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Dennis Hall: Don’t let unconscious bias hurt your advice

Hall-Dennis-Yellowtail-2013 700 x 450.jpgI have largely stayed off Twitter this year, only occasionally dropping in to see what is happening. On recent visits, I have been taken aback by some of the terse exchanges between various factions of the advice community.

It seems to me that, instead of expanding the range of knowledge and individual viewpoints, the internet (and social media, especially) has concentrated our knowledge and narrowed our views.

That said, every decision you have taken has brought you to where you are today.

The books you chose to read, the people you decided to listen to and the opinions you elected to accept – these have all contributed to your current belief system. It is the same for all of us, and we cannot all be right.

Yet we tend to believe our viewpoint is the right viewpoint. Even if we are open to learning, we almost always think we are right and therefore anyone who disagrees with us is wrong.

All those experiences create the unconscious “lenses” that we wear each day to filter how we see and experience the world.

A recent Twitter conversation that piqued my interest was triggered by Wingate Financial Planning’s Alistair Cunningham’s latest column for Money Marketing about the “bizarre and worrying rise of the life coach”.

He says he does not “get” the increase in life coaching and, because it does not fit with his world view, it must be wrong. “What is wrong with plain old financial planning?” he asks. Nothing, probably, but some people believe they provide a better client experience using coaching techniques.

I myself have taken several coaching courses. During one exercise, I watched and listened to one side of a two-sided conversation, then had to explain what was going on. Everyone in the class did it.

What surprised me was the variety of explanations for the same conversation. Even more surprising, though, was how each explanation exactly reflected the listener’s own values.

The exercise demonstrated how we each filter what we see and hear through our own values. Just knowing this helps us reduce the biases we unwittingly bring to our advice.

A second Twitter conversation of note was about advisers’ attitude to risk. Some suggested that, if you did not need to take risk, why would you?

Peer-to-peer lending cropped up and someone suggested they would not let their clients anywhere near it.

It is difficult to have a nuanced discussion using 140 characters per tweet but, as the conversation continued, the question turned away from the risk the client would accept to what the adviser was prepared to accept.

One said: “With at least 25 more years in the game, my view is formed with the least risk to me as the most important factor. Risk is best avoided.”

That is honest, so why not say that? Some clients want risk even if they do not need it. Let them work with someone who is comfortable with risk and work only with clients who share your view. It is not wrong but neither is it right.

Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning



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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. All human beings are biased. It is very difficult indeed not to be. The most common biases are “hindsight bias” and “confirmation bias” often employed in tandem. The best way to deal with biases is to try to keep an open mind. But not so open that your brain falls out!!

    Michael Nicholas has written a good book on this subject The Little Black Book of Decision Making- well worth a read

  2. Well Dennis I can certainly agree with you about social media – a moronic establishment. Unconscious bias? I think not – perfectly conscious. As is my antipathy to peer to peer lending. Very often you don’t know who you are lending to – even if you do the borrowers must by definition be flaky – otherwise they could get legitimate funds from a bank or other source. Lend without collateral – madness.

    As to coaching Alistair is right. Too many confuse financial advice with social work. I read sociology at college – what a load of tripe. However if that’s what floats your and the client’s boat and you get paid for it – the so be it, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it is facile.

    In essence may I take it that conscious bias is OK? I am certainly guilty of that. After all that is what clients require – opinions and guidance – and that by definition requires bias.

  3. Reads a bit like a re-hash of “stick 10 IFA’s in a room with one case study”…..

    We wouldn’t be human with out a difference of opinion, IFA’s are no different from any other, as in fact we are, all different !

    The trouble (as you point out) is people like the sound of there own voice (me included) blogs and social media is an enabler.

    In the old days, in the work place there may have been a suggestion box….like social media today (99% of the time ) emptied regularly and binned. The 1% is of interest.

  4. People who are so well off that they don’t need to take any risk are hardly prime candidates for the services of a financial adviser.

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