Investment Management and Stress

The fact that some people thrive on stress could be a plus if you want to work in the financial services industry. According to "The most (and least) stressful jobs in banking and finance" (, December 31, 2015), careers that were ranked as most stressful to least stressful are as follows:

  • Investment banker;
  • Trader;
  • Risk management and compliance;
  • Wealth management/private banker;
  • Institutional sales;
  • Management consulting;
  • Private equity;
  • Equity research;
  • Fund manager; and
  • Accounting.

Interviews with recruiters and employees mentioned long hours and a lack of control over issues that create problems and demand solutions. Respondents who work in the risk management and compliance areas talked about their frustration when they call out areas in need of improvement but then "nothing is done." 

Other professionals, such as those who work in wealth management, talked about competition as being a source of stress. Making money only occurs after an advisor expends considerable effort to build a big client base but then more time is needed to prevent an aggressive peer from taking assets away.

Besides job-specific concerns, industry changes can be a source of worry if they are expected to radically transform the way business is conducted. Consider the rise of financial technology ("FinTech") or what Inc. Magazine referred to as "One of the Most Promising Industries of 2015." According to a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled "Can Robo Advisers Replace Human Financial Advisors?", assets managed without human intervention grew from $3.7 billion to $8 billion between July 2014 and July 2015. Although critics counter that robots cannot offer individualized advice about specialties such as estate planning, a reliance on automation, if substantial, will result in winners and losers.

Regulatory changes can raise stress levels too, especially if one has little latitude to adapt to a new rule at the individual level. The U.S. Department of Labor's proposed fiduciary rule is already showing up in the form of strategic corporate decisions that are moving people from one place to another. This week's announcement about a sale of MetLife's U.S. advisor unit to the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. comes on the heels of the American International Group's decision to sell its broker-dealer unit rather than potentially incur added compliance costs. See "MetLife exits brokerage business as DOL rule looms" (Investment News, February 29, 2016).

Although not specifically mentioned in articles about stressful jobs, ERISA retirement plan fiduciaries are surely aware of their personal and professional liability exposure. Add the complexities of new legislation and economic challenges such as negative interest rates and it's not a stretch to understand why some fiduciaries might need to take a few deep breaths to relax. No doubt their public pension colleagues may need a zen moment as well.

Love What You Do and Do What You Love

We are movie aficionados in our family and try to see a variety of celluloid offerings, as time permits. We recently had the pleasure of seeing an uplifting motion picture entitled St. Vincent. Bill Murray plays a grumpy man who, at first glance, seems unlikely to warm any hearts. Over time, however, the audience learns that he is a good guy, a war hero and a kind person. He befriends the little boy who moves in next door and, no surprise, inspires smiles all around. At the end of the film, as the credits roll, there is a scene where Bill Murray is enjoying a quiet moment in his modest backyard, singing along to Bob Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm." Maybe because the song is lyrical or people were curious about the scene, they stayed and listened.

Although Bob Dylan was a musician from an earlier generation, he remains an admired talent and is recognized for his vast body of work. According to an October 2014 Rolling Stone article, Dylan is so prolific that The Lyrics: Since 1962 includes nearly one thousand pages and weighs "approximately 13 and a half pounds." In his early 70's, he is still giving live concerts.

There is something magical about being excited about music, friends, work and play. Famed author Ray Bradbury who died a few years ago at age 91 was quoted as saying "Love what you do and do what you love."

I certainly enjoy the challenges of providing forensic economic analyses and investment risk governance consulting. Colleagues and attorneys I know (some of whom are clients) often say that they are proud to be making a difference. That purpose and excitement about time well spent applies to others I know who are far removed from law or business. One friend (now sadly deceased) used to find great pleasure in selling office supplies and being able to interact with her customers.

Though it did not generate box office mojo, "Hector and the Search for Happiness" made the point that the pursuit of happiness may be trumped by the happiness of pursuit. Inspired by a book with the same title and authored by Francois Lelord, a French psychiatrist, the film referenced the mind-brain link of living a life with joy. It turns out that anyone with access to a computer can now take "The Science of Happiness," courtesy of the University of California - Berkeley and professors from the Greater Good Science Center.

Whether you are heading towards retirement or solidly part of the workforce, keep Bobby McFerrin's words in mind. "Don't worry, be happy." It's a good way to live life.

Significant Talent Shortage Predicted

Notwithstanding recent headlines about job losses at Hostess Brands, UBS and elsewhere, a new study by McKinsey suggests that global businesses are about to face an unprecedented talent shortage in just a few years. According to "Talent tensions ahead: A CEO Briefing" by Richard Dobbs, Susan Lund, and Anu Madgavkar (November 2012), many individuals have prospered due to a "world is flat" application of technology and freer trade practices but may now find themselves part of a grab for increasingly scarce talent. Their position is that the notion of sustained growth due to productivity advances "appears to be reaching its limits" because too many jobs require skills and education and there are too few qualified people to hire. They assert that "by 2020, the world could have 40 million too few college-educated workers and that developing economies may face a shortfall of 45 million workers with secondary-school educations and vocational training." It could be worse for developed economies, with "up to 95 million" people being left out of the hiring equation because they are deemed incapable of handling the work.

