A Behavioral Finance View of Cryptocurrencies

By Rick Lehman, Adjunct Professor of Behavioral Finance, Golden Gate University


We are in the grip of a social phenomenon like no other we’ve ever experienced. People are paying thousands of dollars for something that is essentially a reward for playing a computer game. It has no physical properties, questionable use, no regulation, and only exists when a sufficient number of other people’s computers say it does. It may already qualify as the greatest asset bubble in recorded history, yet may only just be getting started. National governments have been compelled to denounce it or restrict their citizens from purchasing it out of concerns for mass hysteria and the corruption of their youth. It exists on a software system that is maintained through a consensus of volunteer software engineers, and no one seems to know the true identity of the creator. If it were a futuristic novel, it would certainly be on the best seller list, but it’s a striking reality – a live theater performance unfolding before us in real time, and a financial, political, and social phenomenon of historic proportion. It may yet end up as having been a total farce or the beginning of a radically new global payment system.

Opinions on the cryptocurrencies are buzzing all over the Internet. Most, however, rely upon conventional financial analysis and historic comparisons, mixed with a stew of personal emotions and biases. Representative bias is rampant in these assessments, as people try to evaluate the concept of a cryptocurrency in the context of a stock, which is as grossly inadequate as comparing an iPhone to a dial telephone. While elements of conventional finance and economics do exist, they must be viewed as only partially applicable here and elements totally unique to cryptocurrencies must be considered. In sum, I contend that…

the cryptocurrency phenomenon is better understood from a behavioral perspective – one that understands the key behavioral groups involved and the motivations of each.

The intent of this writing is to add a behavioral dimension to the current discourse on cryptocurrencies and to raise awareness of the behavioral impact on financial markets. It should be viewed in the context that behavioral science is still a relatively new approach to financial markets and that there is extremely little empirical data to draw from regarding cryptocurrencies.

Nonetheless, I expect to provide insights I believe will be valuable to those involved, or looking to get involved, and I expect to build upon this foundation with future writings on the topic. References to other articles and contributions from others on the subject are welcome.


As a behavioral science academic, it is almost impossible not to be captivated by the cryptocurrency phenomenon, which is easily the most significant behavioral event to occur since the emergence of behavioral science and its application to financial markets (which the world is only now beginning to comprehend). For a behaviorist, this could be as momentous as a physicist witnessing the discovery of a new atomic particle. Bitcoin may be as pure a behaviorally driven market as we will ever see. Among other things, we are witnessing herding, fear of regret, speculation, envy, and anti-establishment sentiment on a grand scale. In addition, adopters are placing faith and trust in a radically new concept. Wherever it eventually goes, it will undoubtedly provide some of the most enlightening information to date on the psychological and emotional mechanisms that drive human financial actions.

A common view is that the bitcoin market is totally irrational and therefore simply a house of cards waiting to collapse. By historic standards, this would be true, but such an approach fails to see irrationality as a human reality, and forces one to treat events such as the market crashes of 1987, 2000, and 2008 as either never having happened or simply unexplainable, neither of which represent a constructive conclusion. Behavior has been proven to violate the principles of Rational Utility in many instances, and efforts to deny or ignore irrational behavior are therefore counterproductive. How humans should act is often different from how humans do act, and those who only look at the should part are simply altering reality to suit their own judgments. Evaluated on the basis of conventional financial fundamentals, the intrinsic value of bitcoin would most certainly be zero and the market value considered to be 100% anomalous. Where does that leave you? Evaluated on a behavioral basis, you can at least make judgments about the speculative value of a potential new world currency, the speculative value of a possible a gold substitute, the merits of cryptography for securing value, the effectiveness of blockchain as a secure and sustainable technology, and the value of supporting bitcoin’s anti-establishment mission. I find this to represent a far more insightful and productive approach.


This has rarely been done effectively for current, let alone historic markets, even by professional analysts. Market analysis, whether fundamental, economic, or technical tends to be far too limited in context and all too frequently tainted by the author’s employment, training, self-interests, or inherent biases to be objective or complete. In addition, most market assessments have paid too little attention to behavioral science to appreciate the full nature and scope of emotional and psychological influences.


Viewed through a behavioral lens, cryptocurrencies come into focus not only as an entirely new concept with unique characteristics, but as an item that has a different identity and appeal to different people. We know that people use cognitive shortcuts to simplify their purchase or investment decisions, often reducing the decision to perhaps only one or two key criteria or rationales. We can take these key purchase rationales and define arbitrary market segments around them. While this represents an oversimplification of the market, it can be very useful for establishing a high-level view of the key psychographic variables at work here.

People are purchasing bitcoin, for example, not just because it has multiple characteristics as a currency (costless transferability, cryptographic security, etc.), but different groups are buying it for entirely different reasons altogether. Using the cell-phone analogy again, a certain group of people purchase iPhones because they represent the next generation of telephones. Another group purchased because iPhones represented the next generation of music-playing devices. A third group purchased because iPhones represented a new type of personal data assistant, and a fourth may have purchased primarily to have hand-held access to the Internet. Of course, there is overlap in these purchase rationales, but the incredible popularity and acceptance of iPhones was at least in part due to its ability to appeal to different audiences for different reasons, and bitcoin has these same properties.


In the absence of empirical data, we can hypothesize that we would probably see segments such as these:

Bitcoin founders, insiders, and whales

Description: This is the inner circle of bitcoin developers, originators, miners and major backers. It includes Satoshi, the Winklevoss Brothers; miners; etc.

Insights: This group holds most of the largest positions in bitcoin and stands to gain the most from its success or lose the most from its failure. They are the insiders who are dealing most closely with the evolution and sustainability of the concept.

Behavior profile: These are the most ardent promoters and supporters. They are most likely to hold their assets for some time and see it through. They are also the strongest advocates of the bitcoin mission and they would likely act to preserve the mission before they would be tempted to sell out.

Bitcoin believers

Description: Large numbers of small players who support the mission and who view bitcoin as a political statement

Insights: These would be small players from around the world who bought into the mission during the initial years. They were likely making a statement of support rather than investing. Some might be tempted to take a profit, but most are probably going to support the cause for as long as they can.

