Behavioral Finance: Sensing vs. Intuitive Clients

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Sensing Versus Intuitive Clients and Their Financial Decision-Making

Determining if a client is more aligned with the sensing or intuition preference gives advisors two huge pieces of information about how best to work with them.

Justin A. Reckers and Robert A. Simon,

Originally published by on July 23rd 2012

In our last couple of articles, we began drilling down on the four continua of personality and psychological preferences that underlie the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

–Extraversion v. Introversion
–Sensing v. Intuition
–Thinking v. Feeling
–Judging v. Perceiving

An individual’s personality will give us vital guidance into that client’s psychological needs, behavioral patterns, and the way in which emotions interact with and interrupt financial decision-making.

Last month we reviewed the Extroversion vs. Introversion continua. We offered observations of both extroverts and introverts and uncovered some common biases and barriers they might encounter on the way to economically rational decision-making.

This month we take on the next leg of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and discuss the Sensing vs. Intuition preference. This overview will help you as an advisor to recognize which side of the ledger your clients occupy and give some ideas as to how you can best work with them and the specific behavioral and cognitive biases they may bring into their financial decision-making.

In previous articles we briefly outlined the “sensing” individual juxtaposed with the “intuitive” counterpart and gave a ten-thousand-foot view of their communication styles and tendencies toward certain economically irrational thought processes. Determining if a client is more aligned with the sensing or intuition preference gives advisors two huge pieces of information about how best to work with them.

1) How do they learn?
2) How do they perceive the future?

Clients are mostly sensing or intuitive but are likely to still have traits of the other. So it would not be accurate to pigeonhole individuals into one classification. However, we will discuss them as two separate categories for purposes of contrast.

Sensing individuals are attentive and immersed in the sensory intake from every environment they encounter. The individual exhibiting the psychological preferences of a sensing personality will use quotes like “live for today,” “here and now,” and “bottom line.”

Following are some brief descriptions of observations common in sensing clients that can help an advisor recognize an extroverted personality.

Observations of a Sensing Client
–Detail oriented
–Takes mental pictures
–Remembers events based on literal experience
–Concerned with the present
–Occupied by what is actual and tangible
–Trusting of experience
–Learns from practical application

We believe sensing individuals to be inclined to exhibit more passive biases. Following are some behavioral finance biases we believe should be expected in sensing personalities along with brief descriptions. The three biases below are different but interrelated, as you will see from the explanations:

Status Quo Bias: Sensing clients are concerned with the present, the here and now, and will have trouble committing to a deliberate conceptualization of the future. Because of this concern for the present, they will exhibit a bias toward the status quo and an aversion to change.

Aversion to Ambiguity: Sensing clients are occupied by what is actual and tangible, and just as they have an aversion to change, they have an aversion to the future. They are preoccupied with understanding the present and sensing the effect of the forces around them in a given moment. They require the details and the availability of current information, so the ambiguity represented by the future may cause them to withdrawal.

Inertia: Sensing client can be very detail oriented and pay so much attention to the current facts that they miss new and different possibilities, which can lead to inertia. The preference for the status quo combined with the heightened awareness of current tangible details will cause the sensing client to miss opportunities for progress.

Intuitive individuals are likely to be more future oriented and more capable of conceptualizing what might be possible. They will also be more skeptical of the future and always be calculating different angles and reading between the lines.

Observations of an Intuitive Client
–Remembers events based on an impression of the experience
–Constantly tries to read between the lines
–Learns by thinking through every angle
–Trusts gut feelings
–Day dreamer
–Can be scatter-brained, jumping from one place to the other
–Thinks more of the future than the past

We believe intuitive clients may be more inclined to exhibit active biases. Following are some behavioral finance biases we believe to be common in intuitive personalities, with brief descriptions.

Analysis Paralysis: Intuitive individuals are always seeking deeper meanings in situations. In divorce negotiations, for instance, we commonly see intuitive clients balk at financial settlements offered them without consideration. The common reasoning is, “if my former spouse is offering it to me, it must not be a good deal.” The intuitive client may look for hidden meanings and wind up allowing a feeling that things are too good to be true hijack decision-making.

