We should be seeking out advisers with a calm demeanour and a gritty work ethic, instead of focusing on whether they are extroverted or introverted, US researcher and academic Meghaan Lurtz says.
Lurtz, who published an article on Kitces.com called The Defining Personality Traits Of (Successful) Financial Planners, says being conscientious – working hard and doing the right thing – is rightly tagged as a characteristic of a good adviser; however, she believes emotional stability is the real key to success.
“Conscientious advisers are going to be willing to put in the hours, get through the education and keep themselves busy,” Lurtz says. Yet if an adviser isn’t able to stay above the emotional fray, the hard work won’t be enough, she explains.
“Yes, I want an adviser who works hard,” she says. “But more than that, to actually comfort me and help me make tough financial decisions, I want a very calm, empathetic, supportive adviser. If I’m nervous about my money, the last person I want to talk to is another person just as nervous as I am.”
Lurtz makes the point that low levels of neuroticism in advisers, making for a personality with the ability to soothe, also separates them from cheaper, tech-enabled solutions, such as robo-advice.
“This fact really should not be missed or overlooked,” Lurtz says. “Financial planning is not going to be eclipsed by robo-advice because robo-advice cannot comfort a client and keep them calm.”
Agreeableness in advisers is also paramount, for building relationships, but this does not mean they should always say yes or avoid confrontation. “That could lead to burnout,” she says.
One of the more nuanced personality traits Lurtz links to success in advice is a sense of grit, which is about “passion and perseverance” and can be strengthened “like a muscle”.
“Conscientiousness is not quite grit, but both are about hard work,” Lurtz explains. She uses the example of someone who is afraid of public speaking confronting their fears and taking Toastmasters courses or going to an improv class.
“You may never love it, but you can get better at it,” she says.
Old theories challenged
Lurtz’s research takes on the conventional view that financial advisers need to be extroverted to be successful. Dissecting adviser personalities, she says, is about more than splitting them into introvert and extrovert camps.
“The extroversion/introversion comparison is always interesting and fun to discuss in theory but can be a bit difficult to untangle and probably leaves us with more questions than answers,” she says.
Part of the problem with using them as a marker for adviser personality traits is that people aren’t always uniformly extroverted or introverted; Lurtz herself identifies as an introvert but says she can be “gregarious and give an energetic lecture in front of a large crowd”.
“[It’s likely that] many advisers are also this way,” she says. “They may prefer quiet and independent work but they may also come alive in those one-on-one meetings with clients when they are energised by their passion to help that client.”
In short, Lurtz explains, stereotypes and norms can’t be trusted.
“I think the biggest take-away – more than who is and who isn’t an extravert or an introvert – is that financial planning is a place for both of these personalities to shine and that does not match the longstanding stereotype that only the extraverted can survive.”