January 28, 2007 – Most people when they read the above answer will think I’m crazy. In fact, I know a lot of people that told me they handed their money over to a firm after trying to manage their own portfolio and sustaining significant losses. But every person that had unsatisfactory results took the plunge without adequate preparation. They listened to the pundits on MSNBC, watched the Bloomberg Report, and read the Wall Street Journal and thought that they were sufficiently knowledgeable to be great stock pickers.
They failed to seek out and truly learn how to invest properly and then failed to develop any type of investment system. Of course they were going to fail. Yet learning how to invest and make significant returns upward of 20% to 25% a year is not difficult at all. It’s either wrong choices about learning the wrong investment systems or laziness that causes the overwhelming majority of do-it-yourselfers to fail. But it doesn’t need to be that way at all.
There was an article in last month’s Economist that insisted that the belief that more leisure time leads to increased happiness was a myth. Instead, the article revealed that people predominantly used excess leisure time to watch more TV rather than engage in any activity that really improved their quality of life.
However, I don’t agree with the conclusion of the Economist study. All it would take is a simple re-adjustment of perspective, I believe, to change that conclusion. For example, if it was mandated that people could not use their extra leisure time to watch TV but must engage in activities that require human interaction, then more people would have dinner with their friends, go to a play, concert or sporting event, enjoy a pick-up basketball game with their kids, and so on. I guarantee you that the study would conclude something different if this were the case. It’s just a matter of taking personal responsibility for one’s happiness.
In investing, the same rules apply. I’ve read and heard way too many stories where people’s retirements were ruined because they handed their money over to another person at an investment firm. As the financial consultant proceeded to lose all of the client’s money, he or she continuously told the client not to worry because “stock markets go down but always come back” while never once admitting that the loses were due to poor decisions. By the time these clients finally decided to pull their accounts, many times they had already lost USD $500,000 or more. I’m not really sure why people are willing to work so hard to save so much money but yet so cavalierly give their money to someone else to invest for them. But they do.
If you adhere to Stephen Covey’s Eighth Habit of highly effective people, and take charge of your own investment life, I guarantee you that your results will be better than you ever could have imagined. They might not improve right away, but over time, they will. Remember, this is a lifelong investment you will be making so you must give yourself a couple of years to judge the returns of your efforts. In order to achieve exceptional results, there are no shortcuts. In investing, however, people seek shortcuts all the time.
They pay thousands of dollars to newsletters to tell them exactly what stocks to buy and curse them when they lose money. They pay tens of thousands of dollars to their financial consultants every year and curse them when they lose them money.
It is quite odd to me that the most controlling of people that will pour their hearts and souls into their careers and work extra hours because they do not trust their co-workers to do the job “right”, will turn around and so easily concede control of the management of the wealth that they worked so hard to create.
Many times I hear people claim, “I don’t know anything about investing, so I’m going to let the experts handle it”, and consequently hand their money to Merrill Lynch, UBS, or Goldman Sachs to manage. This notion is just plain silly for two reasons. Consider that most people have undergone at least 12 years of schooling. The most important class you could have ever taken during those 12 years would have been one about creating wealth and investing, but since no traditional institutions of education offer such a class, you must be willing to take one additional class to secure the rest of your financial life.
If we consider the fact that the hours of a 16 week college class that met four days a week for 1.5 hours a class, or 96 hours of learning, is probably sufficient to set one on the path to significantly greater financial returns, it’s just plain silly that the overwhelming number of people make excuses that they just don’t have this kind of time.
The second reason this notion is so silly is that most likely, your financial consultant and the money manager he or she utilizes barely know more about investing than you do. They’re superior at convincing you that they do, but they really don’t. 98% of money managers peg their portfolio to the major domestic index in their country, so this is something you could do in your sleep. Next time you meet with your financial consultant, take several hours before the meeting to study the global economy and use your knowledge to seize control of the conversation.
Ask what are the best asset classes for 2007 and why. Ask what emerging nations in the Middle East and Russia are likely to do with their massive petrodollar surpluses and how their actions are likely to move global markets. Ask them about the dynamics of the dollar, Euro, and pound sterling currency markets and how this influences how your portfolio is allocated.
Most people don’t realize how little their financial consultants really know because they don’t know the right questions to ask.
Consider this. How many clients does your financial consultant have? 50? 100? 300? If you still think that you don’t have the time to learn, consider that your consultant most likely doesn’t have much time for you either. If you really want to make progress with your financial future, it is up to you to find the time. Several thousand or even several hundred dollars invested in courses and education that will teach you how to invest is money much better spent than paying tens of thousands of dollars in fees year after year after year to someone merely to achieve mediocre returns.
And what’s my advice for the type of courses/ books you should seek? With the increasing accessibility to information that is highly correlated to significant returns, I would most definitely concentrate on the long tail of investment strategies — those strategies that have evolved with the evolving information landscape and technology to leverage information to identify stocks best poised to explode higher versus outdated traditional fundamental and value investing strategies. That would be a good place to start.
J.S. Kim is the founder and Managing Director of maalamalama, a comprehensive online investment course that uses novel, proprietary advanced wealth planning techniques and the long tail of investing to identify low-risk, high-reward investment opportunities that seek to yield 25% or greater annual returns.