Seeking Alpha

The Asset Allocator: Mark Elzweig On How To Be A Happy Advisor (Podcast Transcript)

by: SA For FAs
SA For FAs
Senior Editor, FA Content

Mark Elzweig’s job for over 30 years has been to place advisors who are less than happy in their current firm into a situation where they will be more content.

The veteran Wall Street recruiter observes that though advisors are generally well paid, many are not happy, which is ironic because their position carries unique advantages conducive to happiness.

His new free e-book explores sources of dissatisfaction and pathways leading to fulfillment in their careers.

Editors' Note: This is the transcript of Friday's SA for FAs podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

Veteran Wall Street recruiter Mark Elzweig observes that though advisors are generally well paid, many are not happy, which is ironic because their position carries unique advantages conducive to being happy.

In this podcast (14:04), Elzweig, the author of a free e-book called "The Path to Success and Happiness for Financial Advisors," explores pathways leading to fulfillment including autonomy, a sense of mastery and a sense of purpose.

Listen on the go! Subscribe to the SA for FAs podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud (click the highlighted links).

Gil Weinreich: Welcome to the ‎SA For FAs Asset Allocator Podcast, a series that addresses issues of current interest to financial advisors, including ETFs, asset allocation and the economy. I'm your host Gil Weinreich of Seeking Alpha. And today we're going to do something a little different, and talk about a significant issue for advisors, but one that is almost never addressed, which is how happy or unhappy they are in their jobs. We will explore this topic with Mark Elzweig, a top Wall Street recruiter with over 30 years' experience, who has published an e-book on this important topic. Mark Elzweig's job is to place advisors who are perhaps less than happy in their current firm into a situation where they will hopefully be more content. I've personally known Mark for many, many years and I can assure listeners, he's got knowledge, perspective and understanding, very much worth learning from. Mark, it's a pleasure to have you on our show.

Mark Elzweig: Thank you so much Gil.

GW: Mark, did I correctly adduce that your writing this ebook may have something to do with having encountered a lot of unhappy advisors?

ME: The impetus frankly, is that I am a former social worker. I'm very interested in psychology. And I happened to be reading some books from the field called positive psychology. And positive psychology is basically about how people who are, you might call them, normally well-functioning, they are doing well in life. But positive psychology is basically about how they can do even better, how they can, you know, function in optimal way and live their best life, so to speak. And it dawned on me as I happen to be looking at these books that a lot of the insights here were very applicable to financial advisors, and that's what prompted me to write the ebook.

GW: So what is the biggest source of advisor dissatisfaction you've seen and maybe a possible solution for it?

ME: I think the biggest source is essentially that advisors don't always feel in control. They're subject to all kinds of whimsical firm changes, even when you're an advisor and you put together an investment program, you're not totally in charge of what the markets are going to do. And then when you factor in that the regulatory environment in which advisors live is still in a state of flux, even now, the whole fiduciary standard thing hasn't really been fully settled. And then you add that to the fact that there's all kinds of competition now from surprising sources, you know, places like Vanguard that are offering clients access to a money management program with a person to talk to you for like 30 basis points.

Essentially, there's a lot of competition and like it or not there's pressure on fees, I find the advisors are spending more time talking to clients about exactly what services they're providing, to showcase their value. So I think it's a -- I think that it's a stressful time for many advisors.

GW: And what's the fix for that? How can an advisor gain a sense of well-being by reasserting a degree of control?

ME: What I really took away from these books is that we're built to want a sense of autonomy, to enjoy a sense of mastery, and to need a sense of purpose. And if you can focus on those three things, and just make some tweaks to your practice, the results can be dramatic. And starting with, you know, with autonomy first, a lot of occupations are very regimented, advisors have a lot of freedom to decide what kinds of clients they want, what kinds of clients they want to keep, if they built a good practice, what products they want to sell, what kind of investment program they want to set up. And it's really a fundamental part of human satisfaction to want to be autonomous. And I think if advisors can just reflect on the relativity large amount of autonomy that they have in their practices, that can be an important part of satisfaction.

GW: A point you make at the very beginning of your e-book is that financial advisors generally earn a lot more than the average income, but 50% or so regret having chosen that job. So you seem to be saying that they should fully exploit the advantages of their job, which include more of a possibility for autonomy, is that correct?

ME: Right. So just to give some very quick examples, is an excellent book by Daniel Pink called Drive where he makes that point, he shows essentially that, for example, Google afforded its engineers, they told them that they can take 20% of their time to work on any projects that they like. And from that 20% of free time, it was not regimented, Google Talk, Google Sky, Google Translate, all those innovations came as a result of those kinds of unstructured time.

Similarly at 3M, you know, the post-it notes that we see all over the place, that was invented by 3M engineers under the same format, just the company allowing them to have free time. So the point is that human beings really have a need not to be regimented. And they do -- they're the most creative and the most content when they're able to express their autonomy.

GW: One thing you discussed in your e-book is "flow." What is it and what keeps an advisor from attaining it, and perhaps what helps them achieve it?

ME: Well, flow is actually like a fascinating -- that's also a fascinating concept. That goes to the second pillar that I mentioned, which is mastery. There's a famous book called Flow written by a psychologist with a very long name, Mihaly, sounds like chikmihigh, [Csikszentmihalyi], I won't get into the exact pronunciation. But the point of flow is that it's an experience where you become so deeply immersed in what you're doing, that you lose all sense of time or sense of self and you're doing something, and you're wholly engaged in it just as an end in and of itself with no other motivation.