Framing Effect: Intuitive people remember events and learn based on impressions. In the case of a memorable event, they may associate a feeling or a thought they had in the middle of the memory. They are constantly looking at all angles and seeking a different frame of reference for the memory or the learning experience. Because of this, they may be prone to framing effect or the tendency for people to draw different conclusions based on how data is presented. This includes the tendency to ignore that a solution exists, because the source is seen as an “enemy” or as “inferior” (see above).

Optimism Bias: Because intuitive individuals tend to trust their gut feelings, they may believe they are less at risk of experiencing a negative outcome. They simply believe the gut feeling they have based on their own knowledge and experience is the best resource to rely upon–which can lead to unrealistic optimism.

Next month we will have a more in-depth discussion and application of the Thinking vs. Feeling leg of the Myers-Briggs continua.

Justin A. Reckers, CFP, CDFA, AIF is director of financial planning at Pacific Wealth Management and managing director of Pacific Divorce Management, LLC, in San Diego.

Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. is a forensic psychologist, trial consultant, expert witness, and alternative dispute resolution specialist based in Del Mar, Calif.

Resolving the Aversion to Estate Planning

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Resolving the Aversion to Estate Planning
With a few key observations and calculated interventions, advisers should be able to remove a client’s barriers to creating, adjusting, and updating an estate plan.
by Justin A. Reckers and Robert A. Simon

Originally published by on April 21st 2011

Resolving the Aversion to Estate Planning

We see applications for behavioral finance at its most simple in estate planning. Classic stories abound involving the wealthy patriarch determined to control the lives of his decedents from beyond the grave. The trophy wife trying to strike gold when her spouse, 30 years her senior, kicks the bucket. Children fighting over parents intentions left unsaid. Step parents breaking wills and raiding the wealth of their short-term spouses at the protest of the rightful heirs. Trust fund kids left millions without restriction wasting their potential and letting the guarantee of financial security deter them from working to make their own money. We could write an entire article on each of these and many other examples from our practice and will do so, but not today.

Instead we want to concentrate on resolving the aversion to planning in general.

A sudden change in health status never fails to motivate Americans to plan for the worst. In the past six months, we’ve seen diagnoses of prostate cancer, aortic aneurysm, multiple sclerosis, heart attack, transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke), and a few others work as the catalyst for an individual or family to get their estate planning buttoned up, in some cases for the first time. Why is it so hard to convince our clients to do so before the crisis? Could it be that the average person doesn’t understand the need for an estate plan or the process necessary to create one? Or could it be that Americans hate the idea of undertaking such a process because they are avoiding the confirmation of their own mortality?

We believe it is a little bit of both, and with a few key observations and calculated interventions, advisers should be able to remove a client’s barriers to creating, adjusting, and updating an estate plan.

Aversion to ambiguity can paralyze clients in the face of difficult and fear-provoking decision-making processes. Believe it or not, there are clients in the high net worth market who don’t understand the process required to create a viable estate plan. They don’t know how to get started, how long it will take, or how much it will cost. There are even more in middle-class America. Many middle-class Americans believe estate planning is necessary only if you are wealthy, and they probably don’t consider themselves to be wealthy when they own a home and a million dollar 401(k).

The battleground to be conquered here is a simple one. Removing the ambiguity from the decision-making process will remove barriers to embarking on the process in the first place. This is a simple cognitive barrier that leads many Americans to move through life without the plans their family needs to transition safely after their loss. It can be remedied with education and advocacy.

A classic example of another kind of cognitive barrier was illustrated in an Aesop fable that gave rise to the term “sour grapes.” The story spoke of a fox that came across some high-hanging grapes and fancied himself a snack. He tried mightily to reach the grapes and eat them but could not. Instead he convinced himself they would probably be sour grapes anyway, so the endeavor was not worth undertaking. The fox desired the grapes, found them unattainable, so he not only gave up but also reduced their importance by criticizing them. This is also an example of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon explaining the feeling of uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time. In the case of the fox, his two thoughts were first that the grapes would be a wonderful snack but second they were unattainable.

