I have been following Carl on Twitter for a few years, and have read several of his blog posts during that time. I run a small financial planning firm in London and what he says resonates with me. So when I heard he was writing a book I was keen to get hold of a copy. I don't disagree with his central theme, and my reading in recent years has been around behavioral finance - for me this book doesn't add anything in that respect, however I didn't expect it to. I bought this book to discover whether it was something I could give to my clients and prospective clients, to help explain what I do and the way I do it - previously I have given copies of Lee Eisenberg's The Number: What Do You Need for the Rest of Your Life, and What Will It Cost? and it been well received.
'The Behavior Gap' (I've stuck with the US spelling) is a very easy read, and has an easy style - I'm a quick reader but was surprised to have finished it in about 2 hours - and I wasn't skimming or speed reading. It left me wanting something more. Specifically I wanted more depth and a nod to the academic research that supports his argument. The vignettes of conversations with clients are entertaining, but they merely provide evidence that the 'behavior gap' exists. Yes, I am sure there will be many readers who will identify with some of the scenarios and poor decision making (I did), but so what?
Being aware of something doesn't necessarily create a strong enough desire for change. For example, people have known for decades that smoking is bad for them, but reading about it doesn't really alter their behavior. I feel the same about this book - it talks about the problem, but doesn't really help people make behavioral changes. My concern is that most people who will pick it up, will read it, identify with it, put it down, and do nothing. Yes there are lists of things that someone could do, but no compelling call to action. Bringing about changes in behavior can be a time consuming process, and require some deeper psychological insights maybe.
So who is this book aimed at? Not me for sure, and not for the type of clients I deal with either. The clue might be where Carl describes having conversations with people around the water cooler at the office. He describes colleagues talking about how they buy and sell investments, and how they're driven by the noise from the markets and news wires. A book aimed more at the DIY investor perhaps. Clients working with advisers will more likely be influenced by what their adviser says, and this book will not convince a die-hard stock picking fund selecting adviser to change - particularly those who feel they have the Midas touch. It's just too light weight for them to take any notice.
If you've read my review this far you're probably thinking I'm negative about the book - I'm not - I'm ambivalent. It says what it wants to say, and says it well, but for me I wanted more substance. There are some real gems in the book, and Carl puts them across well. Several things that you might have heard before also pop up in a new guise - and it doesn't hurt to hear a good story told in a new and refreshing way.
Core to the book are Carl's drawings - some of them are really very good. The best ones managing to get a message across in a split second, though several of them leave me scratching my head. There are some clients I work with who would shudder at the sight of a sketch with an x and y axis - even those as simple as Carl's.
In summary, this book deserves an audience. It has something valuable to say, but it is only the beginning of a journey.
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