In the traditional investment world, it is considered crucial for an active investment manager to stick to their style box. After all, if the manager "drifts" from small cap to large cap, the investor may suddenly find themselves with an under-allocation to small cap, and an excess of large cap, violating their goal of maintaining a well diversified portfolio. Yet there is a growing recognition that for many mutual funds, constraint to a style box may be eliminating the very value that active management was intended to achieve!
If there’s one thing that has remained certain in this decade of difficulty, it’s the gold standard advice for retirement planning: save a healthy amount of your income, start young, invest steadily, and you’ll be able to retire when you want to and enjoy the standard of living you hoped and dreamed for.
Yet the reality is that this model of retirement planning advice excellence is actually far more speculative than we have ever acknowledged, and might be better summed up as: “Save for decades, build a base, and then in the last few years, quickly double up your wealth with investment growth and retire happily.” We’d never say that to our clients… yet in truth, that’s exactly what we have been recommending all along!
Most planners have struggled at times to deal with “difficult” clients. Sometimes it’s the client who says he’s really tolerant of risk and wants 30% returns… until the decline comes. Other times it’s the client who refuses to tolerate any risk whatsoever… yet laments the low returns that entails. Accordingly, most planners try to avoid working with clients at the extremes of risk tolerance (or lack thereof). But the truth is, these challenging clients usually do not really have extreme levels of risk (in-)tolerance… instead, the problem is actually with their risk perceptions, and it requires a different solution.
The members of Generation X and Gen Y have had a unique collective experience, including growing up in the age of computers and (especially for Gen Y) with immersive exposure to the internet and the information resources it provides. Questions that might have required a trip to the library or an Encyclopedia Brittanica can be answered in a 10-second Google search. So if clients can look up a financial question in a few moments on the internet, where does that leave the value of financial planning?
Most planners doing financial planning reviews with clients have witnessed the phenomenon: when markets go up, clients look at their growth rates; when markets go down, clients look at the dollars they have lost. What can behavioral finance tell us about why we have such an asymmetric view of the market’s ups and downs?
Recent research on the reaction of investors to the 2008-2009 market downturn has confirmed an interesting tendency of investors that I have long believed – the better our returns, the more we’re willing to save. Yet the irony is that theoretically, the better our returns, the LESS we need to save, because we’ll have more growth from our investments. Nonetheless, if we don’t account for this very human behavior about saving, we can end out with some disastrous financial planning advice.