Behavior: This group is likely to represent net buyers and holders rather than sellers for some time.

Techies, millennials & disruption hopefuls

Description: Young investors with a tech orientation who embrace digital technology as the driving force of the future and who buy into every new technology. This includes programmers, technophiles, gamers, etc.)

Insights: These are the early adopters who view this as a valid alternative investment and a worthy cause. Many thrive on the idea that they can use clever software to disrupt the global financial system and governments.

Behavior: This group is likely to hang on as well, and is likely still adding to its overall stake as more enter the market.

Currency players

Description: Those who see bitcoin as replacing fiat currencies as a medium of exchange.

Insights: These are people (or institutions) that trade the currencies or who make markets I the currencies and who will simply add new ones that come online.

Behavior: The traders will do pairs and spreads using bitcoin, mostly in the futures markets. Exchange players (banks & forex firms) will need to own bitcoin for inventory, but will likely hedge it to remain neutral.

Gamblers, speculators, day traders, etc. 

Description: Those who see bitcoin as a get rich quick or trading vehicle (these are people who day trade, buy small-cap stocks, etc.) Gold-rushers and gold-bugs.

Insights: This is arguably the largest and fastest growing group of participants now. These are small to medium-sized individual traders who are the ones propelling price into the stratosphere and creating all the volatility.

Behavior: These are primarily traders and they will hedge and short as necessary. They will create liquidity and will attempt to trade bitcoin in the short term along with the other cryptos. They will likely be net long as they accumulate trading positions.

Traditional Investors

Description: Broad section of mom and pop investors, many of which may already hold gold or other alt investments

Insights: This group is ripe for diversifying into any reasonable new asset class, just to augment their stock and bond holdings. Also included are those who (mistakenly) believe that they are essentially investing in blockchain technology. Little of this group is probably in yet, but they could represent a huge upswing when they do get in. When an ETF is available, this is the group that will be the prime market for it.

Behavior: This group will also be looking to execute long holdings, which will force the ETFs to buy. These people may hedge a little with derivatives, but will not short.

Professional traders & Arbitrageurs

Description: Hedge funds, big banks, exchanges, ETF issuers, Goldman Sachs, etc.

Insights: These are the professionals who are purchasing to establish market-making inventories, hedge derivatives, build ETFs, etc. They would love to get a shot at an inefficient market like this with lots of volume from non-professionals to exploit and they will jump in to the maximum extent liquidity allows. For arbs and market-makers, it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. However, there will have to be improvements in electronic connections and clearing before they can jump in whole hog. The derivatives will also be rich with arb opportunity, but few players are likely to short without hedging.

Behavior: Professional traders will primarily be scalpers, market makers, and arbitrageurs. They will improve the market tremendously once they can easily trade, clear, and cross trade. They may end up net long or short at different times, but they can make plenty of money just being neutral and making markets for others.

US financial institutions

Exchanges, banks, ETF issuers, broker/dealers, currency dealers.

Insights:  They want in, lest they be caught on the outside. Bank America received a patent for Cryptocurrency exchange already and several others have announced others are definitely working on participating.

Behavior: Banks are extremely defensive here as they have a lot to lose. They will likely look to provide exchange services and maybe even offer wallets. But they are unlikely to take net positions unless required for their operations.


Importantly, there are new behavioral factors inherent to this phenomenon that transcend formal finance and economics, and which bear serious consideration.

The founders of bitcoin did not conceive it in a vacuum, nor was it put into effect frivolously. There are clearly stated goals that seek to remedy global problems such as inflated fiat currencies, mistrust of financial institutions, high payment transaction fees, and the impracticalities of using gold as an international store of value. These are unique rationales that can appeal to different audiences. This adds a non-trivial social component – a statement being uttered by (and on behalf of) a large and agitated segment of earth’s population. We have witnessed these statements through populist events around the planet and in elections in numerous countries, including our own. They convey highly charged emotions of mistrust and frustration regarding the actions and policies of governments and large financial institutions.


By design (and as a direct snub to central banks), bitcoin has also been positioned as a possible replacement for gold as a long-term store of value. As the argument has both inherent merit from a practical viewpoint (easy storage and transferability, limited supply, etc.) and a healthy techno-appeal to the younger generations, bitcoin is experiencing a speculative rush, not unlike the dotcom rush of the late 1990s and the California gold rush of 1848. This introduces a behavioral group interested almost solely in making fast money. A few years ago, bitcoin was an interesting experiment that few took seriously, except for the usefulness of the underlying blockchain technology. But it appears to have hit a tipping point, arguably around June of 2017 when the price broke out of a long slow multi-year trend to go parabolic. This was likely caused, or at least aided by the addition of this speculation group.


It is also this group who is likely adding the most to price volatility, though that will abate as the bitcoin exchanges become more efficient and the professional market makers enter the fray.

This article was previously published on Lehman’s Bitcoin Blog, where you can read part II of this series: Millions Of Blind People And A Very Large Elephant. You can also subscribe to his blog.

About Richard Lehman

Richard Lehman teaches behavioral finance at GGU. His financial career spans more than thirty years beginning with an eleven-year stint on Wall Street with EF Hutton, Thomson McKinnon, and the New York Stock Exchange. An authority on options, Rick was named Top Broker in the US Trading Championships – Option Division in the 1980s and assisted in the launch of two closed-end mutual funds specializing in covered call writing. Rick’s first book with co-author Lawrence McMillan, New Insights on Covered Call Writing – the powerful technique that lowers risk and enhances returns in stock investing, was published by Bloomberg Press in 2003. Concentrating now on technical analysis and behavioral finance, Rick’s latest book, Far From Random, draws a link between these two disciplines, creating an entirely new avenue of opportunities to employ behavioral factors in trading and long-term investment management. Rick holds a BS in Management Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy New York and an MBA from the State University of New York at Albany.  He is also the founder of the San Francisco Behavioral Finance Symposium.

