6 behaviors that predict future wealth

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel Crosby, Chief Behavioral Officer

For many years, the prevailing advisory remuneration model has led financial advisors to look at just one variable – investable assets – when deciding whether or not to work with a client. One widespread truism about human behavior is that what gets rewarded gets done and inasmuch as advisors have been rewarded with a percentage of assets under management, AUM has been the North Star for determining whether or not to work with a client. 

But the simplicity of this calculus has historically caused advisors to overlook those who might soon become rich or those who would be a good cultural fit for the ideals of a practice. After all, a wealthy client that’s a pain to work with may not be so enticing after a few hotheaded visits to the office. The “AUM as sole determinant” model has also excluded groups not stereotypically thought of as having wealth, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Consider the following stats from The Center for Outcomes about two such groups – women and young people. 

  • Women control 2/3 of the total wealth in the US[1]
  • Women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of households[2]

…and yet…

  • More than half (58%) of women defer to their spouse to manage critical, long-term decisions[3]
  • As a result, 70% of women fire their advisor within a year of their husband’s passing[4]

The numbers don’t look much better for young people, either. Consider: 

  • Young people are open to working with their parents’ financial advisors (55 percent), but only 20 percent have met them[5]
  • Just 10% of RIA clients are under 40[6]
  • 86% of children will fire their parents’ advisor[7]
  • 2/3 of those making over $150,000 have no advisor[8]

Clearly, the investable assets model is incomplete, leading us to ignore cultural considerations as well as opportunities for future wealth accumulation. But if AUM isn’t the answer, what is? Dr. Sarah Stanley Fallaw has a suggestion: behavior. Dr. Fallaw, CEO of Data Points, sets forth six behaviors that predict future wealth creation in her fantastic new book, The Next Millionaire Next Door (2018):  

Confidence - “Demonstration of confidence and collaboration in financial management, investing and household leadership.”  

Frugality – “Financial behaviors associated with consistent saving, dedicated commitment to lower spending and rigorous adherence to a budget.” 

Responsibility - “Acceptance of the role of actions, abilities, and experiences in financial outcomes. Belief that luck plays a small part in achievement.”  

Social Indifference – “Spending and saving behaviors that reflect immunity to social pressure to purchase the latest in consumer and/or luxury goods, clothing and cars.”  

Focus - “Demonstration of the ability to focus on detailed tasks through completion without becoming distracted.”  

Planning - “Behaviors related to goal-setting, planning, and anticipating future needs.” 

An exclusive focus on dollars and cents has led the advisor of yesteryear to size up a client simply on how much (or how little) money they have today. The advisor of the future will cast aside this outdated approach, relying instead on an understanding that today’s behavioral realities are likely to lead to tomorrow’s financial success. This behavioral approach reflects a more holistic understanding of what true wealth means, allows the advisor to serve historically underserved populations and ensures a tighter fit between client personality and firm culture. It’s time to stop asking, “What are you worth?” And start asking, “What are you like?”

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.

[1] BMO Wealth Institute, “Financial concerns of women” (2015).
[2] BMO Wealth Institute, “Financial concerns of women” (2015).
[3] UBS: https://www.ubs.com/global/en/ubs-news/r-news-display-ndp/en-20190306-study-reveals-multi-generational-problem.html
[4] Smart Women Finish Rich: 9 Steps to achieving financial security and funding your dreams. Bach (2002).
[5] Broadridge: https://www.broadridge.com/press-release/2018/millennials-most-confident-in-savings-accounts
[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/29/millennial-millionaires-to-be-neglected-by-advisors-study.html
[7] https://www.investmentnews.com/article/20121028/REG/310289970
[8] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/29/millennial-millionaires-to-be-neglected-by-advisors-study.html



Top blog posts of 2018

It’s time to close out the year with our top five blog posts from 2018. From our perspectives on market volatility to weekly podcasts and even a recap of the mid-term elections, these are the best of 2018. Enjoy!

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel CrosbyExecutive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

The do’s and don’ts of market volatility

You will never regret your vacation

A tomorrow more certain than today


Tim Holland, CFA, Senior Vice President, Global Investment Strategist

Investment Insights Podcast: What’s roiling the market, and where do we go from here?



Jeff Raupp, CFA, Chief Investment Officer

A quick take on the mid-term elections



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.

