When this Wall Street Journal video of Warren Buffett’s reflection on the 2008 Financial Crisis debuted in early September 2018, a decade had passed since the beginning of the last big market crisis.
In light of current market volatility, it’s worth revisiting Buffett’s perspective today. Comparing the American economy to “an economic train moving down the track that has no ending,” he cautions against reacting to the occasional “derailments.”
“People talk about a fog of war,” says Buffett, “but there’s a fog of panic too, and during that panic, you’re getting inaccurate information, you’re hearing rumors. If you wait until you know everything, it’s too late.”
Words of wisdom that made sense in 2008. They still make sense today.
At the risk of gushing, I am proud of you. I’m proud, because none of you (our clients) called us in panic or concern when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 800 points on October 10.
A friend sent me a mid-day message that day: “Are your phones blowing up? People are losing their minds right now.”
My message back: “You know we prepare folks to take the long view. Not one call.”
As I publish this post on October 30, the market remains cranky. Who knows what’s in store in the short run? So far, Hill Investment Group clients, I remain delighted over your resolve, your mental toughness, your non-reaction when baited.
Don’t get me wrong, I derive no pleasure from watching steep market declines. To an extent, I blame the media pundits. I can barely stomach the way they seize on the short-term gyrations to provide empty explanations. It grates on me to watch them leverage the market’s equivalent of a car crash, preying on our human frailties, knowing full well that fear will drive eyeballs their way.
That said, there is rare advice to be mined out of the media. For example, The Wall Street Journal just released an amazing piece by UCLA behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi, “The High Financial Price of Our Short Attention Spans.” Dr. Benartzi has so much good advice, I’d have to quote nearly the entire article to share my favorite parts.
Perhaps this subhead will suffice: “Focus on the most relevant information, not the most available.” Or this: “Your biggest mistakes will come from overreacting to the latest stock swings, not underreacting.” Now, go read the rest (by clicking the link above).
One way we strive to keep our clients on course here at HIG when others are “losing their minds” is to remind them of these simple, but powerful lessons:
Allocate intentionally. Your asset allocation was a decision we made together, based on the mix most likely to help you achieve your unique goals. Any random day (or month, or even year or few) shouldn’t change that.
Diversify globally. Your globally diversified portfolio typically includes roughly 12,000 stocks from the US and beyond. You’re already set to receive appropriate exposure to risks and expected returns from worldwide markets.
Rebalance habitually. Rebalancing sounds easy, but it takes guts, and is hugely important. It’s as close as we get to leveraging market moves, trimming high-flying asset classes (selling high) and restoring recent underdogs (buying low), according to your personalized portfolio plans.
Take the Long View.® Everything we do is about putting the math on your side. What happens in the short run is tough to predict. But we know what the science of investing says, and we’ve built your portfolio accordingly.
Combined, these four principles suggest that simple discipline may be the most important ingredient of all in becoming a world-class investor. I couldn’t tell you whether we’ve just experienced a random blip or the beginning of a bigger correction. But I am confident that we’ve prepared our clients for either outcome, and nearly any other permutation we may encounter.
Since our Take the Long View® strategy calls for a level-headed mindset and evidence-based rationale, I am disciplined about keeping emotions out of the mix. But sometimes, even I have to vent. For example, my outrage seems well-placed when it comes to exposing dark players who pose as financial “advisors” while they prey on those who can least afford it. When that happens, the real damage is done if we calmly ignore what’s going on.
We work in an industry with an insanely low bar to entry. As I covered in my book, Odds On, I’ve personally witnessed how many of the big-name brokerage firms prize their sales quotas over solid client care and education. In any industry, a convergence of greed and incompetence is ugly. In wealth management, it can be life-shattering.
That makes me mad. Through our own experiences and in speaking with investors, we see the damage done far more often than you’ll read about in the papers. Yes, regulators have been known to levy millions, if not billions of dollars in fines against the worst offenders, but is it working?
Consider this recent article from personal finance columnist Tara Siegel Bernard. It makes me sick to my stomach to read that a “sandwich generation” daughter had to discover her ailing mother’s broker was quietly extracting roughly 10% in annual commissions from Mom’s account (compared to an industry norm of closer to 1%). In financial speak, that’s known as “churning,” or buying and selling just to turn a profit at the investor’s expense.
Worse, at least when Bernard published her piece, the offending broker was still employed at the same firm. The firm’s response? Bernard reports: “In a statement, [it] said, ‘The client agreed to an appropriate resolution of this matter in June.’ The firm said it was committed to doing the right thing for its clients, and was ‘disappointed when any feel their expectations haven’t been met.’”
What a ridiculous response!
Through the years, I’ve heard from many in our industry with their own tales, which sync with my experiences. The common thread is selfish salesmanship. Today there are thousands of independent investment advisory firms, all of whom are held to a fiduciary standard. While even that can’t prevent a criminal bent on malfeasance, it’s a step in the right direction.
Things are getting better, but it’s time more investors start choosing true financial advocates, not just the family relation, nice neighbor or daughter’s affable softball coach. It’s time to fire the entrenched, big-name brokers who don’t have to (and often don’t) represent your highest financial interests. It’s time to lead with questions such as: Is our relationship always fiduciary?
If the answer is anything besides, “Yes, always,” or if the written version is accompanied by an asterisk and a bunch of fancy legal footwork, it’s time for you to say no. You deserve better.
So, have you checked your minor child’s credit reports lately … or ever?
What’s that? You didn’t know your child had credit reports? Technically, they shouldn’t. Not unless you have opened credit lines for them yourself.