Looking at Risk Tolerance after the February 2018 Market Plunge–7 Tips to Lower Blood Pressure

After last week’s stock market drop, it’s fair to say that a few panicked emails landed in the in-boxes of financial planners and finance professionals. The writers of these emails may not have realized that their tolerance for risk was not what they thought it was, lulled by a multiyear bull market or an inadequate planning session with their advisors. For professional advisors, a more realistic determination of how much risk an investor can tolerate before a downturn can lighten their inboxes if the market dives and perhaps even prevent a few client defections.

“During stable moments in the market, you might say: I can tolerate X amount of risk,” says GGU Adjunct Professor of Behavioral Finance Richard H. Lehman. “They think they knew their tolerance for risk and then all of a sudden they are confronted with a 5 or 10 percent decline, and it is not always easy for them. They don’t know if there is another 10 percent drop coming or what’s next. Recency bias – a tendency for people to assume things will continue as they are – makes the drops even more shocking.”

A process for determining risk-tolerance that works a lot better than simplistic client surveys is needed. Says Lehman: “The advisor needs to be able to assess their clients psychologically in a way that clients cannot effectively do themselves. You cannot just ask people directly about their risk tolerance because it is a concept most people cannot articulate well.”

The Problem & Challenge

Advisory practices have by and large failed to take advantage of what academia now knows about financial behavior and the psychology of financial decision-making. The basic role of the advisor is to help tailor a financial plan and strategy for each client. The implicit assumption is that to do that, they need to fully understand the client’s risk tolerance, goals, and objectives — which is essentially their legal requirement as fiduciaries.

“The advisor needs to be able to assess their clients psychologically in a way that clients cannot effectively do themselves. You cannot just ask people directly about their risk tolerance, as it is a concept most people cannot articulate well.”

Lehman knows first-hand how challenging it has been to get the financial industry to embrace behavioral concepts. When he was at the NYSE more than 30 years ago, he managed a major study of investors that showed how psychographics are integral to the investing process. Like proper capitalists, however, Wall Street denizens couldn’t see much further than how much money their clients had to invest. The NYSE study told another story, though the results were way ahead of the industry’s thinking.

The challenge to make change happen brought him to roles as an author, teacher, blogger, and conference organizer. In 2013, he teamed up with a technical analysis and behavioral finance legend, GGU’s Hank Pruden, to create the Behavioral Finance Symposium. At the time, it was a new discipline with few courses available and almost no industry-targeted events. The Symposium, a first-of-its-kind, has been successfully held at GGU every year since.

How do you determine the real risk tolerance of an investing client?

How can Behavior Finance help clients (and their advisors) better understand their own risk comfort so that blood pressures don’t spike when the market goes down? Here are some of Lehman’s insights on risk tolerance that are part of his Behavioral Finance course at GGU’s San Francisco campus.

Differentiate risk, volatility, ambiguity, and loss.

Richard Lehman

People have misconceptions about the concepts of risk, volatility, loss, and ambiguity, frequently assuming they are all the same. They don’t fully understand risk (the potential for negative returns) versus volatility (the dynamics of up-and-down movement) and loss (the actualization of a negative return). Ambiguity is the sense of how much uncertainty one can deal with in terms of future returns.

Prospect Theory teaches us that when we evaluate the probability something is going to happen, we do it in biased ways. For example, consider the probability of a major earthquake in the Bay Area. It is so small on a daily basis that most people think it is essentially zero–but it is a finite number. On the other extreme, people overestimate the probabilities of winning the lottery, where the chances are infinitesimal–but people are willing to bet that it’s greater. Prospect theory also tells us that losing X amount of money feels roughly twice as bad as the pleasure of gaining the same amount of money. Understanding such ideas leads to much more realistic assessments of risk and reward.

Don’t sugar coat risk.

Even bonds can blow up, and people need to understand that. They also need to understand that occasionally companies do go bankrupt. It is better to understand and plan for risk than to be blindsided by it later.

Consider scenarios.

Investors need to appreciate all possible scenarios and plan ahead for how they might deal with them. For example, before the recent decline, people should have already had an idea what they might do in the event of a 10% decline.

Lehman knows first-hand how challenging it has been to get the financial industry to embrace behavioral concepts. When he was at the NYSE more than 30 years ago, he managed a major study of investors that showed even then how psychographics are integral to the investing process.

Examine trade-offs.

Investment choices produce numerous trade-offs between risk and return. Examining alternatives works well as a way of developing a portfolio that one is comfortable with. For example, you can construct model portfolios with various different asset classes and easily backtest them to see how they performed in historical periods.

Recognize downsides as well as upsides.

Clients will tend to focus on upside potential more than downside risk. It is important to change the focus to risk-reward or risk-adjusted return so that both are given proper emphasis.

Understand reference points.

A fundamental tenet of Prospect Theory, which informs much of Behavioral Finance, is that when we evaluate possible outcomes, we do it differently because we each have different reference points. When you are young, a $10K loss has much more impact than to a 50 or 60-year-old. Also, people who experienced a big negative impact from the financial events of 2008 are more sensitive to current risk than people who are older and who have seen several downturns. There are studies that indicate differing risk attitudes in different countries as well. Some Asian cultures, for example, will characteristically tolerate more or less financial risk than US investors. Investors in China, for example, exhibit a greater tendency to speculate; while Japanese investors are more risk-averse.

Consider Interactive games for assessing risk

A standout from the 2017 Behavioral Finance Symposium was Dr. Shachar Kariv, a well-known UC Berkeley Economics Professor and experimental researcher. He argues that interactive methods of assessing one’s risk tolerance represent a substantial improvement over classic risk surveys. Dr. Kariv shows that a simple computer game can reveal clients’ attitudes about risk much more scientifically than simply asking what they think they are. A company called TrueProfile is already using Dr. Kariv’s ideas in its profiling service.