A tomorrow more certain than today?

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Suppose I asked you what you would be doing in 5 minutes. Odds are, you would be able to answer that question with some high degree of certainty. After all, it will probably look a bit like what you are doing at the time you were asked. Now, let’s move the goalpost back a bit and imagine that I asked you what you would be doing five weeks from now. It would certainly be exponentially harder to pinpoint, but your calendar may give some clues as to how you will be engaged at that time. Now imagine you were asked to forecast your actions five months, five years, or even fifty years from now – damn near impossible, right? Of course, it is because, in our quotidian existence, the present is far more knowable than the distant future.

What complicates investing then, is that the exact reverse is true. We have no idea what will happen today, very little notion of what next week holds, a slight inkling as to potential one-year returns but could take a pretty solid stab at 30 years from now. Consider the long-term performance of stocks by holding periods:a tomorrow more certain than today

Over short periods of time, returns are nearly unknowable. Stocks are up about 60 percent of the time and down about 40 percent of the time, but the highs and lows are both very dramatic. Over a period more reflective of a long-term investment horizon, however, the future becomes far more certain. Returns average just over 10 percent per year, with the worst case being around 6 percent and the best case being nearly 15 percent. Not so scary anymore, but it does require a fundamental rethinking of reality, something that seems not to be happening. As statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver says in The Signal and the Noise:

“In the 1950s, the average share of common stock in an American company was held for about six years before being traded – consistent with the idea that stocks are a long-term investment. By the 2000s, the velocity of trading had increased roughly twelvefold. Instead of being held for six years, the same share of stock was traded after just six months. The trend shows few signs of abating: stock market volumes have been doubling once every four or five years.”

Intuition tells us that “now” is more knowable than “tomorrow” but Wall Street Bizarro World (WSBW) says otherwise. As Silver points out, more access to data and the disintermediary effects of technology make our tendency toward short-termism even greater. But the growing impatience of the masses only serves to benefit the savvy investor. As Ben Carlson says in A Wealth of Common Sense, “Individuals have to understand that no matter what innovations we see in the financial industry, patience will always be the great equalizer in financial markets. There’s no way to arbitrage good behavior over a long-time horizon. In fact, one of the biggest advantages individuals have over the pros is the ability to be patient.”

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800.333.4573.

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.


