Why we follow financial advice

There is something very persuasive about financial advice, especially when given in a confident and confidential way.

In How to Get Rich Slowly But Almost Surely: Adventures in Decision-Making, a book published in 1973, William Morris discusses the specific effects of financial advice given by advisers and brokers.

More interesting than the advice itself is the effect it has on you.

What is the effect of advice on your behavior? Are you really using it, or just listening to it? What is its effect on your moods, attitudes, and expectations?

People generally are quite willing to be told what to do with their money by a confident, authoritative sounding source which supplements advice with plausible arguments. These arguments are almost never examined critically or challenged.

Morris claims we sometimes follow advice because it: (1) relieves us of having to make some very difficult decisions; (2) stimulates our greed; (3) reduces our uncertainty; and (4) reduces our anxiety and fear while building our confidence.

“Advisory services make use of more or less subtle devices to appeal to our needs and emotions. … There are several readily identifiable ways of engaging our attention:”

To be bullish when the general trend appears to be down is a powerful stimulant to our tendencies toward wishful thinking.

To be bearish when everybody else sees a continued rise is to awaken our worst fears.

If there is a surprising drop in the market, everybody takes a beating. There is a tendency to forgive the advisory services as a companion in misery. Everybody is human, and in the same boat. To miss a rise, however, is far more serious, and not as likely to be forgiven.

A generally bullish tendency is thus a good policy for an advisory service.

To talk about “strong upside moves,” “most rewarding commitments,” and “outstanding appreciation possibilities” is to make a discreet attempt to awaken our latent get rich quickly desires.

There is a “staunch conservative” disclaimer that “we cannot, of course, guarantee the future effectiveness of our recommendations, but OH BOY, look what we’ve done in the (recent) past.”

There are obvious methods of trying to enhance credibility. “We have been in close touch with top management,” or “based on our computerized, thirty variable, regression model, it would appear that …”

Along with a recommendation which seems to run counter to the prevailing opinion, an attempt is often made to project the image of the fearless, courageous, independent thinker.

“The point of raising these hypotheses,” Morris writes, “is not to discount advice, but to see the effects it is actually having on us.”

The core of his argument is that research on one’s own plans, attitudes, and emotions is likely to make more of a difference than advice.

The thing that most distinguishes the amateur from the professional in financial operations is, simply, self-awareness.

— Via How to Get Rich Slowly But Almost Surely: Adventures in Decision-Making.