Addressing post-election anxiety

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Global events, such as the intensely divided presidential election that we just lived through, are certain to generate some periods of market volatility of varying lengths in addition to a significant amount of stress. However, we urge financial advisors and investors to retain a few dos and don’ts to help manage post-election anxiety:

Don’t equate risk with volatility. Volatility does not equal risk. Risk is the likelihood that you will not have the money to live the life you want to live. Paper losses are not “risk” and neither are the gyrations of a volatile market. Long term investors have been rewarded by equity markets, but those rewards come at the price of bravery during periods of short-term uncertainty.

Do know your history. Despite what political pundits and TV commentators would have you believe, this is not an unusually scary time to be alive. The economy continues to grow (slowly) and most quality of life statistics (crime, drug use, teen pregnancy) have been declining for years. Markets have always climbed a wall of worry, rewarding those who stay the course and punishing those who succumb to fear.

Don’t give in to action bias. At most times and in most situations, increased effort leads to improved outcomes. Investing is that rare world where doing less actually gets you more.

Do take responsibility. Most investors are likely to tell you that timing and returns are the biggest drivers of financial performance, but research tells another story. Research suggests that you are the best friend and the worst enemy of your own portfolio. Over the last 20 years, the market has returned roughly 8.25% per annum, but the average retail investor has kept just over 4% of those gains because of poor investment behavior.1 At times when market moves can feel haphazard, it helps to remember who is really in charge.

Don’t focus on the minute to minute. If you are investing in the stock market you have to think long-term. As mentioned above, you can avoid action bias by not checking your portfolio status all day every day, especially during times of higher volatility. Limited looking leads to increased feelings of security and improved decision-making.

Do work with a professional. Odds are that when you chose your financial advisor, you selected him or her because of their academic pedigree, years of experience or a sound investment philosophy. Ironically, what you may have overlooked is the largest value he or she adds—managing your behavior. Studies put the value added from working with an advisor at 2 to 3% per year. Compound that effect over a lifetime, and the power of financial advice quickly becomes evident.

Source: (1) Dalbar, Inc. Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior. Boston: Dalbar, 2015.

Views expressed are those of Brinker Capital, Inc. and are for informational/educational purposes.  Opinions and research referring to future actions or events, such as the future financial performance of certain asset classes, indexes or market segments, are based on the current expectations and projections about future events provided by various sources, including Brinker Capital’s Investment Management Group. Information contained within may be subject to change. Diversification does not assure a profit not guarantee against a loss.

Synthesizing happiness

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

On Wednesday, November 9, approximately half of Americans will wake up disappointed. Regardless of which candidate prevails on Election Day, roughly fifty percent of the people that she or he will eventually lead will have voted against them. Those whose preferences were not realized will likely begin a new offensive; painting a dystopian picture of the world to come with President X at the helm. Similar to what John Coyne mentioned on Monday. Markets will crash. Businesses will fail. Wars will rage. The historical precedent is that all of this and more will be the new rallying cry of the vanquished party and it’s easy to imagine that it will only be exacerbated by the ugliness and division that have characterized this contest.

But there is another, more powerful precedent that will have a far greater impact on financial markets than who wins or loses: it is our tendency toward resiliency that exceeds our own expectations.

Imagine I asked you to consider your ability to function in the face of the unthinkable – the passing of a child or partner, a debilitating illness, the loss of a job. Odds are, you would describe yourself as helpless, heartbroken and unable to go on. And while all of the scenarios I’ve just put forth are truly tragic, research suggests that our ability to cope with disappointment and loss are greater than we realize until we are thrust into a moment of trial.

To demonstrate this, I’d like for you to consider two groups that seemingly have little in common – paraplegics and lottery winners. If I asked you whether you would be happier one year out from winning the lottery as Option A and becoming disabled as Option B, you would likely suggest that I was in need of a psychologist rather than being trained as a psychologist. Obviously, we would all hypothesize that one year after the life changing event, lottery winners would be much happier and paraplegics would be much sadder, right? But this is simply not the case.

One year after their respective events, it makes little difference whether you are riding in a Bentley or a wheelchair – happiness levels remain relatively static. So, why is this? We tend to overpredict the impact of external events on our happiness. One year later, paraplegics have found out their accidents were not as catastrophic as they may have feared and have coped accordingly. Similarly, lottery winners have found out that having money brings with it a variety of complications. No amount of spending can take away some of the tough things life throws at each and every one of us. As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” In much the same way, we tend to project forward to a hypothesized happier time, when we have more money in the bank or are making a bigger salary. The fact of the matter is, when that day arrives, we are unlikely to recognize it and will simply project forward once again, hoping in vain that something outside of ourselves will come and make it all better. Our dreams and our nightmares are never quite as likely as we might assume in the moment and our ability to cope with difficulty as it arrives is far greater than we realize before being tested.

