Dan Williams, CFA, CFP, Investment Analyst
In Homer’s Odyssey there is a memorable section where Odysseus and his crew must sail past the island of the lovely Sirens. He has been warned to plug his crew’s ears with wax so that they will not be susceptible to the Sirens’ call. However, wishing to hear the Sirens’ calls for himself, he orders his men to tie him to the mast of the ship and ignore his future orders until they are clear of the island.
The need to stay the course and to ignore distractions are relevant to many facets of life, but I find special meaning related to long-term investing. When people think of investment risk they normally focus on the volatility seen in recent investment returns. However, the returns of a random month, quarter or even a year has an overrated impact on an account’s growth over a 10+ year horizon.
Tolerance for this volatility/risk typically has more to do with investor psychological make-up than the mathematical impact of these short-term returns on much longer term account performance. For me, this volatility and other market noise represent the Sirens that threaten to take investors off course. Two investors who are the same in every other way and invest in the same portfolio, will have a different investment experience based on how often they look at their account and how they feel about what they see.
In other words, similar to Odysseus’ crew, the journey can be made less stressful and easier by turning off the noise. While feelings and emotions are important considerations, as lost sleep and stress meaningfully impact a person’s well-being, a better course is set by focusing on more objective investment risks. Among the most relevant objective risks for investors is shortfall risk.
Most investors invest to fulfill a future goal/need years in the future. Shortfall risk is simply the risk that the money allocated and invested to this future goal/need proves to be inadequate to pay for it when the time comes. This risk is very real and goes well beyond how an investor feels about it. If an investor needs $100,000 a year in retirement but finds that due to insufficient account growth he or she can only sustainably take out $80,000 a year from his or her portfolio at retirement, the math will simply not work. No solace is offered by the smooth but inadequate investment journey of an overly conservative allocation when the investment goal is not achieved.
The challenge is often to achieve the long-term returns that can meet account balance requirements, volatility must be taken on. While Odysseus could have taken a long detour around the island of the lovey Sirens, his goal of getting home in a timely fashion would not have been met (and for those who know the story, he had a deadline). Similarly, an investor could ensure a very smooth investment journey by investing in a portfolio dominated by short-term bonds, but could find investment account growth inadequate to meet the goal of the investment. The good news is that if investors can find a way to plug their ears to the noise, they can get the longer-term returns they need and minimize the stress of the volatility along the way.
Multi-asset class goals-based investing is one way to have the investor take a longer view on his or her investing to see past the present sirens of volatility and recent returns to the goal at the end of the investing horizon. Without the ability to take the long-run prospective, we are like Odysseus hearing the Sirens call. Without an advisor to keep the ship on course, the journey is potentially doomed. Investing is only successful if the investor can stay the course and stay invested. The importance of keeping the investor from letting the heart rule the head is one of the most important roles of the investment advisor.
Brinker Capital understands that investing for the long-term can be daunting. That’s why we are focused on providing multi-asset class investment solutions that help investors manage the emotions of investing to achieve their unique financial goals.
The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.