More to be done

Lehman has made progress as an educator and continues to work at connecting industry with academia on the subject of Behavioral Finance. In recent years, more Nobel Prize winners in Economics (such as Yale’s Robert Shiller and University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler) are providing more visibility and acceptance of Behavioral Economics. However, Lehman says: “Human nature is very hard to change, and that will continue to challenge both investors and the financial industry for a very long time.”

About Richard Lehman

Richard Lehman has more than 30 years of experience in the financial industry, including eleven years on Wall Street with EF Hutton and the New York Stock Exchange. He later worked for financial data giant Thomson Reuters, startup Avenue Technologies, and the Wealth Management group at Mechanics Bank. Lehman has authored three financial books published through Bloomberg/Wiley and has been teaching Behavioral Finance and Options courses for three years at Golden Gate University. He is also the founder of the website BehavioralFinance.com and the San Francisco Behavioral Finance Symposium.

Know Your Brain, Grow Your Leadership

By Marcia Ruben, PhD, PCC

I have been learning about and teaching basic neuroscience principles for the past three and a half years. I use a brain-based coaching approach in my executive coaching practice. I have come to appreciate how much a basic working knowledge of our brains can help leaders function more effectively.

We all have finely tuned brains, exquisitely developed to quickly detect threats and also seek rewards. In fact, as our brains scan our environment every one-fifth of a  second, it is reassuring to know that we have five times as many circuits to pick up threats than rewards. It is especially comforting to know this when we are potentially faced with physical danger. When I am out and about and alone in a new and strange area, I am glad that my brain will alert me in a nanosecond if I need to call 911, run, or scream. I also know that cortisol will course through my body, signaling distress. And when someone gives me wonderfully positive feedback, my brain experiences this as a reward and I receive a dopamine rush.

One of the most important insights from the intersection of neuroscience and leadership is that a leader’s job is to create a psychologically safe enough environment so that employees feel empowered to express ideas and fully participate.

This same finely tuned brain is also helpful at work. We are social creatures and need other people. We want to feel safe. When we feel rewarded we are more creative, learn more, and contribute more. On the other hand, because we are so attuned, our brains can pick up the slightest negative facial expression that signals a threat. A number of research studies show that when people are shown a series of facial expressions, ranging from happy to angry, they much more quickly and accurately pick up those with even subtle angry expressions.

So, think about your organization as a network of executives, middle managers, and employees with finely tuned brains.

Each individual within this network is constantly and non-consciously scanning for threats and rewards. How do you know if your company is an environment more prone to rewards (hits of dopamine) than threats (blasts of cortisol)? If people are routinely coming up with new and innovative ideas,  praised for good work, and meetings are fun, productive, and everyone gets a chance to talk and be heard, there is a good chance that your network of finely tuned brains is working well.

On the other hand, if individuals engage in finger-pointing, blame, backstabbing, and worse, it is likely that some are creating threats at a biological level and others are shutting down.

One of the most important insights from the intersection of neuroscience and leadership is that a leader’s job is to create a psychologically safe enough environment so that employees feel empowered to express ideas and fully participate. On the other hand, there has to be enough productive stress so that deadlines are met, people stretch, and the company as a whole experiences success.

To what extent is your network of finely tuned brains aligned and working well in your company? How productive is your brain? Thanks to breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience It is now possible to optimize your leadership team. Learn more about the first and only scientifically validated brain assessment: MyBrainSolutions.

This article previously appeared on Marcia Ruben’s Leadership Tangles blog.

More About Marcia Ruben, Ph.D.

Marcia Ruben, Ph.D., began teaching full-time at Golden Gate University in 2012 and was appointed to the Chair of the Management Department at GGU in 2014. She was awarded the Judith E. Browning Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2015. She was awarded the 2016-2018 Russell T. Sharpe Research Professorship. In 2017, she was promoted to an Associate Professor. Marcia continues a private executive leadership development practice. Marcia earned the Certified Management Consultant designation from the Institute of Management Consultants USA in 2002. She is also an accredited executive coach and completed a year-long evidence-based coaching certification program. Marcia earned the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) designation from the International Coach Federation in 2010. Marcia earned her Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University. She earned an M.A. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University and an M.S. in Counseling from California State University, Hayward. Marcia graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. from University of California, Berkeley. She has co-authored several articles that are recognized as thought-leaders in the change management and coaching industry. Her article, Untangling Conflicting Organizational Agendas: Applying Emotional Regulation, SCARF, and Other Neuroleadership Principles to a Case Study, was published in the 2015 Neuroleadership Journal.


Request information about GGU’s MBA degree >>

Dr. Dave Yeske Elected to Foundation for Financial Planning Board

The Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) has elected Dr. Dave Yeske, CFP® — Director of GGU’s Financial Planning programs and Distinguished Adjunct Professor — as a new member of its Board of Trustees. Dr. Yeske joins fellow members who are leaders of the nation’s top financial services companies including AIG Financial Distributors, Fidelity Investments, Schwab Advisor Services, and BlackRock.

The FFP provides pro bono financial planning to wounded veterans, domestic violence survivors, people with serious medical diagnoses, and other vulnerable populations.  This charitable organization has delivered $6.6 million in grants to nonprofits to support financial capability programs, worked with partners to activate more than 15,000 volunteer financial planners to serve their communities, and acted as a leader and catalyst to embed a rich commitment to pro bono across the financial planning profession.

David Yeske
Dr. Yeske

“Dr. Yeske, who describes himself and his team as ‘Financial Planning EvangelistsSM,’ has made national TV appearances, led professional organizations, and published articles and books such as Evidence-Based Financial Planning: To Learn . . . Like a CFP.  The financial planning investment strategy he pioneered—The Yeske Buie Approach—has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal. The Financial Planning Association®(FPA) has recognized Dr. Yeske as one of the profession’s leading minds by awarding him their highest honor—The P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award (2017). He earned a Doctorate in Finance from GGU in 2010.

Jon Dauphiné, Chief Executive Officer of the FPP, says: “Our Board of Trustees represents the best and brightest of the profession – from individual practitioners to corporate leaders, all committed to giving back.” The contributions of the new trustees will be especially valuable as FFP continues to grow its Pro Bono for Cancer Campaign, which is fueling the development of programs that can help lower-income families navigate the costs of a serious cancer diagnosis.