I’m not suggesting that the coming years will be easy, far from it. Humanity’s default setting seems to include plenty of divisiveness and struggle right alongside the moments of altruism. I’m simply suggesting that whatever comes, we, and the institutions that support us, are more capable of coping than we may now realize. Always pithy in his perspective, Warren Buffett said, “In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression, a dozen or so recessions and financial panics, oil shocks, a flu epidemic, and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.”

The future may be in doubt but our resolve is not. It has never paid to bet against America and I wouldn’t start now, no matter who is at the helm.

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.

Another Day, Another Panic. Time To Get To Work

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Earlier this year it was trouble in China, today brings unrest in the United Kingdom, and you can bet that we won’t make it through the rest of this (or any other) year without volatility, uncertainty and worry. At times like this, advisors can become frustrated that the messages of patience and discipline that they teach their clients can be so roundly forgotten. But although it may be natural to despair, financial advisors would do well to remember that it is times like these for which clients enlist their services. Times of fear. Times of uncertainty. Times when they are very likely to do irreparable harm to their portfolios.

The sad fact about human nature is that knowledge counts for very little when we need it most. Dan Ariely has shown that while almost any adult can expound the basics of safe sex, knowledge tends to be overridden by emotion in a moment of passion. Likewise, dieters fail not because they cannot discern which foods are healthy and which are not, but because a doughnut is more soothing than a celery stick on a tough day. And so it goes with the clients of financial advisors who have worked hard to educate their clients about the fundaments of diversification, consistency and perseverance. Your clients likely know exactly what they should be doing, but in a moment like this, they need you to be at your persuasive best to convince them to follow rules they already know to be true.

The Knowing-Doing Gap

My route home from work typically takes me over a winding, hilly pass that is the perfect way to decompress after a long day in the office. Like most of us, I usually drive home more or less unconsciously, but I was recently broken from my trance by a tanker spill that obscured all four lanes of traffic. Searching for a new route, I found myself by the nearest hospital, the largest in the area and an institution with a fine track record.

Passing now between the two main buildings and the monorail that connects them, I saw something most unexpected. There, on a nearby lot, were 13 medical professionals in scrubs – smoking. Doctors and nurses! People who would, upon extinguishing their cigarettes, return to the building and plead with their sick patients to stop smoking. I can say with near-certainty that every one of those 13 professionals knew better and yet they couldn’t help themselves. The official name for this phenomenon is the “knowing-doing gap”, and its effects are powerful and pervasive.

James Choi of Yale found that only 4% of people who wanted to save more actually ended up increasing their savings rates. This sad number was made only slightly less pitiful when would-be-savers made a written plan; 14% were then able to stick with the program. Similarly disheartening is that 30% of medical prescriptions go entirely unfilled and of those that are filled, just over half are taken according to their dosage. In other words, among people who proactively seek out a doctor’s medical advice, most of them do not take it. How then can we as advisors ensure that clients are not only receiving good advice but that they are doing so in a manner that will persuade them to follow the received wisdom?

The Four Ps of Influential Communication

At The Center for Outcomes, we believe in the power of financial advice. We have frequently cited the work of organizations as diverse as Aon Hewitt, Morningstar, Envestnet and Vanguard—all of whom have found that clients that work with a financial advisor handily outperform those who do not. But if good financial advice is capable of adding great value, the persuasive powers of an advisor serve as the ceiling for that value. It is with this in mind that we have created our Persuasive Communication Model. Advisors who attend our two-day seminar receive extensive training in the theory and application of the model, so what follows here is a very brief introduction that lacks the appropriate background. Nevertheless, it is our hope that the skeleton of this model will provide a useful template for you as you have tough conversations with your clients. The four Ps are:

  • Purpose
  • Proof
  • People
  • Process

Purpose – Leading with “why?”

It is human nature to look for and create meaning, and we are far more compelled to act (or not act, in this case) when we understand the reasons behind the behavior. Practically speaking, this means reminding clients of their values and the goals they are trying to meet, both of which would be disrupted by acting in haste.

  • Research says: Karlan, et al. (2010) found that simply reminding people of their previous commitment to act in a certain way increased compliance by 16%.
  • Sample dialogue: “Mr. Smith, you engaged me to help you send your two daughters to college and to retire comfortably with your partner, so I’d like to frame my comments today in terms of how impulsive action might negatively impact your stated goals.”

Proof – Showing expertise

It is understandable that in times of unrest, people want to know that they are being shepherded by a knowledgeable guide. Having now framed the conversation in terms of the client’s values, it is time to show that you are a subject matter expert.