And in order to get into a state of flow, number one, you have to be concentrating, can't have, like they have, you know, if you're multitasking and looking at your email, as you're doing, as you're working, you're not going to get into that state. But you have to have a task that is challenging, where you're getting some feedback on whether you are getting closer and closer to achieving your goals. And the test should be optimally kind of a little bit of a reach for you so that you're expanding -- so that you're expanding your abilities.

But basically for a financial advisor, what that means is if you're somebody who is always learning more about how to put together an investment program, you're always learning more about the latest techniques in behavioral finance that you can use to help your clients invest more successfully if you're honing your interpersonal skills, so that your team is going to run properly, if you're totally immersed in what you're doing, and able to really focus on it, and you're getting better and better, that is a tremendous source of happiness.

There's an example in his book of a guy who's a welder. He's a welder in a factory. And periodically, they give this guy difficult tasks that are new and a little bit difficult. And as a result, he gets into a state of flow, and just becomes, you know, perennially happy. And the beauty, the beauty of flow is that this kind of happiness is kind of available to all of us at any time. And it's just a matter of setting our minds up to focus and get immersed in what we're doing and feel that we're getting more and more competent and better.

So this view is kind of diametrically opposed to the view of happiness, you know, happiness, I'm on a beach, I'm having a cocktail, I'm watching the sunset. The concept of flow says, no, that's just transient feel good, but that's not going to really produce happiness. So the beauty of flow is that it's available to all of us at any time, no matter what our life situation is. And from a research standpoint, the author documents how the experience of flow is -- they basically, empirically verified it across many different cultures. They interviewed artists, athletes, religious figures, who were meditating. They interviewed all kinds of people and they documented this as a fact across cultures and across occupations. And it's a type of happiness that's readily available as long as you put yourself in the zone so to speak.

GW: You've spoken about welders; you also discuss in your book, hospital cleaners.

ME: Oh yeah.

GW: So tell us what advisors can learn from that little tidbit?

ME: Well, that's great, because that's the third point. The third point, there are basically three pillars of happiness as far as human motivation goes. I mentioned autonomy, mastery, and flow is an example of that. The third one is purpose. And here's a fascinating study of hospital cleaners. When they interviewed hospital cleaners, they found that there were certain people cleaning hospitals who view their work as part of a higher calling. They saw themselves as people who were there to make the patients happier, and make the hospital run better. And they spent time talking to the patients, being cheerful, greeting, greeting all the visitors and those people, those hospital cleaners were far happier and more fulfilled than people who were just doing a job for no higher purpose.

And as a matter of fact, those hospital cleaners are happier than doctors who were -- who didn't find meaning in their work. So what that really shows is that it's important in whatever we do in life to make sure that we're not just -- that we're doing it for a higher purpose. And with financial advisors, that's a helping occupation. So you really are helping people. And what that really means is, if you're just focusing on racking up more growth, you're probably not going to get happier. I mean, you might get happier momentarily when you achieve your objectives, but it's not going to last. If you want to really be happier, you really have to focus on yourself as a person with a mission. You're there to help people, have a happier retirement. You're there to help people feel more secure about their finances to achieve their other financial objectives. And/or you can also focus on how what you're doing is really to benefit your family.

So if you can see -- if you can start to see what you do every day in terms of a higher, greater, and more meaningful purpose in a fundamental sense that will make you a happier person. So you can learn a lot from hospital cleaners, Gil.

GW: Indeed I did. So one other thing you discuss is a certain kind of affluence, not the one that most people are thinking of perhaps that most leads to a sense of well-being. Can you discuss that with us?

ME: Oh, yes, what you're referring to is time affluence. And that's one of the other things that people can do. Time affluence is actually considered to be studies on an indicator [ph], that is the most consistent predictor of an individual sense of happiness. So what that really means is that you're making time in your week, every week to engage in activities that you truly find pleasurable. And that can be getting together with friends, spending time with family, spending time on different hobbies that you like. And people who feel they have time affluence that they have enough time to do the things that really matter to them in life, those are happy people.

In fact, one author wrote a great book called, Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar. He suggests that we keep a -- basically a journal where we rank our activities, activities that we have to do every week in terms of their ability to be happiness producing and make sure that on an ongoing way that we're spending enough time with happiness producing activities.

So time affluence is a key concept. It also means if you have routine tasks that don't interest you like doing laundry or you know certain kinds of clerical work or research that you can hire people to do, do it and focus your time as much as possible on things that will lead to your own personal satisfaction, will flow.

GW: Okay, have somebody else do your compliance-regulatory-headache-type work? Is there maybe one more thing? This is a final question for you. Maybe one more thing a financial advisor could do throughout each day to become happier?

ME: Keep a gratitude journal. It sounds very corny, but I actually have a friend who does this a lot. If you take time every day to write down things in life that you are grateful for, and focus on them. Research says that, that will make you a happier person.

GW: When we have a sense of purpose, a sense of flow, a sense of mastery will enjoy our jobs a lot more. That is Mark Elzweig's message. Advisors get his free ebook on Thanks for joining our show, Mark.

ME: Thank you so much. I enjoyed it. Thank you.