Personal Benchmark was Made for Days Like This

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes

Chuck Widger and I released our New York Times bestselling book, Personal Benchmark: Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management, on October 20, 2014. Although the book was published in 2014, the writing process began in 2013, and Chuck’s original idea for a goals-based investing system is much older still. Both 2013 and 2014 were great years to be invested, with the S&P 500 returning 32.39% and 13.69% respectively. But although Personal Benchmark was crafted in a time of prosperity it was created with an eye to days just like today.

What is needed during times of fear is an embedded solution that helps clients say “no” to short-termism and say “yes” to something bigger.

As we wrote in the book, “While investor awareness and education can be powerful, the very nature of stressful events is such that rational thinking and self-reliance are at their nadir when fear is at its peak.”

Financial advisors do their clients a great service by educating them about investing best practices, but at times of volatility, logic is often thrown out the window. What is needed during times of fear is an embedded solution that helps clients say “no” to short-termism and say “yes” to something bigger.

When presented with an extremely complicated decision, it is human nature to seek simplicity, something psychologists refer to as “answering an easier question.” Rather than deeply consider and weight the relative importance of social, economic and foreign policy positions, voters tasked with choosing a Presidential candidate tend to instead answer, “Do I like this person?” Confronted with a complex dynamic system like the stock market, the easier question that we ask ourselves is, “Am I going to be OK?” Part of the power of the Personal Benchmark solution is that it helps clients answer this important question in the affirmative.

bookOur book discusses the human tendency to engage in “mental accounting”, the psychological partitioning of money into buckets and the corresponding change in attitudes toward that money depending on how it is accounted for. Page 154 features the story of Marty, a Philadelphia-area gang member who separated his money into “good” and “bad” piles depending on whether it was honestly or ill-gotten. Marty would tithe to his local church using the good money, but reserved his bad money for reinvestment in his criminal pursuits. Although we are hopefully all more civic-minded than Marty, we are no less likely to label our money and spend, invest and think about it relative to that label. One huge advantage of Personal Benchmark the solution is that it sets aside a dedicated “Safety” bucket for days just like today. When a client asks herself, “Will I be OK?” she can take comfort from the fact that her advisor has accounted for her short-term needs. Being comforted in the here-and-now, she will be less likely to put long-term capital appreciation needs at risk.

“While investor awareness and education can be powerful, the very nature of stressful events is such that rational thinking and self-reliance are at their nadir when fear is at its peak.”

Besides helping clients say “no” to short-termism, Personal Benchmark also helps advisors paint a more vivid, personalized picture of return needs. Page 203 of Personal Benchmark tells the story of Sir Isaac Newton, who lost a fortune by investing in what we now refer to as the “South Sea Bubble.” Newton invested some money, profited handsomely and eventually sold his shares in the South Sea Company. However, some of his friends continued to profit from their investment in South Sea shares and Newton was unable to sit idly by and watch people less gifted than he accrue such fantastic wealth. Goaded on by jealousy, he piled back in at the top and lost almost everything, saying after the fact, “I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.” Newton’s failure is a direct result of anchoring his benchmark to keeping up with his friends instead of attending to his own needs and appetite for risk. If Personal Benchmark’s Safety bucket is for providing comfort today, then the Accumulation bucket is a vehicle for rich conversations about the dreams of tomorrow. As clients simultaneously manage their short-term fears and identify their long-term goals, they are able to experience the best of a goals-based solution.

Personal Benchmark was created in a time of comfort and even complacency on the part of some investors, but was done so with a perfect knowledge that there would be days like this. At Brinker Capital we believe that an advisor’s greatest value is providing “behavioral alpha”, increasing returns and mitigating risk through the provision of sound counsel. Our goal is to be your partner in that sometimes-difficult journey and Personal Benchmark is evidence of that commitment.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Five Answers for the Voices in Your Head

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes

Many investors are waking up this morning to the unsettling realization that trading was halted in China last night after another precipitous market drop. When paired with rumors of hydrogen bomb testing in North Korea, the recent acts of domestic terrorism and a long-in-the-tooth bull market, it can all be a little frightening and overwhelming.

It’s at a time like this that it’s best to temper the catastrophic voices in our head with some research-based truths about how financial markets work.

For each of the rash, fear-induced common thoughts below (in bold), we have countered with a dose of realism:

“It’s been a good run, but it’s time to get out.”
From 1926 to 1997, the worst market outcome at any one year was pretty scary, -43.3%; but consider how time changes the equation—the worst return of any 25-year period was 5.9% annualized. Take it from the Rolling Stones: “Time is on my side, yes it is.”

“I can’t just stand here!”
In his book, What Investors Really Want, behavioral economist Meir Statman cites research from Sweden showing that the heaviest traders lose 4% of their account value each year. Across 19 major stock exchanges, investors who made frequent changes trailed buy-and-hold investors by 1.5% a year. Your New Year’s resolution may be to be more active in 2016, but that shouldn’t apply to the market.

“If I time this just right…”
As Ben Carlson relates in A Wealth of Common Sense, “A study performed by the Federal Reserve…looked at mutual fund inflows and outflows over nearly 30 years from 1984 to 2012. Predictably, they found that most investors poured money into the markets after large gains and pulled money out after sustaining losses—a buy high, sell low debacle of a strategy.” Everyone knows to buy low and sell high, but very few put it into practice. Will you?

“I don’t want to bother my advisor.”
Vanguard’s Advisor’s Alpha study did an excellent job of quantifying the value added (in basis points) of many of the common activities performed by an advisor, and the results may surprise you. They found that the greatest value provided by an advisor was behavioral coaching, which added 150 bps per year, far greater than any other activity. At times like this is why investors have advisors so don’t be afraid to call them for advice and support.

“THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD!”
Since 1928, the U.S. economy has been in recession about 20% of the time and has still managed to compound wealth at a dramatic clip. What’s more, we have never gone more than ten years at any time without at least one recession. Now, we are not currently in a recession, but you could expect between 10 and 15 in your lifetime. The sooner you can reconcile yourself to the inevitability of volatility, the faster you will be able to take advantage of all the good that markets do.

Brinker Capital understands that investing for the long-term can be daunting, especially during a time like this, but we are focused on providing investment solutions, like the Personal Benchmark program, that help investors manage the emotions of investing to achieve their unique financial goals.

For more of what not to do during times of market volatility, click here.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.