Request information about GGU’s Financial Planning programs >>

GGU Professor Leads First-Time Nuerostroll™ Exercise

As part of GGU’s recent seminar series, Professor Marcia Ruben (pictured above, standing) led an experiential exercise called a Neurostroll™. She created the exercise – conducted for the first time – to help current and future leaders to identify and strengthen the parts of the brain and mind that contribute to success. Dr. Ruben has given presentations and taught about the link between neuroscience and leadership, as well as writing about the subject on her Leadership Tangles blog. The seminar, titled “Know your Brain; Boost Your Effectiveness,” was co-facilitated by Dr. Debra Pearce-McCall, who co-authored The Neurochemistry of Power Conversations with Dr. Ruben.

MBA student Yulee Kim-Whetstone volunteered at the event.

Attendees identified a personal development goal such as building confidence in making a presentation, running a meeting, speaking up when they disagree, being more direct, networking in a room of strangers, or showing empathy to others. Next, they visited a series of stations representing the acronym S.T.R.O.L.L: Sensing, Thinking, Regulating, Orienting, Lasting, and Leading Yourself. Each station was led by a volunteer student, who participated in a pre-training just prior to the exercise.

At the “T = Thinking” station

Participants completed pre-survey and a post-survey, contributing to data on the Nuerostroll’s effectiveness for current and future leaders.

Leaders who are aware of the neurochemistry of social interaction are better able to regulate themselves, lower defensiveness, and bring everyone’s best thinking and ideas to the table.

—Marcia Ruben, Ph.D.


Dr. Ruben’s Teaching

Dr. Ruben is an Associate Professor, Chair of GGU’s Management Department, and the 2016-2018 Recipient of the Russell T. Sharpe Professorship. She has incorporated the latest scientific knowledge about the biological basis for leadership behavior in five GGU courses: Management and LeadershipPersonal LeadershipTeamwork in OrganizationsExecutive Coaching; and Leadership Theory, Research, and Application.

If you are interested in the issues raised by the Neurostroll, you can look for the article, Know Your Brain, Grow Your Leadership, which appears on her Leadership Tangles blog. You can follow Dr. Ruben on Twitter at @TangleDoctor.


More About Marcia Ruben, Ph.D.

Marcia Ruben, Ph.D., began teaching full-time at Golden Gate University in 2012 and was appointed to the Chair of the Management Department at GGU in 2014. She was awarded the Judith E. Browning Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2015. She was awarded the 2016-2018 Russell T. Sharpe Research Professorship. In 2017, she was promoted to an Associate Professor. Marcia continues a private executive leadership development practice. Marcia earned the Certified Management Consultant designation from the Institute of Management Consultants USA in 2002. She is also an accredited executive coach and completed a year-long evidence-based coaching certification program. Marcia earned the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) designation from the International Coach Federation in 2010. Marcia earned her Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University. She earned an M.A. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University and an M.S. in Counseling from California State University, Hayward. Marcia graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. from University of California, Berkeley. She has co-authored several articles that are recognized as thought-leaders in the change management and coaching industry. Her article, Untangling Conflicting Organizational Agendas: Applying Emotional Regulation, SCARF, and Other Neuroleadership Principles to a Case Study, was published in the 2015 Neuroleadership Journal.

Request information about GGU’s MBA degree >>

New Graduate-Level Certificate in Financial Life Planning

By Dr. Dave Yeske, CFP®

Crunching numbers is (relatively) easy but facilitating change is hard!

That’s why GGU’s new graduate certificate in Financial Life Planning is designed to provide the trust and relationship skills that will allow financial planners and coaches (as well as therapists) to become more effective change agents for clients. Often, clients have trouble evaluating the quality of the service even after it’s delivered. In other words, financial planning has high “credence” qualities. As a consequence, clients focus on a secondary characteristic: how they’re served as much (or more) than the content of the service. That makes relationship-building a primary skill for Financial Planners.

Certificate Courses

Introduction to Financial Life Planning

Financial Life Planning offers a holistic and humanistic approach to financial planning that encourages students to consider the clients themselves, “beyond the numbers,” to create greater potential for financial well-being, life satisfaction, self-awareness, and resiliency.

Coaching Skills for Financial Planners

In its truest form, coaching is a collaborative approach that recognizes clients as the “experts” in their own lives and the coach as “partner” to co-create a relationship that supports the clients’ goal fulfillment. Coaching is about change. How do we, as financial professionals, help clients do the things they must do in order to create the life (financial and the rest of it) they want? Topics include an overview of the four core coaching skills and ways financial professionals can engage more deeply with clients by using those skills. Professor: Saundra Davis, MSFP, FBS.

Facilitating Financial Health: Tools for Financial Planners, Coaches, and Therapists

Integrated financial planning brings together the fields of psychotherapy, coaching, and financial planning. It enables students to go beyond the traditional boundaries of financial planning to help clients build healthy relationships with money, to explore the roots of destructive financial behaviors, and to develop techniques to support constructive change. Professor: Rick Kahler, MSFP, CFP®

Students will gain the following capabilities:

  • Building deeper insights into their own history, attitudes, and relationship to money
  • Advanced coaching skills to help clients affect positive change and achieve goals
  • The skills necessary to facilitate financial health
  • Understanding of the drivers of client trust and relationship commitment and ability to use this to develop and sustain highly functional client relationships.

Taught by Leaders in the Field

Elizabeth Jetton, CFP® has been a thought leader in the financial planning profession for the past 20 years. She has been in the financial services industry since 1981 and served as President of The Financial Planning Association in 2004. She trains planners how to become conversational leaders and to use group conversational processes to engage, attract, and build trust.

Saundra Davis, MS is nationally recognized as an expert in the financial coaching field and founder and Executive Director of Sage Financial Solutions. She developed a financial coach certification program and received a special invitation to attend President Obama’s 2014 White House Summit on Working Families.

