The most annoying question in the world is one word

In our wealth management practice we are asked a variety of questions by clients and prospective clients. The one that I loathe the most is, “What 5 stocks I should be buying right now?” It smacks of greed and a contempt for risk. I usually respond to this question with one word. “Why?”

Responding to the “What” questions is easy. How questions might take time to answer but they are pretty straightforward as well. When, where? Those typically require a simple procedural response. “Why” questions create problems. They cut to the heart of our reasoning, rationale and authority. The most effective responses to “why” questions require that a relationship exists between questioner and respondent. Maybe that’s why our kids employ them at such an early age. When my son asks me why he should eat his vegetables, I could appeal to authority and respond with “Because I am your dad and I said so.” That sort of response will likely be met with resistance pretty quickly.

The better response would require a deeper level of connection. “Son, look at this picture of you when you were only 2 months old. You weren’t even able to eat solid food then but you have grown in two years to the point where your body needs more fuel. If you want to keep growing taller and stronger, you should give your body the energy that it needs and vegetables are part of that energy. That’s why your mother and I eat our vegetables too.” This response demonstrates more attention and care than the appeal to authority and will foster a conversation based on mutual trust. 

Here are some “why” questions for you to try on:

Why are you invested in the stock market?

Why do you benchmark your results to the S&P 500 (or whatever benchmark you prefer)?

Why aren’t you maximizing your 401K contribution?

Why is your 401K (or other investment accounts) allocated the way that it is?

Why don’t you have a budget for your household?

Try to avoid rote answers that might pop up from a google search. Dig deeper to understand your motivation and discover any roadblocks to clear out of your financial path. If you struggle with this exercise, consider one last question, “Why don’t you call us for help?

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