Wealth Strategies

Inflation, Rising Rates Put Behavioural Finance In The Frame

Tom Burroughes Group Editor 25 August 2023

Inflation, Rising Rates Put Behavioural Finance In The Frame

The discipline within economics known as behavioural finance continues to be important. The market dramas of recent years, ranging from failing banks to rising interest rates, create plenty of examples of behaviour to study and (hopefully) learn from. We talk to Barclays Private Bank.

Rising interest rates, turbulent markets, the demise of Silicon Valley Bank, First Republic and Credit Suisse, and China as a fresh source of trouble – the drama keeps coming. These nerve-testing changes don’t just influence what investors think, but what they feel. And emotions and behavioural traits matter, because they can lead humans into making big errors (and some successes). 

Behavioural finance, a topic that was relatively obscure within mainstream finance two decades ago, has become more of a talking point now. The term applies to understanding, for example, how people mistake portfolio gains for pure skill rather than also accept the role of chance or treat losses more emotionally than they do with gains and follow crowd behaviour. 

These insights draw on views about how humans have evolved from pre-history and are used to explain events such as stock market booms and busts or share trading frenzies such as the GameStop affair in the US in 2021. In September 2020, a study of more than 300 advisors by Charles Schwab Investment Management, Cerulli Associates and the Investments & Wealth Institute, found that 81 per cent of advisors used behavioural finance techniques when talking to clients, rising from 71 per cent in 2019.

Behavioural finance practitioners in this area generally argue that the more humans understand how they think, and how they can be biased, paradoxically, the more rational their choices should be. For example, a person who knows that they have a short temper in certain situations might be more careful about avoiding those situations; a person with an addictive personality might take care to avoid getting into environments where temptations exist, and so on.

Barclays’ move
A bank that jumped relatively early into behavioural finance is Barclays. At the private banking side, closely understanding what makes clients tick is an important way to strengthen relationships, frame expectations and deliver services, Alex Joshi, head of Behavioural Finance at Barclays Private Bank, told this news service recently. 

“We are trying to get people to make better long-term decisions,” he said. 

Joshi recently discussed the outlook for behavioural finance – Waiting for a tipping point – in the bank’s mid-year outlook.

When using the tools of behavioural finance, it is important for clients and advisors to distinguish between short-term and long-term goals. 

“This is bringing a different perspective to discussions with clients,” Joshi said. 

Joshi became interested in the subject after reading “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely whilst preparing for his admission interview for Cambridge University. He later joined Barclays in September 2017 and now works with colleagues to embed behavioural finance into the banking and advisory process.

"Many of the things that exist in behavioural finance are not rocket science and are quite well understood, but we don’t always act on them,” Joshi said, responding to a question of how well clients understood the topic and how they reacted to ideas on it.

Behavioural finance helps clients, with their advisors, to put rules in place to guide how they act in different market situations, right down to the idea of avoiding reading the news feeds for a few days to stay composed. 

Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, can play in the behavioural finance space through its presumed ability to spot patterns in a mass of data, he said. “AI could benefit advisors if it allowed for more personalised and reactive communication.” However, caution is advisable because so much revolves around trust: “The human element is key.” 

Related to AI is the impact of technology on investing, and how behavioural finance plays into this. Joshi explained: “Technology has been highly beneficial in democratising investing. However, certain features such as the ability to check on investments and transact in real time at any time is not without risks. The ‘gamification’ of investing and trading, and the social media element can exacerbate certain biases or unhelpful behaviours.”

Ultimately, wealth management is a results business, and a world beset by inflation and changing market conditions reinforces that. “In the face of today’s uncertain world, we remind investors of the importance of staying focussed on their own goals. Using that as the lens through which to view the news and their own resulting actions allows investors to look beyond the headlines at the impact on their own individual portfolios. For the long-term investor holding a diversified portfolio, it’s longer-term data and trends which matter most.” 

Clients have been able to see clear benefits from applying behavioural finance ideas, Joshi said: “Clients begin to identify their own biases and behaviours, leading to conversations about how to better approach the investing journey to maximise their chances of reaching their own individual investment goals, as well as improving satisfaction with their investment journey.” 

Academic behavioural finance studies have looked at the impact of various biases on investment performance, for example in the paper on overtrading – "Trading is hazardous to your wealth," Barber and Odean (2000). 

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