Rick Kahler, MS, CFP® is a pioneer in the emerging field of financial therapy that integrates Financial Planning and Psychology. He has been featured by NBC’s Today, ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and MarketWatch. He is a co-author of books such as Facilitating Financial Health and Conscious Finance.

Guest lecturers include George Kinder, Susan Bradley, Carol Anderson, Amy Mullen, Rick Kahler, Saundra Davis, Roy Diliberto, Elissa Buie, Courtney Pullen, Sarah Asebedo, Martin Seay, Dennis Jaffe, and Derek Lawson.

Why the Certificate is Important

Ultimately, fostering new client relationships or deepening existing ones requires a special set of skills. Anderson & Sharpe (2008) identified some of those skills. They found that higher levels of client trust and relationship commitment flow from a systematic process for clarifying Goals & Values, explaining how advice reflects Client Goals & Values, having the willingness to facilitate difficult conversations about money, and initiating conversations about life changes

As George Kinder, who has been named “One of the 35 most influential people in financial services,” states: “ …a very personal conversation [with a client] is a very powerful vehicle for delivering freedom, starting with trust and relationship skills, and then moving into inspiration, and then rounding it out with the solid foundation of financial planning.”

You can also major in Financial Life Planning through GGU’s MS in Advanced Financial Planning.


About Dave Yeske

Dr. Dave Yeske CFP®, Director of the GGU’s Financial Planning programs and Distinguished Adjunct Professor, designed the new concentration. A Financial Planning Evangelist, he has made national TV appearances, led professional organizations, and published articles and books such as Evidence-Based Financial Planning: To Learn . . . Like a CFP.  The financial planning investment strategy he pioneered—The Yeske Buie Approach—has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal. The Financial Planning Association®(FPA) has recognized Dr. Yeske as one of the profession’s leading minds by awarding him their highest honor—The P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award (2017). He earned a doctorate in Finance from GGU in 2010.

For more information on the certificate, contact program director Dr. Dave Yeske, CFP® or request information about GGU’s Financial Planning programs.

Seven Specific Strategies to Treat Your Career like a Business — and Make it Big!

Terry Connely, a former GGU Ageno School of Business Dean reflects on his first-hand knowledge of what works to achieve success. He says that some ideas may seem counterintuitive, but winning strategies always depend on demonstrating distinctive competence: “To be outstanding, don’t fear to stand out – even if that sometimes means going against the grain.”

1. Strive to make a difference.

Always aim high–even “to change the world,” to borrow the cliché. At the very least, strive to change “your professional world” for the better! Put another way, consider it a core goal of yours in any organization, job or meeting, to make a difference because you are there — to leave the situation better than what you found at the start. When you think about it, why else do anything? When you are in your office or cubicle or shared space, ask yourself this question every day: “What is the difference between me and a potted plant”? (This challenge works particularly well in boring meetings.) Never waste an opportunity to make a difference.) And remember: “good enough” is not.

2. Have a Strategy

Plan your career strategy as if it were a business strategy. Identify your “distinctive competence” (What am I really good at doing that I love doing, and want to build on to separate myself from the crowd?). Make it the centerpiece of what you seek to do, and how you can expand your capabilities from that base.

Do your own SWOT Analysis about your existing strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats in your career “market.” Do a Scenario Analysis of that market and the world around it anywhere from three three-to-five years out, and identify the likely “Change Drivers” and Key Issues that will most affect your success in any of the scenarios you foresee. Review and revise along the way. And always make sure the career steps you take have Strategic Fit with one another (that they are not contradictory) and with your distinctive competence. Set your priorities once you have set your strategy and stick to them – no flinching!

Do your own SWOT Analysis

3. Sideways Leads Up!

Manage your working relationships sideways, not just up and down the ladder. It’s not just a case of who you work for and who works for you. Reporting lines do not solely, or even primarily, define your “lane.” Your lateral relationships will provide the most telling feedback – if you ask, and listen. This is especially true of a workplace featuring “360 degree” performance reviews. Get out ahead of those reviews by keeping in touch with colleagues who are not in your direct chain of command. This is particularly useful in workplaces where there are known rumor mills or cultures like the Navy where everyone expected to “get the word” even if it is not written down. Remember, your peers may well be around longer than your first boss.

4. Do not slavishly target compensation as your benchmark of progress.

The larger the organization is, the more likely that its compensation incentives and plans will lag its strategic intentions. People that have climbed the ranks fight to keep the incentive structures that rewarded them in the past, and only give lip service to new strategies, but in the current strategy.

Even if the current strategy doesn’t seem to be changing soon, work in anticipation of a new strategy and the pay will catch up if you excel. Do not slavishly target compensation as your benchmark of progress toward leadership roles. Your best career advancement choices may be counterintuitive from a pay point of view in the short- or even medium-term. Identify yourself as a supporter of pay for performance, but be sure there is an appropriate definition of performance. Don’t gossip about pay, and don’t argue about pay with your boss unless you are comfortable leaving the job. Concentrate on making yourself useful — then, indispensable! Then you won’t have to argue about pay.

Your best career advancement choices may be counterintuitive from a pay point of view.

5. Think more about the business than your job.

Think more about the business than your job. The corollary is to choose to work in a business that you enjoy thinking about! Cultivate abroad perspective on your enterprise whether for-profit or non-profit. Immerse yourself in understanding its strategy, and even offer considered thoughts about it may be working well or whether there is a better approach than what you see. Listen to your peers because the best ideas come from their perspectives, not just yours

6. Form your own Board of Advisors.

A “Board of Advisors” is a group of people who are familiar enough with you and your competencies, and who will give advice to you in a constructive and straightforward manner. Anyone can profit from such a Kitchen Cabinet, which can be comprised of friends inside and outside your firm, executive search contacts, former classmates and colleagues, relatives, former teachers and even financial advisors or ministers. Some folks just know us better than we do – get to know them, take them into your confidence; and, if you trust them, listen

7. Be willing to go abroad.

Look to broaden your experience, including geographically: try not to look askance at an overseas posting or an inconvenient move – but get something in exchange for the extra burdens. At the very least, be sure you have a fair and reasonable expat financial and support package if you are being asked to move your family abroad. Domestically, you should be fairly supported financially in terms of the cost of moving, and do not accept that getting a promotion is sufficient. But by all means get the promotion, too. Be sure that you do not, however, link your career while it is on the way up with a new location that is on its way down, unless it is to be your job to turn the satiation around and you are not being set up to fail or provided insufficient resources to succeed.