  • Research says: In his excellent book, “Your Money and Your Brain”, Jason Zweig points out that the part of the brain associated with critical thinking actually goes to sleep when someone is listening to someone they perceive to be a financial expert. You quite literally give your clients peace of mind.
  • Sample dialogue: “Your desire to get conservative is understandable from an emotional perspective in light of the recent upheaval. Unfortunately, it’s not consistent with best practices around building wealth. In a study aptly titled, ‘Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth’, Drs. Terrance Odean and Brad Barber found that the more active someone was in entering and exiting the market, the worse their outcomes tended to be.”

People – Peer pressure for good

As financial professionals, we have a deep understanding of the negative impact of “herding” or the tendency to let the crowd influence our investment decisions. What is less appreciate is that social proof (or peer pressure if you like) is actually a powerful tool in our efforts to influence behavior.

  • Research says: Online shoppers are 63% more likely to make a purchase if it has received positive reviews from their peers.
  • Sample dialogue: Social proof can be demonstrated at the institutional, individual expert, peer and personal level. Dialogue here might draw on research from a vaunted college or other institution, followed by the research of a well-known Nobel Prize winner and concluded with a personal testimonial of why you think the proposed action is best.

Process – Guide, don’t overwhelm

Having now explained the why, what and who of your approach, it is time to talk about how to proceed. Remember, your client is overwhelmed and fearful and the last thing they need is to have their life further complicated.

  • Research says: Fewer choices equal greater action in everything from grocery store samples to 401(k) options. Present two, equally positive options, thereby giving your client a stake in the process but without overwhelming them.
  • Sample dialogue: “As I hope you now see, taking drastic action is inconsistent with your financial goals and the research on best investment practices. That said, I want you to sleep well tonight. As I see it, there are two possible moves we could make. The first would be to do nothing at all, leaving your existing allocations intact and checking in with me as needed to remain calm. A second option would be to move a small percentage of your assets to a “Safety” bucket that would provide for you and your family for 2 years in the event of further volatility. This would allow you to have immediate peace of mind without unduly disrupting our well-thought-out process. What are your thoughts on these two options?”

The work that you do as a financial advisor has a meaningful impact on the lives of the people you serve, but you face an uphill battle. No matter how well-educated and knowledgeable your clients may be, instinctual behavioral urges push them to make poor decisions at precisely the time when they are the most damaging. By utilizing The Center for Outcomes Persuasive Communication Model, it is our hope that you will become even better at the part of your job that research suggests adds the most value – managing clients’ behavior. For a much deeper understanding of how this model can revolutionize your practice, please be in touch.

Sources:
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/the-289-billion-cost-of-medication-noncompliance-and-what-to-do-about-it/262222/

http://www.thinkadvisor.com/2016/02/01/why-clients-dont-take-your-advice?slreturn=1466788772&page=3

https://www.amazon.com/Your-Money-Brain-Science-Neuroeconomics/dp/0743276698

http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/odean/papers%20current%20versions/individual_investor_performance_final.pdf

https://www.searchenginejournal.com/the-power-of-social%C2%A0proof/21896/

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.

Investment Insights Podcast – Hope Springs Eternal

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 11, 2016), Bill addresses the current market climate and why there is reason to remain hopeful:

What we don’t like: Stocks are down around 10% in general; European stock markets are down even more; Asian markets down the most; it’s a tough environment for investors

What we like: We don’t believe this is a long-term bear market and don’t see a recession hitting the U.S.; labor and wages are positive; auto and housing is good as well; economy seems sturdy despite volatile market behavior; China poised to finalize five-year plan including lowering corporate tax rates and addressing government debt levels; ECB should start to show more support for its major banks

What we’re doing about it: Most of the damage is done; more sensible to see what we should buy or rotate into; hedged pretty fully in tactical products; staying the course in more strategic products

Click here to listen to the audio recording

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.

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.

Investment Insights Podcast – The Good and Bad of Trading on Emotion

Raupp_Podcast_GraphicJeff Raupp, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded January 26, 2016), Jeff looks at the opportunities created via emotional selling while monitoring the negative factors at work in the economy:

  • Leading reasons for weakness in the marketplace continue to be falling oil prices and China’s slowing growth
  • Strength of the global economy is creating uncertainty.
  • When markets are volatile, it’s important to evaluate where markets may have overreacted and opportunity has been created.
  • Emotional trading seems to have generated attractive entry points into the market, but unique to an investor’s risk tolerance and time horizon.
  • Positives in the market include tame inflation and accommodative monetary policy; negatives include overtightening by the Federal Reserve.

For Jeff’s full insights, click here to listen to the audio recording

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.