45 things smart investors never say

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

1. Fear of political strife – “I don’t like the President”

2. Concentrated position – “My grandfather gave me this stock”

3. Impersonal benchmarks – “Why am I down versus the S&P 500?”

4. Market timing – “Is now a good time to invest?”

5. Home bias – “Europe? I prefer the Red, White, and Blue!”

6. Tangibility bias – “I like to invest in things that I can hold”

7. Friendship bias – “I like to invest in people I know”

8. Anchoring/ “breakevenitis” – “I’ll sell when it gets back to what I paid for it”

9. Selling winners too quickly – “You never go broke taking a profit”

10. Mere exposure effect – “Buy what you know”

11. Zero risk bias – “I’ll keep this dry powder for a rainy day”

12. Performance chasing – “This has been hot…”

13. IPO investing – “Have you heard of this new company…?”

14. Shifting risk tolerance – “I’m a high-risk high-reward person”

15. Ostrich effect – “Why mess with a good thing?” (complacency)

16. Confirmation bias – “All of my friends say…”

17. Overconfidence – “It won’t happen to me…”

18. Hindsight bias – “How did you do in 2008?”

19. Restraint bias – “I’ll jump on the next March 2009”

20. Self-serving bias – “Why aren’t my returns higher?” (two-way street)

21. Affect heuristic – “I’m going with my gut on this one…”

22. Appeal to authority – “But Jim Cramer said…”

23. Status quo bias – “Rebalance? Why bother?”

24. Hyperbolic discounting – “I’ll start saving later…”

25. Gambler’s fallacy – “I’m on a roll!”

26. Herding – “My friend told me to check out…”

27. New era thinking – “Yeah, but this time is different…”

28. Representativeness – “This will be the Great Depression all over again”

29. Bias blind spot – “But I would never do that!”

30. Ambiguity aversion – “Why can’t you just give me a straight answer?”

31. Babe Ruth Effect – “Why did you have me in last year’s big winner?”

32. Dread risk – “I’m gonna buy gold”/ “What about the zombie apocalypse?”

33. Fundamental attribution error – “Why aren’t you beating the market? I could do better myself!”

34. Illusory pattern recognition – “This chart looks just like 1929!”

35. Money illusion – “I’m a millionaire! What do you mean keep working?”

36. Myopic loss aversion – “Excuse me, I have to make some hedging trades.”

37. Sunk cost fallacy – “Well, we’ve already gone this far so…”

38. Turkey illusion – “Recession? Never heard of it.”

39. Fetish for complexity – “I need hedge fund exposure! What am I paying you for?”

40. Declinism – “The way I see it, the world is just going to hell”

41. Framing – “Save 10%? Impossible.”

42. Illusory truth effect (believing a market myth frequently repeat) – “Sell in May and go away”

43. Information bias – “Let me just turn on CNBC”

44. Outcome bias – “You told me not to buy individual stocks and it went up. Ha!”

45. Post-purchase rationalization – “I mean, I NEEDED that.”

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800.333.4573.

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.

You will never regret your vacation

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who has spent her career in a palliative care unit, caring for those with very little time to live. As someone who interacts with the dying, she has had the privilege of speaking with these people about the things that make their life worth living, as well as what they wish they’d done differently. Ware summarized the top five regrets of those about to pass on in her excellent blog, “Inspiration and Chai.” The “Top Five Regrets of the Dying” are:

  1.  I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3.  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5.  I wish I had let myself be happier.

Notice, not one mention of money and the only mention of work is to say they (especially male patients) wished they had done less of it. If you are like me (and perhaps like most people), you are chasing the wrong dream and setting the wrong goals. As you sit and evaluate your life as it draws to a close, I promise you that you will never regret the year your portfolio underperformed the benchmark, but you may well regret lost time spent living a life that confused money with what matters much more.

The Path Forward
In a money-obsessed world that has socialized us to chase the almighty dollar, it can be weirdly unsettling to learn that money isn’t everything. As much as we whine about money, having something that is the physical embodiment of happiness is nice. We can hold it, save it, get more of it, all while mistakenly thinking that getting paid is how we “arrive.” Realizing that money does not directly equate to meaning can leave us with a sense of groundlessness but once we’ve stripped away that faulty foundation, we can replace it with things that lead to less evanescent feelings of happiness. Breaking your overreliance on money as a substitute for real joy is a great first step, here are two ways to move forward upon having made this important realization:

Spend money in ways that matter – Let’s be balanced in the way we talk and think about money. It’s not the key to happiness, but it’s not nothing either. A lot of our troubles with money stem from the way we spend it. We think that buying “things” will make us happy. We engage in retail therapy which is quickly followed by feelings of regret at being overextended. Before we know it, we’re surrounded by the relics of our discontent; the things we bought to be happy become constant reminders that we’re not.

Instead of amassing a museum of junk, spend your money on things of real value. Spend a little more on quality, healthy food and take the time to savor your new purchases. Use your money to invest in a dream – pay yourself to take a little time off and write that novel about which you’ve always dreamt. Give charitably and experience the joy of watching those less fortunate benefit from your wealth. Finally, spend money on having special experiences with your loved ones. It’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can do a great deal to facilitate it if you approach it correctly.

Find a new metric – Part of the appeal of money as a barometer for happiness is that it’s so…well…quantifiable. Meaning, joy, happiness, and fulfillment are all abstractions that can be hard to get our hands around. Thus, we aim for something we can count (but end up sadly disappointed). So, take things that really will make you happy and try to come up with metrics for those things instead. Maybe you enjoy painting and you could set a goal to complete three new pieces by the end of the summer. Perhaps you want to be more service oriented and you could set a goal to engage in a charitable act each week. The impulse to measure happiness is a natural and good one, let’s just make sure we’re using a yardstick that delivers on its promises.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800.333.4573.

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.


Why outcomes beat fear

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

It seems to be human nature to be fascinated by pathology. Sigmund Freud began his study of the human psyche by outlining how it was broken (hint: your Mom) and the discipline continued down that path for over a century. It was roughly 150 years before the study of clinical psychology was offset at all by the study of what we now call “positive psychology” – the study of what makes us happy, strong, and exceptional. Perhaps it is no surprise then that behavioral finance too began with the study of the anomalous and is only now coming around to a more solution-focused ideal. While a thorough review of the transition from efficient to behavioral approaches isn’t why we are here, it’s worth considering the rudiments of these ideas and how we can improve upon them.