More About Terry Connelly

terry-connellyTerry Connelly is an economic expert and Dean Emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University. With more than 30 years experience in investment banking, law and corporate strategy on Wall Street and abroad, Connelly analyses the impact of government politics and policies on local, national and international economies, examining the interaction of global financial markets, the U.S. banking industry (and all of its regulatory agencies), the Federal Reserve, domestic employment levels and consumer reactions to the changing economic tides. He holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore (corporate, securities and litigation practice in New York and London), global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and Cowen & Company’s investments, where he served as CEO. In conjunction with past Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Connelly co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education (2011). Riptide deconstructs the changing landscape of higher education in the face of the for-profit debacle, graduation gridlock, and staggering student debt, and asserts a new, sustainable model for progress. He is a board member of the Public Religion Research Institute, a Washington, DC think tank and polling organization, and the Cardiac Therapy Foundation in Palo Alto, California. Connelly lives in Palo Alto with his wife.

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Diversity Managers: 10 Key Job Skills, Salary, and Required Education

diversity-san-francisco-1Managing a diverse workforce has become vital in a globalized business world. Diversity Managers and human resources professionals with related skills are in demand. According to Tech Republic:

While chief diversity and equality officers were rare a decade ago, today, about one in five Fortune 1000 companies have one. Airbnb, Dropbox, Pinterest, and Twitter have all filled diversity manager positions [Sept. 2016 – Sept. 2017].

The median salary for diversity managers is $77K a year and higher for leadership positions: sometimes called Diversity VPs, Diversity Recruiting Managers, or Diversity and Inclusion Officers.

Helping put an end to cultures of white privilege, sexual harassment, disability, and religious discrimination can be part of the motivation that brings people to this career. For many, a diversity management career is part of a larger passion to demonstrate the positive effects of ethical human resource practices on company outcomes. The field is dynamic and constantly changing. Managing Gender Transition in the Workplace is the most recent frontier in ensuring safety and equality among workers. For many, a diversity management career is part of a larger passion to demonstrate the positive effects of ethical human resource practices on company outcomes.

10 Diversity Job Skills

To be successful in this field, management-level diversity experts have to apply these 10 key job skills.

1. Recruiting

To succeed against global competition, companies must look beyond their own local areas and national boundaries for key resources and new markets. Globalization represents a tipping point for diversity company practices. According to Dr. Marianne Koch, Chair of GGU’s Human Resources degree programs, recruiting an international team or coordinating with an office in, say, Mumbai or Dublin, Ireland, is an important contribution a diversity manager can make.

This offshoring is also affecting the development of HR software. CIO’s senior writer contributed an excellent article on how human resource software startups, such as Jopwell, are promising that their solutions will help release pent-up diversity resources in the job market and let companies reap the business benefits of a diverse workforce. Public recognition of a company’s commitment to diversity can attract more candidates, in the case of top-ranked EY and second-place Kaiser Permanente, which is led by African-American and GGU Graduate Bernard J. Tyson.

2. Implementing a Diversity Initiative

Managing diversity requires a well thought out plan, crafted to fit specific organizational needs and conditions. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) describes the main phases of a diversity initiative as data collection, strategy-design to match business objectives, implementation, evaluation, and continuing audit of outcomes. For example, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion officer at SAP developed a three- to five-year corporate diversity strategy, focusing on, “gender intelligence, generational intelligence, cultures and identity, and differently-abled or disabled people.”

3. Data-Driven Practices

“For human resources professionals, data-driven results get the attention of the C-Suite,” says Dr. Koch. “It is a must for executive-level diversity experts.” Ji-A Min, head data scientist for Ideal.com, a company bringing AI to human resources software, says that the mandate for a diversity or equality officer is to “identify quantifiable, measurable diversity KPIs…for example… [to] equalize the pay between male and female employees of the same tenure, level, and performance within three months [and] demonstrate the ROI of workplace diversity by linking diversity data to business outcomes such as increased revenue.” Software solutions such as Payscale promise retention outcomes from data-driven salary management and can be used to analyze a diverse workforce. A Diversity Manager who can demonstrate quantitative results will be a step ahead of the competition.

 4. Communication

By many accounts, communication is the number-one skill needed in business, and this is particularly true in diversity management. This is a matter of language, nonverbal communication, personal physical space, religious convictions, or sexual or gender identity.

Emotional Intelligence — the ability handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically — is an important competency for a Diversity Professional.

S. Jamila Buckner (MS in HR Management, ’91)
Head of Human Resources, Golden Gate University

5. Leadership and Management

Diversity Managers have increasing responsibility and are often brought in at the VP level. Dr. Koch says: “Leading a diverse workforce requires knowledge of who one’s workers are and how they perceive themselves and want others to acknowledge them. An awareness of these things will bring out the best in the workforce as workers feel accepted and legitimate. It sets the tone, as well, for a culture of inclusion and respect.”

6. Training

Many companies choose to implement Learning and Development programs online. One sophisticated option is Law Room, which goes beyond a dry webinar or PowerPoint presentation and includes video scenarios–and invites trainees to reflect on what they have seen. It also dives into the complexities of reacting to a report of harassment that is consistent with the law and the experience of the reporting party. Live training opportunities are abundant in the San Francisco Bay area including the well-established Paradigm Consulting Group that provides ethics and compliance training.

7. Counseling and Advising

Interpersonal — sometimes included among “soft” skills — are in high demand for this career. Job sites such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn often list “counseling” and “advising” as necessary skills. Transitions are unsettling, and those of the old guard may need help adjusting their attitudes, behaviors, and practices to the newly diverse workplace. At the same time, new entrants into the workforce need support and encouragement. In fact, implementing Diversity Mentoring programs, according to Scientific American, can be one of the most successful ways to increase the amount of African-American, Latino / Latina, Asian (female and male), and white female managers at an organization—potentially by almost 40 percent.

