An interesting article by Ron Friedman, Ph.D. on Psychology Today makes precisely this assertion. Friedman writes:
Imagine that you are a loan officer at a bank reviewing the mortgage application of a recent college graduate with a stable, well-paying job and a solid credit history. The applicant seems qualified, but during the routine credit check you discover that for the last three months the applicant has not paid a $5,000 debt to his charge card account.
More information changed the decision made by study participants. The information didn't change the fact set, yet dramatically altered the analysis of the decision...likely for the worse. But what does this mean in the context of financial planning? Can financial planners select what information to provide to clients and what information to allow to be ignored? Can choices given to clients be limited in order to reduce information overload that might cause clients to make a poor decision?
I suspect that in practice financial planners do this all the time. Certain information is deemed as inconsequential or distracting by the financial planner, likely without them even consciously deciding so. Certain options are clearly so detrimental or unsuitable that the financial planner never even considers it for the client.
But I wonder if it would be a mistake for a financial planner to deliberate withhold information from clients based on a belief that some information might lead to a poor decision. Legal issues aside, is a financial planner equipped to determine what information is valuable and helpful and which information is harmful? Worse yet, by withholding information, are a planner's personal biases and money scripts impacting the decision about what information to share and withhold?
Instead of acting as the gatekeepers of information, I suggest planners help clients understand that more information isn't always better. Planners can help clients understand the impact too much information can have on decision-making. Planners can help clients recognize when the client is digging exceptionally deeply for information, and help the client reflect on whether that information will actually help the decision or may, in fact, harm it.
It seems clear that too much information is detrimental to good financial decision-making. And, at some level, financial planners must limit the amount of information they give clients, if for no other reason than a lack of time and patience (both on the part of the planner and client) to work through every piece of tangentially relevant information. But how do planners know what to share and what to hold back? What is critical for a good decision and what is harmful? How does a financial planner know when to caution a client that more information may be detrimental?
I suspect that answer lies somewhere in the 10,000 hours of practice identified in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers as required to master a skill. There may be no specific process or procedure to determine this, only learning through experience and observing a mentor and practice.