In the case of estate planning, the two conflicting thoughts are first, the notion that undertaking such planning is not only important to the individual but necessary for the protection of one’s family members. The second thought is that they will live long, happy, and fruitful lives, so there is no need to worry and certainly no need to rush into the estate planning process.

The result is a conflicted feeling about the importance of estate planning in the first place. Admitting that life is short and you must plan for the worst in order to protect your family will lead to the realization that life will end soon. This is in conflict to the often-reported thought, “it won’t happen to me and my family.” Thoughts like these are examples of the human criticizing the need for estate planning in the same way the fox criticized the grapes, thus diminishing the importance of estate planning and confirming their belief that it is not worth the worry.

Those who refuse to acknowledge their own mortality may have a deep emotional conflict that cannot be remedied by a financial advisor. They may have unexpectedly lost a loved one or been near death themselves and survived. An advisor would do well to learn about a client’s family history for the purpose of planning for life expectancy in retirement, risk management, and other applications. We believe it to be even more important to the planning process as a whole to help advisors understand the narrative that forms their clients’ feelings and opinions around emotionally charged financial decisions like planning for their own death. Getting to know the story behind the actions should help advisors use that story to build better decision-making processes, foster self determination, and make positive change in the financial lives of clients and their families.

We will continue our applied behavioral finance series next month with some details about why we believe applications of behavioral finance are so important in our current economic environment–including neuroscientific evidence supporting the importance of self determination in financial decision-making and a fiduciary standard of care for financial advisors before continuing with additional practice observations.

Justin A. Reckers, CFP, CDFA, AIF is director of financial planning at Pacific Wealth Management and managing director of Pacific Divorce Management, LLC, in San Diego.

Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. is a forensic psychologist, trial consultant, expert witness, and alternative dispute resolution specialist based in Del Mar, Calif.

Behavioral Finance and Long Term Care Insurance


Behavioral Finance and Long Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance is a thorny, multifaceted issue.

By Justin Reckers and Robert Simon

Originally Published by on March 17th 2011

Last month we touched the subject of Behavioral Finance in Life Insurance decisions and saw quite a bit of feedback from the readership. Some was good, some was bad, some was indifferent. Many readers took the discussion of sales tactics pretty hard and felt the need to defend the insurance-sales industry. We want to stress again the underlying concept of the article was far from being a definitive answer to the perennial question of whether investors should buy term and invest the difference. It was certainly not aimed at impugning the sales tactics of the life insurance industry. Rather, we seek to uncover the relationship between emotion and economic theory at the point of financial decision-making. Make observations about the drive of each power and help others understand how these observations can be used in practice to help everyone make better financial decisions through applied behavioral finance.

This article focuses on long-term care insurance. We will look at the product itself, the emotional aversion or motivation to its use as well as how and why state and federal governments have gotten involved to help promote the economic “rationality” of the product.

Unlike life insurance, long-term care does not have an easily quantifiable probability of paying benefits. In order to receive benefits under a long-term care policy an insured must be considered chronically ill and unable to perform certain activities of daily living. Very few consumers understand what this means before meeting with an insurance agent. The ones that do will have been in a position to provide the necessary care for a loved one at some point in their lives. Those who have been in the caregivers role in the past will understand the two main reasons for most people to purchase long-term care insurance 1) protect against the potentially devastating effect of the cost on other financial goals and plans and 2) insulate the caregiver from the negative physical and financial affects of their role.

The first step in uncovering the emotional component of this step in the planning process lies in the client’s ability to comprehend the emotional cost of long-term care. Many will not immediately consider the emotional cost to their loved ones of providing care on a day to day basis. Many people will have a more visceral aversion to accepting care in a nursing home or other facility and completely avoid the conversation about long-term care. This may be rooted in an aversion to change or bias towards the status quo or a lack of understanding around the options they have for their care.