For decades, the prevailing economic theories espoused a view of Economic Man as rational, utility maximizing, and self-interested. On these simple (if unrealistic) assumptions, economists built mathematical models of exceeding elegance but limited real-world applicability. It all worked beautifully, until it didn’t. Goaded only by a belief in the predictability of Economic Man, The Smartest People in the Room picked up pennies in front of steamrollers – until they got flattened.

On the strength of hedge fund implosions, multiple manias with accompanying crashes and mounting evidence of human irrationality, Economic Man begin to give way to Behavioral Man. Behavioral proponents began to document the flaws of investors with the same righteous zeal with which proponents of market efficiency had previously defended the aggregate wisdom of the crowd. At my last count, psychologists and economists had uncovered 117 documented biases capable of obscuring lucid financial decision-making. One hundred and seventeen different ways for you to get it wrong.

But the problem with all this Ivory Tower philosophizing is that none of it truly helps investors. For a clinical psychologist, a diagnosis is a necessary but far from sufficient part of a treatment plan. No shrink worth his $200 an hour would label you pathological and show you the door, yet that is largely what behavioral finance has given the investing public: a surfeit of pathology and a shortage of outcomes.

To consider firsthand the futility of being told only what not to do, let’s try the following.

“Do not think of a pink elephant.”

What happened as you read the first sentence of this section? Odds are, you did the very thing I asked you not to do – you imagined a pink elephant. How disappointing! You could have imagined any number of things – you had infinity minus one option – and yet you still disobeyed my simple request. Sigh. Oh well, I haven’t given up on you yet, so let’s try one more time.

“Do not, whatever you do, imagine a large purple elephant with a parasol daintily tiptoeing across a highwire connecting two tall buildings in a large metropolitan area.”

You did it again, didn’t you?

All feigned anger aside, what you just experienced was the very natural tendency to imagine and even ruminate on something, even when you know you oughtn’t. Consider the person on a diet who has created a lengthy list of “bad” foods. He may, for instance, repeat the mantra, “I will not eat a cookie. I will not eat a cookie. I will not eat a cookie.” any time he experiences the slightest temptation.

But what is the net effect of all his self-flagellating rumination? Effectively he has thought about cookies all day and is likely to cave at the first sign of an Oreo. The research is unequivocal that a far more effective approach is to reorient that behavior into something desirable rather than repeat messages of self-denial that ironically keep the “evil” object top of mind. Unfortunately for investors in a panic, there are far more histrionic “Don’t do this!” messages than constructive “Do this instead”, which is where The Center for Outcomes comes in. At the Brinker Capital Center for Outcomes, we have taken behavioral finance out of the textbooks and are putting it in the hands of advisors where it belongs. By utilizing our empirically-based, four-step process, advisors are given specific tools for communicating with clients in a persuasive manner. Click here to learn how to say “Yes” to outcomes.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Opinions represented are not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security and are subject to change without notice.  

Brinker Capital, Inc., a registered investment advisor. 

The do’s and don’ts for periods of market volatility

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

We know it has been a stressful week for everyone involved in the market. In times like this, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. Therefore, we created a list of things you should and shouldn’t be doing in periods of market volatility.


  • 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. Although you would never know it from watching cable, the economy is growing and most quality of life statistics have been headed in the right direction for years! Markets always have and always will climb a wall of worry, rewarding those who stay the course and punishing those who succumb to fear. Warren Buffet expressed this beautifully when he 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 shock; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.” Such it has ever been, thus will it ever be.
  • Do take responsibility
    • Which of the following do you think is most predictive of financial performance: a) market timing b) investment returns or c) financial behavior? Ask most men or women on the street and they are likely to tell you that timing and returns are the biggest drivers of financial performance, but the research tells you another story. In fact, the research says that you – that’s right – you, are the best friend and the worst enemy of your own portfolio. What happens in the financial markets in the coming years is absolutely out of your control. But, your ability to follow a plan, diversify across asset classes, and maintain your composure is squarely within your own power. At times when market moves can feel haphazard, it helps to remember who is really in charge.
  • Do work with a professional
    • Odds are that when you chose your financial advisor, you selected him or her because of his or her academic pedigree, years of experience, or a sound investment philosophy. Ironically, what you likely overlooked entirely is the largest value he or she adds – managing your behavior. Studies from across the industry put the added value 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.


