The wealthcare and healthcare industries have been on a converging course for several years. I personally have believed this to be true and have helped major companies in both industries develop strategic alliances with one another. And, although those alliances have shown some promise, they haven't yet created the game changing value proposition I expect. In my opinion, it is absolutely a must that wealth advisors and health advisors make the connection and figure out the best way to be rewarded for doing so. Doing that will create a triple win: for the consumer, the wealth and/or health advisor and the respective organization or institution.
Consider this. The health and wealth issues facing Americans and many other developed nations around the world are primarily behavioral. In fact, if one wants to understand either their current financial condition or their current health condition, the first place to look is into past behaviors. If one wants to predict their future financial condition or their future health condition, the first place to look is into their present behaviors. And very importantly, if one's future condition for either looks less bright than desired, the first thing to do is to begin changing behaviors in the present.
"If one wants to predict their future financial condition or their future health condition, the first place to look is into their present behaviors."
The above idea didn't come to me in a dream, but it did come to me as I interpreted the words of Buddhist Monk Sogyal Rinpoche in his recording “Living Well, Dying Well” (his audiotape was a gift given to me by my wife Beth Ann one week before my mom died as the result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident...I took comfort in knowing my mom lived well and that helped me understand she had no loose ends and therefore died well, although tragically). Rinpoche said something like, “If you want to understand your current condition, look into your past actions. If you want to understand your future condition, look into your present actions.” I simply took that message and applied it to my own opinion regarding health and wealth and their respective industries.
When it comes to financial condition, if someone has excessive debt it is usually true that they spent money beyond their means. Debt piled up. The price of that debt went up. Credit rating went down. Access to additional loans became either increasingly expensive or totally unavailable. On the other hand, if someone has accumulated a substantial nest egg or education fund or retirement fund it is usually true that they not only spent within their means, they saved within their means. It is highly likely that they developed the habit of “paying themselves first,” and they probably decided to save a certain percentage of their income. They used debt wisely. Their credit rating went up. And when they needed to borrow money for a property purchase or something else, the cost of borrowing went down.
Apply that same thinking to health. If someone is out of shape, overweight, and has excessively high cholesterol, it is highly likely they consume too much of the wrong food and beverages and they probably exercise too little. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have some good health habits and some that are less good. I'm better at exercising and sleeping right than I am at eating right. I average 10,000 plus steps per day. I lift weights and play tennis and basketball. But when it comes to my diet, I will eat the wrong food at the wrong time from time to time. Luckily, my wife is a model for good health, and she combines healthy eating with healthy exercising. I am the beneficiary of her eating habits.
Hopefully it's already clear that when we have financial or health problems it is often because we have behavioral problems. And, if the problem is behavioral, so is the solution. The overarching solution can be labeled Behavioral Advice. Think of that as the big umbrella. Under the big umbrella, we would have Behavioral Financial Advice (the BFA designation does exist—think2perform created Behavioral Financial Advice and partnered with Kaplan University in providing education and testing). Also under the big umbrella, we would have Behavioral Health Advice. The two are connected because one's financial condition influences one's health condition, and one's health condition influences one's financial condition. We will focus on Behavioral Financial Advice.
The connection between money and health has been recognized since the 1800's, but I won't go back that far to make the point. PricewaterhouseCoopers reported in their 2014 Employee Financial Wellness Survey that the majority of employed adults feel stress because of their financial situation1 (it's reasonable to surmise that doesn't get better for the unemployed). That same year, Financial Finesse Inc. reported that stress related to finances is true across all income levels.2 And, as Dr. Helen Riess from Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital shared with me, “Does financial stress affect physical health? The answer to that question is yes.” Dr. Riess also noted that “our brains are still wired to perceive danger. And the dangers we perceive today are usually related to health or money issues.”
“'Does financial stress affect physical health? The answer to that question is yes.'”
Diana Ianorrone is a former financial executive turned life coach. She has personally experienced the connection between health and wealth: “Recently, I am more worried about money, and I notice I don't keep myself as active and I don't eat as well. And it's not that I don't have enough money, I just don't want to think about it.”
So what does all of this mean for financial advisors? When you put Riess's and Ianorrone's comments together it means that financial advisors have an opportunity to help their clients reduce financial stress and simultaneously improve physical health. As Diana put it, “I believe money, health and happiness are all intertwined.” Indeed, they are. People want to be physically healthy and emotionally happy, and financial advisors are in a perfect position to help them with both of those by helping them take the worry and stress out of money-related matters.
Do I have any other advice for advice givers? Yes. If you are not already doing so, get to know your clients from the inside out. That is best done by getting to know their values (e.g., family, happiness, wisdom, integrity, security, health). Of course, it is also critical that advisors understand their clients' goals (e.g., education, retirement, legacy, travel). Once you know both values and goals, align your recommendations and your client's behaviors with their goals, and align their goals with their values.
Incorporating all of the above into your value proposition will result in you having made the connection between wealth and health (and happiness). Your value to your clients will go up. They and you will discover that your “behavioral financial advice” can produce financial security and peace of mind. Peace of mind and financial security can enhance physical health and emotional wellbeing (happiness).
Pretty exciting, don't you think?
Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.
The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and individuals quoted and should not be construed as a recommendation or as complete.