Monday 20 February 2017 6:00 am CFA Institute Talk

We all just want to be appreciated

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Rebecca Fender, CFA, is head of the Future of Finance initiative at CFA Institute. Prior to joining CFA Institute, Rebecca was a vice president at BlackRock working with pension funds and endowments, and she also worked at Cambridge Associates, where she published research about manager selection.

I have a confession to make: I am a people pleaser. Despite my analytical bent and time spent with other data-driven CFA charterholders, even a small compliment can do wonders to fuel my enthusiasm to accomplish a goal.

It turns out that in this competitive industry, I am not alone, at least according to the response to a CFA Institute Financial NewsBrief poll.

We asked readers whose recognition they valued the most when they accomplish something in their jobs.

Of the 679 respondents, 82 per cent value recognition from others, while only 18 per cent say internal satisfaction is what matters most. This is interesting since we tend to perceive contrarian thinking and going against the crowd as what creates the greatest investment gains, but that can be even more difficult when we seek the approval of others or if these investments take a while to create value. Similarly, in the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant reveals that even most entrepreneurs are people pleasers, contrary to what we might expect from innovators who chart their own paths.

Whose recognition is most meaningful to you when you accomplish something in your job?


So whose recognition seems to matter most? Our respondents said that praise from clients is most satisfying (37 per cent), followed closely by praise from senior-level colleagues (32 per cent). These findings align well with recent research we conducted with the State Street Center for Applied Research on the motivations of investment professionals.

Our research, “Discovering Phi: The Hidden Variable of Performance,” surveyed 3,300 people on whether they see their work as a job, a career, or a calling. The 32 per cent in our poll who most value approval from upper management are likely to be career-oriented, that is, motivated to move up in their organisations or receive other rewards, whether in compensation or authority.

In contrast, the 37 per cent of poll takers who value client feedback most are likely to consider their work a calling: They are encouraged by seeing how their efforts translate into positive financial outcomes for clients, helping these investors retire comfortably or achieve other financial goals.

It is also reasonable to adopt the philosophy, “If the client succeeds, you succeed.” This seems straightforward, and yet conflicts of interest arise that can misalign incentives. In fact, in our research, we found that 36 per cent of investment professionals said that acting in the best interest of clients means taking on career risk. One example of this is taking too little investment risk versus a client’s risk profile.

For those leaders looking to improve their investment practice, it is worth thinking more about what motivates your team to succeed. When we consider incentives, we typically think of compensation structures, but our research indicates that money is not actually the main driver in the finance industry. While it is an easy way to keep score, and compensation is important, the Discovering Phi report found that only 20 per cent of investment professionals say remuneration is what keeps them in the industry.

So, it goes to show that hearing from a happy client or getting a compliment from firm leaders may go further than we think.

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