The process of assessing an investor’s risk tolerance is all about determining his/her willingness to take investment risk, and financial capacity to bear risk, and blending it together to match to an appropriate investment portfolio. Most commonly, this is done with a risk tolerance questionnaire that posits a series of questions about time horizon and need for income, and attitudes about risk and market volatility, to calculate a “risk score” and determine the portfolio that goes with it.
The caveat to this one-dimensional approach, however, is that by averaging together risk tolerance and risk capacity scores, the advisor can unwittingly end up in situations where clients with extremely low risk tolerance (or risk capacity) end up with portfolios that are far too risky for their situation. In other words, the low risk tolerance (or capacity) should have acted as a constraint to the investment policy statement, but didn’t.
So what’s the alternative? Simply put – risk tolerance and risk capacity should be measured separately, and then scored on a two-dimensional scale that considers the contributing role (and limiting nature) of each (rather than a single continuum that merely averages the two together).
Fortunately, there are numerous risk tolerance software solutions specifically designed to assess “pure” risk tolerance on a standalone basis, including FinaMetrica and Riskalyze. And for comprehensive financial planners, the reality is that the financial plan itself is a measure of risk capacity, as reflected in the Monte Carlo probabilities of success and failure.
For those who don’t do full retirement planning projections for every client, a recent alternative software solution is Tolerisk, which is designed to perform a two-dimensional risk tolerance assessment by separately gathering information about the client’s risk attitudes and their basic financial goals.
The bottom line, though, is simply to recognize that risk tolerance and risk capacity are two different dimensions of the client’s overall risk profile, and must be assessed and ‘scored’ separately to properly recognize the constraining role that each can have on the appropriate investment policy statement!