As the coronavirus pandemic accelerates, it’s important to build a personal point of view about the best way to cope with the future’s uncertainties. For client-facing advisors, the actions you take and the words you share will likely determine the trajectory of your business over the next few years. Here is some advice for helping yourself and others through the crisis.

In the Words of FDR

The best advice I’ve ever heard for coping with times like this was spoken by the newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on March 4, 1933, as he began his first inaugural address: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” We’ve heard these words so often that we risk losing the importance of this advice: for all of us, especially those who have earned the trust of clients and serve as their advisors, the most important thing we can do to be helpful is to manage and metabolize our own feelings of fear.

Why Is Fear the Problem?
Roosevelt hit the proverbial nail on the head when he called fear a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes.” As professional advisors, our first commitment is to ensure that we are advising from a solid, rational perspective. No matter how many strategies we have learned for communicating about the markets or managing our clients’ emotions, if our own feelings have been activated, we run the risk of stimulating anxiety in other people rather than being a calming force of wisdom and deep insights.

As Daniel Kahneman reminds us in his famous book Thinking, Fast and Slow, every human brain is wired with a rational or “slow-thinking” structure that uses information and analytic processes to arrive at perspectives and decisions. Unfortunately, this part of the brain can easily be overwhelmed by the “fast-thinking” part that relies on simple impressions and emotional reactions to stimulate instinctive survival responses. This two-part structure presents the essential challenge we face when dealing with a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic: to be effective as an advisor requires a thoughtful, highly rational perspective precisely when we are most likely to have our own instinctive fight-or-flight reactions activated.

What Can a Thoughtful Advisor Do?
Your first priority should be to take control of your own emotional reactions to the current situation. Here’s some advice for you as a frontline advisor:

1) Pay attention to your feelings and question your emotional reactions.
2) Focus your thinking on a long-term perspective.
3) Take actions on things you can control.

To learn more about these three steps, read our full guide.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

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