10 Surefire Ways to Ruin Your Financial Future

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

It’s been a brutal day, a long week, and just an overall rough start to the year for the markets. To head into the weekend on, hopefully, a lighter note, I’m taking a tongue-in-check approach to the irrational investor mindset:

  1. Ignore the impact of your behavior – Over the last 20 years, the market has returned an average of 8.25% per annum, but the average investor has gotten just over 4% of that due to poor investment behavior. But making prudent decisions is much less interesting than say, trying to time a bottom in oil prices, so by all means allocate your efforts there.
  2. Trust your gut – A meta-analysis of rules-based approaches to making decisions found that following the rules beats or equals trusting your gut 94% of the time. You know what you should be doing (stay the course, dollar-cost average, etc…), but rules are boring, so just do what feels right with your money!
  3. Live for right now – The worst ever 25-year return for stocks (that included the Great Depression) was 5.9% annualized. But patiently planning over an investment lifetime is sooo tedious, so be sure to check your stocks every single day, where you will see red about 45% of the time.
  4. Do as much as possible – When things get scary it feels good to act, right? Right. Disregard the research that shows that the most active traders in Sweden underperformed their buy-and-hold counterparts by 4% a year. Instead, freak out and sell everything!
  5. Equate volatility with risk – Stocks outperform other asset classes by about 5% annualized after adjusting for volatility, but the ups and downs can be a lot to handle! Volatility also provides opportunities to buy once-expensive names at a bargain. But go ahead and ignore all of the upside to volatility and do something “safe”, like buying treasuries that don’t keep up with inflation and lose real dollars every year.
  6. Go it alone – Aon Hewitt, Morningstar and Vanguard all place the value of financial advice at anywhere from 2 to 3% per year in excess returns, but don’t let that stop you. With multiple 24/7 news channels and hysteria-inducing magazines available to you, who needs personalized advice?
  7. Try and beat the benchmark – You could argue that beating an impersonal market benchmark like the S&P 500 has nothing to do with your goals or risk tolerance, but that takes all the fun out of it! Just go watch “The Big Short” and pick up a few pointers there.
  8. Read every article that mentions “recession” – The U.S. economy has been in a recession nearly 20% of the time since 1928, meaning that the average investor will experience 10 to 15 recessions over their lifetime. But by all means, read every scary article that you can rather than accepting the historical trend that recessions are a common occurrence and haven’t materially impacted the long-term ability of the market to compound wealth.
  9. Tune in to dramatic forecasts – David Dreman found that roughly 1 in 170 analyst forecasts are within 5% of reality and Philip Tetlock’s examination of 82,000 “expert” predictions shows that they barely outperform flipping a coin. So, ignore the robust body of evidence that says no one can predict the future and pick a market prophet to follow.
  10. Ignore history – JP Morgan reports that the average intrayear drawdown over the past 35 years has been just over 14%, a number we haven’t yet reached in 2016. What’s more, the market has ended higher in 27 of those 35 years. Forget the fact that the horror of 1987’s “Black Monday” (a 22.61% single day drop in the Dow) actually ended in a positive year for stocks. Ignore historical suggestions that double-digit volatility is the norm and instead imagine vivid Doomsday scenarios that leave you in financial tatters.

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.

Investment Insights Podcast – July 10, 2015

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded July 7, 2015):

What we like: Harvard study shows when there’s debt relief as part of the solution, countries tend to recover and thrive more quickly

What we don’t like: The emotional impact the Greek crisis has on investors, chiefly contagion and anger

What we’re doing about it: Touting behavioral finance; investors shouldn’t allow this anger or fear to dictate their investment decisions; encouraging the themes found in Personal Benchmark: Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management 

Click here to listen to the audio recording

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.

 

Investment Insights Podcast – February 11, 2015

Rosenberger_PodcastAndrew Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 5, 2015): We break away from our traditional format to hear Andy breakdown 2014 performance in terms of a diversified portfolio versus the S&P 500.

Highlights from the podcast include:

  • U.S. markets trumped mostly all other markets in 2014
  • Caution against knee-jerk reactions from investors to move portfolios from international to domestic
  • Encourage keeping an open mind to international opportunity given the 2014 pace of U.S. equities may be unlikely to continue
  • International markets are up year to date; U.S. slightly negative
  • Risks remain–new Greek government, elections in Spain, etc.

Listen here for the full version of Andy’s insights.

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.

New Years Resolutions for Investors

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

  1. I will not try to control the markets.
  2. I will not think, “This time, things will be different.”
  3. I will leave the forecasting to the meteorologists.
  4. I will be less impulsive in my decisions.
  5. I will try to control my poor investment behaviors.
  6. I will focus on achieving my personal goals; not beating the benchmark.
  7. I will remain calm in the face of large market swings.
  8. I will choose a path and invest towards the future.
  9. I will be confident.
  10. I will let my “why?” always guide my “how.”