Unfortunately, because most children’s identities are so pristine, they’re especially tempting targets for identity thieves. These lowest of the low are looking to steal your child’s identity and sully their credit, sometimes before “Junior” can even walk, let alone go shopping. Many parents don’t know to keep an eye out for this growing threat, so thieves can often have a field day before you realize anything is amiss.
The cherry on the top of this awful mix: Once your child’s identity is stolen, you may not notice until they’re preparing for college, applying for their first line of credit, or embarking on similar adventures that are supposed to be fun and exciting.
Yuck. We’re using today’s post to call attention to this critical threat. We’re not the only ones, either. The Wall Street Journal recently published an excellent overview of the issue, including simple steps you can and should take to monitor your child’s credit, and how to proceed if you find a problem.
A good first step: Check to make sure your child doesn’t have a credit report you’re unaware of. You can do this by navigating to the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Recovery Steps page, scrolling down to “Special Forms of Identity Theft,” and selecting “Child Identity Theft.” Follow the directions there, and establish a schedule to repeat this activity periodically.
You might also consider proactively establishing lines of credit for your children, and then immediately freezing them. This can help prevent someone else from opening a bogus line of credit using your children’s identity.
Also, be on sharp lookout for warning signs. A prime example: your child starts receiving credit card offers or calls from collection agencies. In the past, you’d probably have laughed at these sorts of messages to your three-year-old. These days, they are likely to mean that somebody has stolen your child’s identity and is up to no good with it.
The moral of the story: You can go a long way toward protecting your kiddos and reducing your anxiety by following these steps.
If you feel inclined, do share this with others, and help us spread the word about this little-known threat.
As Matt Hall touched on in his post, “Exactly Why Fiduciary Matters,” Hill Investment Group was founded on the premise that every investor deserves excellent client care, fiduciary levels of advice, and access to well-structured investment solutions. While we’ve not figured out how to scale HIG to serve the entire planet just yet … we’re working on it.
One big step in that direction started last spring, when I was hired to launch Hillfolio, our ground-breaking new digital platform for investors of more modest means. This summer, we soft-launched the program. On October 1, we’ll launch it publicly, first in St. Louis and Houston – close to Hill Investment Group’s two existing offices – then nationally.
Our alliance with Schwab has been key to the launch.
“We’re excited to see the commitment Hill Investment Group is making to Schwab Institutional Intelligent Portfolios. We recently added the
ability to add mutual funds to our ETF-based portfolios. Hillfolio is leading the charge to use this new flexibility for the benefit of their clients.”
You’ll find additional details about our Hillfolio launch in this press release. Stay tuned for more updates soon!
When I discovered Jonathan Clements 20 years ago, I noticed right away we had a lot in common. We were both early advocates for evidence-based investing (or “passive investing,” back then). We both knew better than to heed all the “noise” from the vast majority of the popular press. We knew even then, our jobs were to help investors focus on the essentials: reducing costs, managing market risks, understanding the science of investing.
There was one difference between us. While I was a fiduciary investment advisor for a then-small firm, Clements was the personal financial columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and one of the few voices of reason in the media. His columns left me optimistic, knowing we were not alone.
At the time, I did not notice a physical resemblance. Funny what a few years will do. These days, I see we now share a similar hair style as well!
One of his recent posts, “Tell Us a Story,” caught my attention. We often employ story-telling in our client conversations here at HIG. But, as Clements points out, it’s important to not let random anecdotes distract you from the greater story of evidence-based investing. “Detail the inevitable failure of most investors to beat the market,” he says, “and someone will bring up the neighbor who purportedly bought Amazon’s stock at the initial public offering and never sold.”
I agree. There’s always “the neighbor,” or cousin, or co-worker who hits the random jackpot. Good for them. But, as Clements concludes: “The weight of our many mediocre investment decisions eventually sinks in – and (you were expecting me to say this) the logic of indexing proves irresistible.”
If you’re looking for other thoughtful ideas about achieving financial happiness, you might find Clements’ materials irresistible as well. From one white-haired gent to another: Hat’s off to you, Jonathan!
At Hill Investment Group, we are always looking to add quality individuals to the team. We get extra enjoyment when we are able to “rescue” them from what we refer to as the dark side of the financial industry … as Matt Hall describes here.
In that context, please join me in welcoming Abby Crimmins as our new client service associate. Abby comes to us from a wirehouse. In her own words, “After an unsettling start to my career, I was eager to find a financial firm that emphasized exemplary client service and aligned with my core values.”
Fortunately, a family friend introduced Abby to HIG, and to Matt’s book, Odds On. After reading the book, she knew where she was meant to be. As good timing would have it, we too were seeking an individual with Abby’s talents to build on our client service team.
Augmenting her wirehouse experience (where she was selected to participate in an executive leadership development program), Abby is a University of Missouri-Columbia “Mizzou” graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance and real estate. Her attention to detail, process-oriented mind, and can-do enthusiasm will also be valuable assets to us and our clients, as she covers tasks that are perhaps best described as “a little bit of everything.”
During her Mizzou days, Abby traveled to New Zealand and Australia as part of an international business program. She also used the opportunity to try sky diving! When she’s not jumping out of airplanes (just the once … so far), she enjoys spending time with family and friends, trying new restaurants, attending concerts and working up a good sweat at the fitness center.
Abby also loves meeting new people and can’t wait to be helpful to you.
For years, we’ve been sharing the results of Dimensional Fund Advisors’ annually updated “Mutual Fund Landscape” analysis. As we first expressed back in 2013, “This analysis of the US mutual fund industry performance casts doubt on the ability of investors to form a winning long-term strategy by picking outperforming funds based on past returns. It also raises questions about the effectiveness of investment strategies that attempt to add value by identifying mispriced securities.”
This is one message that bears repeating. Especially since, this year, somebody got creative over at Dimensional and produced an engaging video version. Check it out!
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