You’re Scared to Bring it Up

weber_bioBrad Weber AIF®, Regional Director, Retirement Plan Services

A 2004 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association says that 73% of Americans name money as the number one factor that affects their stress level. Number one. The New York Times reports that couples who reported disagreeing about finance once a week were over 30% more likely to get divorced than couples who reported disagreements a few times a month.1 So, in addition to being stress-inducing public enemy number one, money is also highly implicated in whether or not we stay married. It’s no wonder then that we tread lightly around retirement or don’t bring it up at all!

The most common behavior in response to the overwhelming anxiety of preparing for three decades of not working is that we may ignore the conversation entirely. After all, we erroneously suppose, “If I ignore it maybe it will go away.” As anyone who has ever put off a project can attest, it never goes away and anxiety is only compounded as a deadline approaches. In college this may have been as inconsequential as pulling an all-nighter and receiving a subpar grade. With retirement planning, it could quite literally have disastrous personal consequences.

A recent study by the American Institute of CPAs2 found that speaking to children about money to children was among parents’ lowest priorities. In fact, money issues were trumped by good manners, sound eating habits, the need for good grades, the dangers of drugs, and the risks of smoking in terms of perceived importance. Our reticence to talk about money is certainly not out of lack of need. An Accenture report states that Baby Boomers will leave $30 trillion to their children in the next 30 years. This doesn’t even take into account the almost $12 trillion that MetLife predicts that Boomers will receive from their parents. The fact is, money will be changing hands within families at an unprecedented rate in the years to come and we are ill equipped to make the exchange.

There are a number of reasons why talking about money may be so difficult. One is that there has been a vitriolic reaction against the wealthy in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the global financial crisis. This sentiment was illustrated quite vividly in the September 24, 2016 Fortune magazine cover article, “Is It Still OK To Be Rich In America?” Another reason for this taboo may have a higher source.

The Bible, the best-selling book of all time and a foundational text for a majority of Americans, mentions money no less than 250 times. While not all Biblical references to money are negative, there are certainly enough references to “filthy lucre” to give pause. To a nation founded on Protestant ideals about work and morality, the notion of wealth as potentially corrosive is one that is deeply embedded in the collective American consciousness.

John Levy, a counselor to people who have recently inherited money found the following reasons for the money taboo among his clientele (as cited in O’Neil, 1993):3

  • Good taste – “It’s just not done.”
  • Fear of manipulation – “It will give them power over me.”
  • Concern for spoiling children – “They will never make anything of themselves.”
  • Embarrassment – “I don’t deserve to be so much better off than others.”
  • Fear of being judged – “All they can see is my money.”

Perhaps some of the reasons above are resonant with your personal situation and perhaps not, but it seems difficult to deny that money is a subject that puts us all on eggshells. Consider a handful of your best friends. No doubt you could tell me much about their lives; joys and struggles, highs and lows. But I doubt if you could tell me their exact salary, savings or other relevant financial indicators, because we simply don’t talk about them. While this is fine in polite company, this tendency toward silence can extend beyond the cocktail party circuit. Conversations about money tend to be emotionally fraught and tinged with shame and as such, are best handled by professionals adept at de-stigmatizing and reorienting our sometimes misguided thoughts about preparing for our financial future.

Solution: Begin a dialogue around retirement preparedness today with a professional at your place of employment or through a trusted financial advisor. Just as silence leads to greater inaction, a simple conversation can lead to life-changing progress.

For 10 years, Brinker Capital Retirement Plan Services has been working with advisors to offer plan sponsors the solutions to help participants reach their retirement goals.  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.

Sources:

1 “Money Fights Predict Divorce Rates,” Catherine Rampell, The New York Times, December 7, 2009.

2  “Money Among Lowest Priorities in Talks Between Parents, Kids,” AICPA, August 9, 2012.

3 “The Paradox of Success,” John O’Neil. New York: Putnam, 1993.

You Can’t See Tomorrow

cook_headshotPaul Cook, AIF®, Vice President and Regional Director, Retirement Plan Services

Thomas Hobbes’ famous description of life in times of war as “nasty, brutish and short” could just as easily have been applied to peacetime in the 17th century. Life expectancy in relatively developed England was just 35 years during Hobbes’ lifetime, owing largely to high infant and child mortality rates. In the less developed American colonies, life expectancy was a scant 25 years in Virginia and 40% of New Englanders died before reaching adulthood.

While very few of us would trade the realities of Thomas Hobbes’ day for our own (indoor plumbing is awfully nice), there is no denying that we are psychologically better equipped to prepare for a short life than a long one. The reason this is so is that we have a tendency to focus on the here and now and discount the future that psychologists refer to as “present bias.” To illustrate the power of present bias, consider the following:

Suppose I asked you whether you would like $250 one year (52 weeks) from now or $225 50 weeks from now – which would you choose? Now, what if I offered you a choice between $225 right this second or $250 two weeks from now – would your answer change? If you are like most people, you chose to wait for the larger payout in the first scenario but selected the immediate payoff in the second scenario. The farther we move from the present moment, the more dramatically we begin to discount time. Both scenarios involve a $25 gain for a two-week wait, but we perceive them very differently.

Present bias is rooted, among other things, in our tendency to experience now as a “hot” emotional state and the future in cooler terms. Simply put, right now seems more real than twenty years from now. As a result, many people prioritize meeting the needs of the all-too-real right now but ignore the just as real, but less salient, needs of their future self. If this is done consistently enough, tomorrow becomes today and you find yourself wholly unprepared.