If the authors' predictions are correct, this situation would make for a seismic shift in economic and political harmony (or lack thereof) around the world. People who want a job may go begging for a long time while a limited supply of those who can will continue to out earn those who cannot. History has already taught us that greater income inequality often leads to social unrest which in turn manifests itself in the form of new laws that penalize the "rich" and impede growth. The ensuing cycle is not helpful.

Besides the macro implications, most hard-working people embrace a philosophy that allows for achievement and possibilities. A large and mobile middle class is a good thing. The report writers urge business leaders and legislators alike to understand talent imbalances and address them accordingly.

Many posit that a radical assessment of what skills are necessary to succeed is long overdue. A college education is not always the answer. Occupational training may better suit some persons.

Of course, where there is tumult there is always opportunity. According to statistics provided by GSV Advisors, in the "Education Sector Factbook 2012," the global education industry (in terms of dollars spent) totaled over $4.5 trillion with a projected increase in size to $6.4 trillion by 2017. As a former college professor and now a managing director with FTI Consulting in the Forensic and Litigation consulting practice, Dr. Susan Mangiero adds that "learning is a lifetime endeavor. It is critical that an individual stay on top of what skills are needed to remain relevant in one's career. This focus on continuing education can be a boon for companies that recognize the need for specialized training."

Career Risk and Action: Chicken or the Egg?


In a recent Virtual Town Hall about what governance means in the investment world, guest speaker Mr. Wayne Miller mentioned a relationship between career risk and fiduciary reform. Chairman Emeritus of Denali Fiduciary Management, Miller said that many people abide by the status quo, however ineffective, rather than innovate and improve their fiduciary practices. The fear is loss of one's job by taking prescription actions to better manage how monies are allocated and monitored. My response was to suggest the opposite. Why would a professional willingly adhere to bad practices when doing so could imperil his or her job and the related ability to get a bonus and/or promotion?

Which is the chicken and which is the egg? Does doing the right thing jeopardize one's climb up the career ladder or immensely help someone advance?

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Law Degree, PhD or Gamer?


When I was a doctoral student, there were invariable jokes about spending lots of time in school, only to find myself out on the street, competing with other PhDs to deliver pizza and otherwise under utilize what I had learned along the way.

Keep in mind that my situation is somewhat unique. I grew up in industry before I went back for my doctorate in finance with a minor in math. I had already worked over a dozen years on various trading desks. As a result, my objectives for higher education focused more on understanding the link between theory and practice. I was not disappointed. The experience has served me well in countless ways. I honed my abilities to model, test assumptions, ask questions and connect sometimes disparate dots. Time in the classroom at many levels (undergraduate, graduate, executive, professional) gave me a firsthand crack at realizing the importance of clear communication.

Unfortunately, not everyone is enjoying the graduate school experience. According to "Another Reason to Just Say No to a Ph.D." by Gabriela Montell (The Chronicle of Higher Education,January 14, 2010), real earnings for those with a professional or doctoral degree have dropped between 1999 and 2008. Taking a look at an article by Professor William Pannapacker who writes under the name of Thomas H. Benton ( "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 2009), it strikes me that there is a great need to drill down into what the employment statistics truly mean.

In the legal world, associates share the glum factor with those in the humanities. New York Times reporter Alex Williams writes that changed expectations are the reality these days. With bad economic times unduly impacting industries such as financial services, real estate and high tech, legal professionals are hard pressed to keep driving the fee train forward. In "No Longer Their Golden Ticket," Williams cites a survey by the New York City bar association that found that one out of every two attorney respondents were "seeking counseling from its lawyer-outreach program list" for mental health reasons.

Returning to my December 28, 2009 post, entitled "'Up in the Air' - Stark Reality About the Employee - Employer Relationship?". work is a four-letter word. If we stay current with sought after skills, there is a good chance that angst may not ever come to visit. MSNBC reports that accountants and compliance officers are likely to win the jobs growth lottery. That includes financial examiners, with projected growth of "more than 40 percent from 2008 to 2018." Complexity, added accounting rules and new government mandates could contribute to a rosy future for some. Click to read "Next hot job? Keepings on financial firms" (December 11, 2009). Interestingly, salaries for game programmers are not too shabby either.

Of course, besides the ability to earn a living, some posit that doing what one loves and enjoying it at the same time is a worthy notion. As a European colleague once said to me, "Americans live to work. We work to live." Love what we do and get paid for it as well? La Dolce Vita indeed!