The human cost behind current market troubles

We all know what’s happening in Eastern Europe right now. We can feel the shockwaves of it all the way over here, in the USA, and the financial industry is abuzz with predictions and speculation. Whether we’re talking about how a long-term war in Ukraine could hurt our own markets or even lead to a global recession, or we’re putting together lists of mutual funds with Russian exposure, the American finance industry is very concerned with the ramifications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It’s easy to get lost analyzing numbers and predicting stock market behavior. These are the things that are of immediate concern in our industry, after all. And inside these numbers are at least some things that we can control. But it’s important to remember that there are also people behind those numbers.

This is a monumental event, and nobody knows what comes next. Thus far, there have been an estimated 352 civilian casualties with another 1684 wounded, according to Aljazeera. 680,000 Ukrainians have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighboring countries. These are just estimates, and likely on the low side. They also don’t include any military casualties on either side. It’s impossible to estimate at this point. While we’re worrying about the effects all of this is having on the stock market, it’s important to remember that there are human beings on the other side of those fluctuations.

And that leads to a broader point: there are human beings behind everything we do in this industry. It’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers and simulations and lose sight of the fact that those numbers represent people’s retirement savings, that our job is to make sure they have the best possible quality of life in retirement.

When a nervous client calls to ask about their investments, the anxiety is real, but it may be standing in for another, larger fear. Markets are one thing. Geopolitical instability is another. But the possibility of global war, and looming nuclear threat are another thing entirely. Watching these events unfold it, almost seems absurd to focus on finance.

It’s understandable when you consider how powerless people feel witnessing a preventable war waged half-way across the globe. When we feel powerless, we look to control the things we can control: our investments, how they’re allocated, whether or not we stay in the market, and how we can protect against pervasive volatility.

Worrying about stock market fluctuations or the health of your portfolio may seem trivial under the threat of global war. We’re not saving lives in this industry, after all. But we are protecting peoples’ ability to live well once their working years are behind them, and that’s important too.

Right now, people are reaching for stability, casting about for things they can control. This could lead them to make bad decisions, and it’s important to be aware of the anxiety behind those decisions.

Maintaining a level of empathy for the human beings at the core of everything we do and every market fluctuation helps us understand them better, and that helps us serve them better. It helps us be better citizens of this planet.

Which is what fiduciary duty boils down to.