will ensure that investors reap the benefits of the bull market, but are prepared for a downturn. Consider other large purchases that the investor may want to use the fund for, such as a child’s education. These may have shorter time horizons and the investments will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Older investors may be more hesitant to take large risks with their money. With the 2008 recession still on their minds and their retirement age approaching, older investors tend to be more conservative with their money. Although this was commonly the best approach, as life expectancies increase, this strategy is changing. In order to reach certain financial goals or maintain certain lifestyle expectations, older investors may want to consider a riskier approach to investing. Advisors need to understand an individual’s expectations with their money first, before explaining the factors behind risk and reward.

Improving Risk Assessments

Strategies and technologies are evolving to better assess how risk is viewed by investors. Risk questionnaires are becoming more robust, yet less complex, to ensure that investors understand what is being asked of them. They also are being developed to distinguish between the attitude towards risk and the investor’s ability to actually take on risk. This relies on psychometrics, which is the science of measuring mental capacities and processes. Instead of defining comfort level rigidly as conservative, moderate or aggressive, advisers are also starting to rely on risk numbers to form a more complete picture of their clients’ abilities to take risk, their comfort with risk and the amount of risk that they will need to take to reach their goals. These risk number profiles assign investors a number on a scale ranging from zero to 100.

Risk assessments also need to change based on technologies and how investors are accessing these questionnaires. Software programs are emerging that have the capabilities to delve deeper into comfort levels, resulting in a clearer risk assessment. They are also becoming more user friendly and accessible, allowing the average investor to complete their portion of an assessment on mobile devices.

Although questionnaires and advising software are evolving to improve the client experience, advisers also need to evolve to meet the needs of investors. Banks are increasingly offering robo investing, where clients receive minimal personal connection when making their investment decisions. This means that, in order to maintain client connections, an adviser’s personal approach needs to add value for the client. Communication and understanding can go a long way in ensuring that an investor is happy. This, in tandem with scientifically crafted questionnaires, can help advisers better assess a client’s true risk profile and potentially deliver better outcomes.

Preparing For What’s Ahead

No matter the market outlook, advisers and investors need to be prepared for downturns. To maintain their clients’ trust, advisers need to prepare them financially and mentally for any market upsets that may take a toll on their investments, and by extension, their ability to achieve their financial goals. By considering the factors behind an individual’s risk tolerance and approaching risk assessment in a more personalized way, advisers can be more successful in providing a portfolio mix that specifically suits each client’s needs and expectations.

Christopher Crawford is the Director of Advisor Relationships for the Buffalo Funds. He has 10 years of experience in the financial services industry, previously holding positions at Invesco, IMA Financial Group, and Arthur J. Gallagher. At the Buffalo Funds, Christopher works with investment consultant relations, key account management, institutional distribution and client service. His main goal is to partner with advisers to bring business building ideas and provide unparalleled customer support to their business, always striving to make it easy and reliable to work with the entire Buffalo Funds investment team. Christopher received an M.B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and a B.S.F.A. from Southern Methodist University. He also holds licenses for the Series 7, Series 63, and Series 65.

Click here for links to each fund’s holdings. Fund holdings are subject to change and should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any security.

Back to Advisor Blog

Christopher Crawford
Director, Advisor Relationships