For human resources professionals, data-driven results get the attention of the C-suite. 

Dr. Marianne Koch, Chair Human Resources degree programs
Golden Gate University

8. Knowing the Law

Legal and regulatory changes happen every year at the federal, state, and even local levels. In California, new 2017 regulations regarding transgender identity and expression include staff training. Companies with the best of intentions can still fail to meet their legal obligations unless they monitor changes and plan how to put them into practice.

9. Knowing One’s Prejudices

Blindspot approved.indd

James Wright, a Diversity and Inclusion Strategist, lists self-awareness as one of the Five Things to Know before Building a Career in Diversity and Inclusion. “Bias is a part of the human anatomy,” he says, citing the book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People as valuable research.

10. Responding to Innovation

Innovation is often listed as a competency for Diversity Managers because they need to keep up how work is accomplished in a changing world — and how a diverse workforce is deployed to support strategic goals. Dr. Koch even gives the examples of working side-by-side with R2D2-like “nurses” that bring patients meds or the electronic sentinels at the new Amazon Go stores.

What education is needed?

Certificates and boot camps are always an option for getting your feet wet, but for executive or management positions, a master’s degree in human resources is often required.

For more information on what it takes to do this job look at the Society for Human Resource Management’s job description including functions and core competencies.

Photo credit: iStock/monkeybusiness

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Small Business Expert Leads Entrepreneurial Workshop Program at San Francisco Campus

“At GGU, we successfully train students in business,” says entrepreneurial expert Robert Shoffner, MBA, “but that doesn’t mean that they will be working at a company at all times.” He notes that trends indicate that 80% of US workers will be “entrepreneurs” at some point in their careers, and will have exhibit creativity, drive, and risk-tolerance to start a business successfully. As the new Director of the 10-week Small Business Program that revs up this April, Shoffner’s goal is to take students from concept to blast-off over the course of 12 months.  After classroom work, they will be paired with a mentor to help them move forward.

Like most GGU instructors, Shoffner leverages his real-time professional experience along with his prior teaching experience (over 3 years at GGU). As the current leader of the Small Business Development Center in San Mateo, he oversaw access to capital of $10.5 million in 2017. Shoffner grew into a champion of entrepreneurs when he worked in commercial lending and saw small businesses grow – including a small pizza place that became a San Francisco Bay Area chain. Shoffner notes that government statistics show that small businesses are a powerful engine of job growth — accounting for 50% of private sector jobs. (His banking and finance career eventually led him to the position of West Coast President for Citibank.)

Apply Now to the Small Business Program Now

Send a brief email outlining your business, resources, experience, and commitment to biz@ggu.edu. Applications are due by March 17, 2018. Classes start April 7.
There is no enrollment fee due to a generous grant by Chevron.

About the Workshop

Although tech startups are part of the GGU teaching and learning ecosystem, this entrepreneurial course is geared for any kind of business – from law practices, to marketing consultancies, to restaurants. The breadth of student backgrounds provides a vibrant laboratory for developing business plans. The learning model is built on Shoffner’s multiple years of consulting experience and group process that results in actionable business plans. Successful entrepreneurs from the GGU alumni community will visit classes to discuss how they started their businesses.

What it Takes to Be an Entrepreneur

“The entrepreneurial mindset is a desire to take risks, work long hours, and be creative. Creativity can be the trigger for starting a business,” he says. As an example of creativity, he mentions an entrepreneur whose book describes lessons from his Uncle Cleave: a slave that transformed forced-labor ice delivery into his own business. Does Shoffner’s own family legacy – his grandfather filled a seat formerly occupied by Louis Armstrong in King Oliver’s seminal Jazz band – give him an ear for creative endeavors? “To look at a business and say ‘I created that’ is very satisfying for many people.”

More about the Small Business Program…


– 10-weeks
– Convenient Saturday meetings
– Completion of a business plan
– Pairing with a mentor
– Abundant networking opportunities
– Instruction by faculty / alumni with their own businessesQuestions? Write smallbiz@ggu.edu.


GGU Professor Joins Editorial Advisory Board of Prestigious Taxation Journal


Kathleen Wright, CPA, JD has been named to the editorial team of the prestigious Tax Notes publication, which has provided commentary and analysis on the latest changes in tax law and policy for over 45 years. Professor Wright, Director of the State and Local Tax Program at GGU’s Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation, has also written a column on numerous state and local topics for State Tax Notes.  She has also published articles in The Tax Adviser, The Tax Lawyer, The Journal of State Taxation, and The Journal of Legal Tax Research.

Professor Wright brings her GGU students the analytical ability evident in her writing and real-world experience from a private tax practice that focuses on client representation and small-business tax consulting. She says that it is no longer sufficient to prepare for a career in State and Local Tax by simply understanding the law in your home state:

Now it is necessary to understand the different rules that apply in all of the states where your client does business–and to be able to put together the different results and provide a roadmap for your client that achieves the objectives of administrative simplicity and tax savings. 

Professor Wright’s multistate tax classes take GGU students through multiple case studies where a taxpayer does business in multiple states. The job of the practitioner is to determine the best entity structure (or transaction structure) to maximize tax savings and eliminate the risk of double-tax. The class presents a challenging experience and opportunity for students to develop analytical skills in the state and local area – frequently referred as the “Wild West” of the tax law (because its diverse rules vary significantly from federal law).

In addition to an LLM from Golden Gate University School of Law, Wright also holds a BS (Accounting) from Florida State University, a JD from Fordham Law School (New York City), an MBA (Taxation) from New York University.  A licensed CPA in California and New York, she has been admitted to practice law in New York.  She speaks frequently on multistate topics and continues to present seminars for the California CPA Education Foundation and other professional groups on a wide variety of topics. Governor Brown appointed her to the California Board of Accountancy in 2015.

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