In conversation with Farnoosh Torabi
June 15, 2023
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
We’re kicking off a new content series that focuses on hearing from leading figures across the financial industry. We begin the series with Farnoosh Torabi, a noted personal finance expert, bestselling author, and host of the podcast So Money, which has over 25M downloads. We sat down with Farnoosh to discuss her forthcoming book, the connection between fear and finances, and how the wealth management industry can connect with a new generation of client.
Flourish: Tell us about your new book, A Healthy State of Panic.
Farnoosh: A Healthy State of Panic is about the magic that can happen when you are patient with your fears. Listening to your fear can be an opportunity to learn about what you care about, your values, and what you want to protect. It touches many realms of our lives where fear shows up: finances, career, relationships, and high-stakes decision making.
We’ve been told that being fearless leads to success, happiness, and even a six-pack of abs. We don’t understand how to have an intelligent relationship with fear because we’ve been dismissive of it for so long. Fear can be healthy. The book shows how to listen to fear, to let it help us, and how to take control of your fears.
Flourish: You started out as a financial journalist and became a best-selling author and personal finance expert. Tell me about the journey to a book about fear and how fear can help elevate our finances. What about money is so challenging? How does fear come up as a subject so closely tied to money?
Farnoosh: I’m the daughter of immigrants. Like many immigrants, my parents came here with not a lot in the bank account, but a lot of hope and ambition. They became successful, but had to grapple with fear. Witnessing that was a real lesson for me.
Money is scary, I’ll be the first to admit it. I’ve been in my career for 20 years and when people come to me with their financial concerns, there’s so often this underpinning of fear. Money is high stakes. Money moves are life moves. What I’ve found is that it’s not about being fearless, it’s about having emotional intelligence about your fear. When fear shows up – whether you’re worried about a recession or you’re worried about investing in the stock market – it’s pointing you toward what you want to protect, what your boundaries are, what your risk tolerance is, and what you value. Fear is a gateway to learning more about ourselves.
Once we can turn inward, it becomes clearer to us what we need to do. Fear can derail us, create impulse reactions, or make us feel stuck, but that’s only because we don’t know how to engage with it in a way that helps us to extract wisdom. The book shows how I, and so many people I’ve encountered through my work, have found how you can engage with fear in a more constructive way to identify what you need to do that speaks to who you are at the core.
Flourish: How can fear be beneficial when it comes to our finances specifically?
Farnoosh: Money is just a tool. If we accept that, then we also have to accept that whatever we’re fearing about money, it’s not even about the money, it’s about us. The ideas that we have around money may not be our own, but what we’ve adopted from our parents, society, or our culture. The first step is to understand how the fear showed up. For example, some of the wealthiest people are afraid of losing it all. It appears to be a financial fear, but really it’s something deeper. It’s a narrative that they have inherited. Maybe that resources are scarce or that they don’t have the ability to manage money well. Even if they’ve earned a lot, maybe managing money wasn’t modeled correctly. Or maybe they’ve been told that because they’re a woman and sometimes there’s a perception that women aren’t capable of investing well or managing money well, even though research shows that we’re often better at it than men. The book isn’t saying that all fears are legit. Sometimes our fears are born out of a myth.
When we fear something about money – whether that’s a recession, losing our job, or another bank collapse – we too often leave it in the abstract. The key is to bring it home. If you’re focused on the what ifs, you can’t do anything about it because you haven’t distilled it.
When a financial fear shows up, stick with it, but drill it down and walk through what you would do if your fear manifested in reality. Ask questions about why you’re afraid and what you’re really worried about. This takes you closer to figuring out what the risk is and how prepared you are. What could a recession mean for me? What could losing my job mean for me?
Getting real about the fear prompts us to do the work and see what in our financial lives is working, what’s not, and what we can improve upon. Imagine if it happened today. Make it immediate to understand what you would really do and how you’d react. If I thought a layoff was going to happen today, at the very least, I would review my bank statements and see how much I have in the bank account. I would learn about my state’s unemployment insurance. I would start updating my LinkedIn. If you are afraid, it’s important to reflect on the reality of the situation.
Flourish: How could working with a financial advisor help us find power in our fears?
Farnoosh: A good financial advisor should get you closer to figuring out your goals and coming up with a roadmap. Sometimes that means identifying what you’re afraid of, which can inform your financial plan.
When it comes to financial fears, we’re often not fair to ourselves about what we can achieve. A financial advisor can be that objective person who is a trusted confidant, a fiduciary, that can help us work through the fears. Together, instead of going at it alone.
Flourish: Generally speaking, the members of the Flourish team don’t look like the traditional clients of an RIA. How could financial advisors better relate to HENRYs specifically?
Farnoosh: The pandemic forced us to meet clients where they’re at, as opposed to having to go to an office. Being flexible in terms of where and how you show up is key. Beyond that, it’s about recognizing that HENRYs are still building their financial lives and working to build wealth.
Generally, but especially within that cohort, people often think they have to have all their finances in order and be well on their way financially to engage with a financial advisor. Find a way to present it differently and meet them where they’re at. Maybe the first way to work together is not about moving money around, but to come up with a plan.
Firms deal with the financials and technicals, but I think what’s also lacking in this space is room for mindset and coaching. There’s a whole designation of financial behavioral therapists, pairing clinical psychology with financial advice, but if you’re not going to go back to school for it, at least recognize that, especially in the beginning, people are looking for someone who is there to talk to and get information from about all the areas that finances touch. Maybe it’s structured differently, where you charge by the hour or you have a program where you start as a coach and then become their advisor.
See the relationship as a long-term investment, they may come at you without a lot to show on paper at first. It’s like how banks love targeting college kids and young adults. Even though they’re not going to be the biggest depositors, the bank is building that trust. When those clients go to buy their first car or their first home, they’re going to stick with that bank because the loyalty is there. It’s about building that loyalty, going where they’re at, being flexible with not just your scheduling, but how you structure your offerings so that they don’t feel as though they have to wait to work with you.
Flourish: What can financial advisors and the traditional wealth management space learn from the personal financial space in terms of connecting with clients?
Farnoosh: In the book, I talk about the benefits of exposing yourself sometimes to gain trust. At the same time, you want to do it wisely. Start with sharing your own story. Today, I was on the phone with an estate planning attorney, similar in the sense that he’s a licensed professional. Everything was going great, but where it went even better for me was when he shared personal stories about his own children and his own experiences working with clients. It added another layer and dimension to him. I thought, “I liked what he was saying, but now I also like him.” Breaking that barrier sometimes is what can bring in more clientele and forge more trust. I would encourage advisors to share their story within the parameters of their industry and what is allowed.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Flourish builds technology that empowers financial advisors, improves financial lives and retirement outcomes, and delivers new and innovative investment options to advisors. Today, the Flourish platform is used by more than 550 wealth management firms representing more than $1.5 trillion in assets under management. Flourish is wholly-owned by MassMutual. For more information, visit www.flourish.com.