  • Don’t equate risk with volatility
    • Repeat after me, “volatility does not equal risk.” Risk is the likelihood that you will not have the money you need at the time you need it to live the life you want to live. Nothing more, nothing less. Paper losses are not “risk” and neither are the gyrations of a volatile market.
  • Don’t focus on the minute-to-minute
    • Despite the enormous wealth-creating power of the market, looking at it too closely can be terrifying. A daily look at portfolio values means you see a loss 46.7% of the time, whereas a yearly look shows a loss merely 27.6% of the time. Limited looking leads to increase feelings of security and improved decision-making.
  • Don’t give into action bias
    • At most times and in most situations, increased effort leads to improved outcomes. Want to lose weight? Start running. Want to learn a new skill set? Go back to school. Investing is that rare world where doing less actually gets you more. James O’Shaughnessy of “What Works on Wall Street” relates an illustrative story of a study done at Fidelity. When they surveyed their accounts to see which had done best, they uncovered something counterintuitive: the best-performing stocks were those that had been forgotten entirely.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital Holdings, has developed an educational program to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800.333.4573.

Brinker Capital is a privately held investment management firm with $21.7 billion in assets under management (as of December 31, 2017). For 30 years, Brinker Capital’s purpose has been to deliver an institutional multi-asset class investment experience to individual clients. Brinker Capital’s highly strategic, disciplined approach has provided investors the potential to achieve their long-term goals while controlling risk. With a focus on wealth creation and management, Brinker Capital serves financial advisors and their clients by providing high-quality investment manager due diligence, asset allocation, portfolio construction, and client communication services. Brinker Capital, Inc. is a registered investment advisor.

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.




Top blog posts of 2017

We’re closing out the year with our top five blog posts of 2017. From retirement and behavioral finance, to in-depth market perspectives, these are the best of 2017. Enjoy!

Jeff Raupp, CFARaupp_Podcast_Graphic, Director of Investments

Investment Insights Podcast: Where markets go from here now that they’ve rallied post-election




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

Avoiding retirement regrets

A dozen steps to a smooth transition to retirement


Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel CrosbyExecutive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Can money buy happiness?

Purchasing power and the big power of small changes

You Don’t Have a Plan

frank_randallFrank Randall, AIF®, Regional Director, Retirement Plan Services

People anticipate that they will finish their own tasks earlier than they actually do. Consider the following example. Employees who carry home a stuffed briefcase full of work on Fridays, fully intending to complete every task, are often aware that they have never gone beyond the first one or two jobs on any previous weekend.

The psychological term for this is called “planning fallacy” and it is the reason that we are often a day late and a dollar short. In a phrase, the planning fallacy is the human tendency to underestimate the time and resources necessary to complete a task. When applied to a lifetime of financial decision-making, the results can be catastrophic.

There are a variety of hypotheses as to why we engage in this sort of misjudgment about what it will take to get the job done. Some chalk it up to wishful thinking. A second supposition is that we are overly optimistic judges of our own performance. A final notion implicates “focalism” or a tendency to estimate the time required to complete the project, but failing to account for interruptions on the periphery.

Whatever the foundational reasons, and it is likely there are many, it is clear enough that the American investing public has a serious case of failure to adequately plan. Excluding their primary home value, 56% of Americans either have less than $10,000 or no retirement savings at all. 43% of Americans are just 90 days away from poverty and 48% of those with workplace retirement savings plans fail to contribute.1 Perhaps we think we are special. Maybe we are simply too focused on the day-to-day realities that can so easily hijack our attention. Without a doubt, we may wish that the need to save large sums of money for a future date would just resolve itself.

Solution: Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish” and yet the majority (60%) of investors surveyed by Natixis in 20142 said that they had no formal financial plan or goals. If you do not have a formal, updated financial plan in your possession, you lack the road map necessary to begin the journey toward retirement. Most financial planners are happy to create such a plan for a small fee so start today!

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.


1 “Myth of the Middle Class:  Most Americans Don’t Even Have $1,000 in Savings,” www.salon.com, Ben Norton, January 14, 2016.

2 “Getting to the Goal:  Markets, emotion and the risks advisors must manage,” Natixis, 2014

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.