We believe that concern for caregivers is one of the greatest components of the underlying need for long-term care insurance. Helping clients connect the concern they have for the well-being of their spouse and children with the possibility that they may be the exact people charged with their daily care should help develop an emotional connection and motivation towards considering long-term care insurance.

Once the emotional connection is made the client should be more open to understanding the availability of in-home care versus nursing home care and all of the other truly valuable terms of current long-term care insurance products. Working through these policy provisions and concentrating on the options available for minimizing change should help remove the status quo bias of many clients who believe long-term care is only for nursing homes.

State and federal governments believe long-term care insurance is economically “rational,” at least from their perspective, and have thrown their support behind it in the last fifteen years.

The federal government most recently got involved in promoting long-term care insurance through a provision in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The DRA created a national long-term care partnership program allowing each state to set up their own programs combining private long term care insurance as the primary payer of benefits with Medicaid as the secondary payer once the private policy benefits have been exhausted. Individuals are then allowed to protect a portion of their assets instead of spending them down to qualify for Medicaid coverage. The beauty the program is two-fold. Individuals are rewarded for planning ahead and purchasing long-term care policies while state budgets are preserved by requiring that the benefits of those qualifying insurance policies be paid before Medicaid benefits can be accessed.

Many states have followed the Fed’s lead and developed long-term care partnership programs over the years. The states want individuals to provide for at least a portion of their own care. In order to facilitate this they have developed plans that mandate certain provisions and guarantee asset protection strategies under Medicaid law. The details of each state program differ but the underlying idea is one rooted in behavioral finance. The states want citizens to buy long-term care insurance because Medicaid will be next in line to pay the costs if individuals do not plan for it themselves. More individual long-term care insurance means less drain upon state Medicaid budgets. Richard Thaler might call this “libertarian paternalism.”

The evolution of long-term care insurance products as well as state and federal government encouragement of their use has led to a tremendous increase in its use as a financial planning tool. So does it make economic sense? Clearly the state and federal powers that be have decided long-term care insurance makes economic sense and have chosen to throw their weight behind it via partnership programs and tax-qualified plans. They believe, from an actuarial perspective, an increase in individual coverage will help reduce state expenditures through Medicaid and bolster state budgets.

Economic “rationality” from the consumer side is complicated by the myriad of options and choices available in the market place today. Different options make economic sense for some and do not for others. A partnership policy makes little sense for a high-net-worth individual since the Medicaid asset protection likely has no value. We care more about getting to the bottom of the emotional motivation for clients in this case to help facilitate “rational” decision-making. The state and federal government support is just another great example of government involvement in our everyday financial decision-making.

We will continue our applied behavioral finance series next month with observations and applications in estate planning and probate.

Justin A. Reckers, CFP, CDFA, AIF is director of financial planning at Pacific Wealth Management and managing director of Pacific Divorce Management, LLC, in San Diego.

Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. is a forensic psychologist, trial consultant, expert witness, and alternative dispute resolution specialist based in Del Mar, Calif.

Behavioral Finance and Life Insurance


Behavioral Finance and Life Insurance

Emotions play a significant role in life insurance decisions.

By Justin Reckers and Robert Simon

Originally Published by on February 17th 2011

There is one reason to buy most insurance products: aversion to loss. More specifically, aversion to a substantial loss. Term life insurance is what we call a pure insurance policy. If you don’t die during the term, the policy pays nothing. Unfortunately, we all die some day. The term life insurance buyer is insuring against a premature death, not death in general. Coming to grips with the possibility of premature death is not easy for some. Luckily, term life insurance is relatively cheap, so the decision to buy might be easier. As you hear on radio commercials all the time “a 40-year-old male in good health can get a $500,000 policy for $35 per month”. A whole (permanent) life insurance buyer is insuring against death in general. They know that they will die and so does the insurance company. The gamble is just how long it will take for the eventuality to be realized. Because the insurance company knows it is going to be on the hook someday, the policy is more expensive.