Solution: Stanford Researchers1 have found that seeing a computer simulated aged version of your face makes you more likely to save for retirement. Why? Seeing the “older” version of yourself moves you from a cool to hot emotional state and makes the reality of your retirement more visceral. Psychologists have shown repeatedly that the more salient a variable is, the more likely it is to be acted upon. Start to increase the salience of your own retirement by discussing a few of the following questions with a partner or loved one:

  • Where will I/we live in retirement?
  • How will I spend my days in retirement?
  • What will be the best part of being retired?
  • What problems might arise that I could prepare for now?

For 10 years, Brinker Capital Retirement Plan Services has been working with advisors to offer plan sponsors the solutions to help participants reach their retirement goals.  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.

Source:

1 Exploring the “Planning Fallacy”: Why People Underestimate Their Task Completion Times, Roger Buehler, Dale Griffin, and Michael Ross.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1994.

Diversification: It’s Not Beauty and the Beast, but Still a Tale as Old as Time

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

Hedge fund guru Cliff Asness calls it “the only free lunch in investing.” Toby Moskowitz calls it “the lowest hanging fruit in investing.” Dr. Brian Portnoy says that doing it “means always having to say you’re sorry.” We’re speaking, of course, of diversification.

Diversification, or the reduction of non-market risk by investing in a variety of assets, is one of the hallmarks of traditional approaches to investing. What is less appreciated, however, are the ways in which it makes emotional as well as economic sense not to have all of your eggs in one basket. As is so often the case, the poets, philosophers and aesthetes beat the mathematicians to understanding this basic tenet of emotional self-regulation. The Bible mentions the benefits of diversification as a risk management technique in Ecclesiastes, a book estimated to have been written roughly 935 BC. It reads:

But divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. (Ecclesiastes 11:2)

The Talmud too references an early form of diversification, the prescription there being to split one’s assets into three parts—one third in business, another third in currency and the final third in real estate.

The most famous, and perhaps most eloquent, early mention of diversification is found in Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice, where we read:

My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,

Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate

Upon the fortune of this present year:

Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad. (I.i.42-45)

It is interesting to note how these early mentions of diversification focus as much on human psychology as they do the economic benefits of diversification, for investing broadly is as much about managing fear and uncertainty as it is making money.

Don't put your eggs in one basketBrought to the forefront by Harry Markowitz in the 1950s, diversification across a number of asset classes reduced volatility and the impact of what is known as “variance drain.” Variance drain sounds heady, but in a nutshell, it refers to the detrimental effects of compounding wealth off of low lows when investing in a highly volatile manner. Even when arithmetic means are the same, the impact on accumulated wealth can be dramatic. (This is not the same as the more widely used annualized return numbers, as they account for variance drain, but for this illustration, we’ll look specifically at variance drain.)

Say you invest $100,000 each in two products that both average 10% returns per year, one with great volatility and the other with managed volatility. The managed volatility money rises 10% for each of two years, yielding a final result of $121,000. The more volatile investment returns -20% in year one and a whopping 40% in year two, also resulting in a similar 10% average yearly gain. The good news is that you can brag to your golf buddies about having achieved an average return of 40%—you are an investment wizard! The bad news, however, is that your investment will sit at a mere $112,000, fully $9,000 less than your investment in the less volatile investment since your gains compounded off of lower lows. (To account for this, the investment industry uses annualized returns, which account for variance drain, rather than average returns.)

Managing variance drain is important, but a second, more important benefit of diversification is that it constrains bad behavior. As we’ve said on many occasions, the average equity investor lags the returns of the equity market significantly. It is simply hard to overstate the wealth-destroying impact of volatility-borne irrationality. The behavioral implication of volatile holdings is that the ride is harder to bear for loss-averse investors (yes, that means you).

As volatility increases, so too does the chance of a paper loss, which is likely to decrease holding periods and increase trading behavior, both of which are correlated with decreased returns. Warren Buffett’s first rule of investing is to never lose money. His second rule? Never forget the first rule. The Oracle of Omaha understands both the financial and behavioral ruin that come from taking oversized risk, and more importantly, the power of winning by not losing.

DiversificationAt Brinker Capital, we follow a multi-asset class investing approach because we believe that broad diversification is humility in practice. As much as experts would like to convince you otherwise, the simple fact is that no one knows which asset classes will perform well at any given time and that diversification is the only logical response to such uncertainty. But far from being a lame concession to uncertainty, the power of a multi-asset class approach has the potential to deliver powerful results. Take, for example, the “Lost Decade” of the early aughts, thusly named because investors in large capitalization U.S. stocks (e.g., the S&P 500) would have realized losses of 1% per annum over that 10-year stretch. Ouch. Those who were evenly diversified across five asset classes (U.S. stocks, foreign stocks, commodities, real estate, and bonds), however, didn’t experience a lost decade at all, realizing a respectable annualized gain of 7.2% per year. Other years, the shoe is on the other foot. Over the seven years following the Great Recession, stocks have exploded upward while a diversified basket of assets has had more tepid growth. But the recent underperformance of a diversified basket of assets does nothing to change the wisdom of diversification; a principle that has been around for millennia and will serve investors well for centuries to come.

Diversification does not assure a profit or protection against loss. 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, a Registered Investment Advisor.