So let’s look at the underlying decision-making process that clients often encounter when making the decision to buy different types of life insurance, how psychology wreaks havoc upon them, and what economic theory might expect “rational” humans to do.

Life insurance has long been a cornerstone of financial plans. In some cases, when pushed by agents, it can be the entire financial plan. Life insurance products and the related sales strategies have been at the front of incorporating observations from applied behavioral finance for decades. Agents take advantage of mental accounting by pushing whole life policies as mandated savings plans. Whole life insurance accumulates cash value based on the client paying greater premiums when compared with a term policy. The difference in the premiums accumulates as cash value inside the policy. The sales pitch will say that the life insurance not only offers protection for your family in the event of the insured’s death, but it also offers a disciplined, mandatory savings plan that will help the insured stick to their retirement savings goals. The insured will then have the ability to draw funds from the mandatory savings account after a portion of every premium payment is allocated to the accumulation of cash value. This sales pitch is taking advantage of a human tendency for mental accounting. An agent will also likely inform a prospective buyer that the policy will eventually be “free,” because the cash value will have accumulated to the point at which it can pay for itself later in life. How can you turn it down? Protection for the family today in the event of death, a disciplined savings strategy that guarantees you will continue saving for retirement and “free” insurance some day. Sounds like a great deal.

So what would an economically “rational” insurance shopper do? An economically “rational” person would have no emotional attachment to the concept of “free” insurance, because we all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. An economically “rational” insurance buyer would also have no need for imposed savings discipline. They would commit to their savings goals and never depart from that commitment. Two of the three enticements to buy whole life insurance disappear along with emotional awareness. The only thing left is the need to protect the insured’s family in the event of premature death and the things that come with it. We think they would buy term and invest the difference. The economically “rational” thing to do would be to remove any emotional factors from the decision-making process. When emotional factors are removed, we can see the true purpose of insurance. The true purpose is to insure against a catastrophic loss that could have major negative effects on the financial circumstances of a family.

Why do they go ahead with each subsequent decision to write a check for a monthly or annual premium? The value for a life insurance policyholder, at the moment when a decision is made to write a check for premium, is derived not from an actual claim event, but from the peace of mind experienced by the person writing the check. The peace of mind is obtained by knowing they have provided for their family in the event of their death. That their spouse and children will not be forced to move out of a home they can no longer afford. These are visceral feelings that are hard to deny and create a framework for conceptualizing the outcome of their actions. The way a client frames an outcome in their mind affects the utility they expect. This is the concept of framing.

The visceral reaction to conceptualizing life after one’s own death keeps people writing their annual premium checks but a “rational” participant in the insurance world might second guess. The insurance company knows that the smaller number of decisions you are faced with the greater likelihood that you will make the decision they want and pay your premium. This is part of the reason why they charge additional fees for monthly or quarterly payment plans compared a single annual premium.

Life insurance is almost always a function of protecting one’s family and can be a source of disagreement among couples. Helping a couple understand the actual process of decision-making regarding life insurance with the emotions brought to the front of the conversation will help dispel 90% of disagreements on the matter. Those disagreements left over will be about the numbers–either dollar amount or duration–and these should be easy to work through given some thorough analysis.

We do not have space to debate which insurance strategy is superior, and we would certainly never say categorically that one size fits all. We believe that there are many really good uses for permanent life insurance. Everyone reading this will have their own opinion built by their experiences and preferences. We also have to pass on the opportunity to discuss the merits of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “Libertarian Paternalism” which might encourage the types of nudges used in insurance sales tactics. We will tackle the topics of professional biases and “Libertarian Paternalism” another time.

We will continue our Applied Behavioral Finance series next month with a continued look at decisions about Insurance.

Justin A. Reckers, CFP, CDFA, AIF is director of financial planning at Pacific Wealth Management and managing director of Pacific Divorce Management, LLC, in San Diego.

Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. is a forensic psychologist, trial consultant, expert witness, and alternative dispute resolution specialist based in Del Mar, Calif.