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The 6 Most Common Bad Investor Behaviors to Avoid

While humans are creatures of great intelligence, when it comes to investing, we repeatedly make dumb decisions. And most of the time, investors are their own worst enemy. You see, it’s not just the performance of the funds in your portfolio that drive success. Investing success is also a function of the decisions you make along the way; in essence, bad investor behavior can have an even greater impact on your portfolio’s performance than the market itself.

Aside from what traditional theories like to assume, investors do not always act rationally. In the reality, they are quite vulnerable to irrational behavior. This is because money is emotional, and emotions can overtake even the best laid plans. Unfortunately, impulsive or “feel good” financial actions don’t always support positive long-term growth. They tend to support poor decisions that can leave investors worse off than when they started.

6 Bad Investing Behaviors to Avoid

We can’t discuss irrational investor behavior without understanding the actions that drive investors there. After all, it’s the psychological traps and misconceptions that ultimately trigger bad behavior. Bad behavior then leads to buying and selling at the wrong time, which can prevent investors from reaching their full financial potential.

Almost every investor is familiar with the general rulebook for building wealth. The problem is that many investors are often blind to their own bad habits. In order to overcome them, investors first have to be able to see them.

Here are six investor behaviors that are important to recognize and avoid:

1. Loss aversion. This theory reveals that loss is felt much more deeply than the gratification that comes with gaining. In other words, losing $5,000 will always hurt more than gaining $10,000. This mindset can cause several poor decisions to take place however, including holding onto losing funds for too long in order to avoid realizing a loss. On the other hand, it can drive investors stock pick, only investing in funds they believe will produce the largest returns.

2. Overconfidence. It’s human nature to think that you are superior to others around you. So naturally, investors think that they have the skills and knowledge to consistently beat the market. What usually happens is that investors find themselves continuously trading stocks they believe will outperform with little to show for it – aside from steep portfolio costs. Don’t be fooled by Wall Street’s appeal to our inherent above average mindset.

3. Just going with it. While many investors have financial goals in mind, a shocking percentage of them have no plan to actually achieve them. Investors who wing it and have no clear understanding of the “why” behind their investments will be hard pressed to develop a disciplined approach that results in success. And a disciplined plan is paramount. Remember, a goal without a plan is simply a wish.

4. Chasing the winners. Investors routinely tend to take an all or nothing approach. For example, say you’re holding 50% bonds and 50% stocks. Depending who’s winning at the end of the year may leave you feeling inclined to dump the loser altogether because you want to yield positive returns. But chasing the winner isn’t always a formula for success; when you dump the losers, you dump the possibility for gaining tomorrow’s winners.

5. Information overload. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much information. Our media outlets are saturated with financial talking heads all claiming to have the answers to investing success. But investors routinely seek out information that confirms their own biases and beliefs. When you listen to someone who is simply telling you what you want to hear, that information can have a greater likelihood of hurting rather than helping you.

6. Market timing. Wading back and forth between trading and investing can be detrimental to your success. Investing is simple: You’re gradually building wealth over a lifetime. Investors have a hard time with this, and engage in trading for instant gratification. They become obsessed with the high. But many will find themselves chasing it more than experiencing it, as it’s been proven time and again that investors are horrible at timing the market.

Why Does it Matter to You?

Reaching your full financial potential depends on more than where you put your money. You have to recognize the role that good habits play in your journey. And the importance of avoiding the bad habits that can deter your success. Understanding this is crucial, and until you do, you can’t form a disciplined investment philosophy based on your most important goals.

Protecting Your Portfolio Against Market Downturns

How can I protect my portfolio against large market downturns?

This is one of the questions I’m asked most often by clients. And I’m always frank with my answer: We can never eliminate downturns, risk or volatility. If you’re going to play the game, you have to be able to accept that there will be wins and losses. But, there is good news: We can apply proven principles that are designed to further the goals of today’s investor, aiming to increase returns, minimize downside risk and reduce volatility.

So, why then isn’t everyone walking around with a new found sense of investment peace of mind? Why isn’t everyone confident in their retirement nest egg?

Because many people – advisors and investors alike – still don’t truly understand the critical factors that impact your financial success. Much less how to build an investment strategy that adequately overcomes them.

Risk and Volatility: What’s the difference?

First, it’s essential to understand the role that both risk and volatility play in your investing success. Repeatedly, I see a large disconnect between the investor’s interpretation of what these things mean compared to what they really mean.

At its core, risk means the probability that your investment will lose money. However, I see investors routinely take unnecessary risk with their portfolio. They’ve been taught that greater risk means greater returns. This is the disconnect. Risk isn’t a knob you crank up to spit out a higher return. Cranking up the risk-o-meter only means that you have a greater chance of losing money, it doesn’t do much of anything in driving your returns.

Volatility – or standard deviation – is a measure of risk, and refers to the amount of fluctuation your investment returns may see. If your investment experiences increased volatility, its returns become more unstable. This diminishes your compound return, especially in comparison to the average return.

If an investment’s returns are erratic (they fluctuate up and down regularly), this means that the investment probably has a high degree of volatility. In essence, volatility has a direct impact on your returns.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? That risk – the one thing we can control when investing – has little to no impact on returns, while volatility – the one thing out of our control – has a large impact on your returns.

So, how can I protect my portfolio against large market downturns, you ask?

Investment Strategies Built for Modern Investors

It was in the middle of last year that I had an awakening, an epiphany you could say. One that opened my eye to the fact that even our firm didn’t have the best solutions for how to help our clients protect their portfolio against market downturns. Sure, we stuck to the traditional principles that have propelled investing academia to where it is today. We built well-diversified, adequately allocated portfolios. We determined our clients’ true risk tolerance, and invested them accordingly. We prided ourselves on helping our clients build a disciplined, sound approach to investing.

If we were doing everything “right,” giving our clients that best possible investment solutions, then why was anxiety over the market still running rampant among our client base? Why were they still feeling the sharp pains of market fluctuations?

It was in this moment that I looked up, and saw our slogan on our conference room windows: Making money work for people. Our mission statement echoed in my head: Educate, guide and counsel people to reach their full financial potential. These are our promises to our clients, our promises to the world. And our investment solutions weren’t living up to them.

With the help of new and improved research, we found the simple answer to our clients’ investing limitations: Traditional investment theories are incomplete.

So, we decided to do something about it.

Maximize Your Investing Success

To help our clients maximize their investment success and protect their portfolios against market downturns, we had to acknowledge the disconnect between traditional theories and today’s investors, the gaps that exist when comparing reality versus theory.

Our new momentum strategies are designed to fill in these gaps. While we kept a handful of traditional elements in place, we expanded upon them to include practical application for the real investor before and during retirement:

Avoid large declines. Period. As we said before, we can’t eliminate downturns, risk or volatility. Our momentum strategies are not designed to avoid declines; they can and do move with the market most of the time. However, they are designed to minimize the impact of volatility and avoid the large declines. The steep declines have the most potential for irreparable damage to your wealth.

Markets aren’t always priced efficiently and investors can be irrational. In a perfect world, investors wouldn’t take risks with their money or make emotionally charged financial decisions. Then we just might have a market that is priced efficiently 100% of the time. Unfortunately, we have irrational and risk-seeking investors, and large market participants who can influence prices. This means that stock prices can be bought and sold both at undervalued and inflated prices.

Fama & French were on to something. The 3-Factor Model created by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Eugene Fama is still used today to describe stock returns. In 2015, they extended the model to include five factors. They also discovered a persistent anomaly in the market – momentum –  which we believe to be the sixth factor. So, we designed our momentum strategies using all six factors.

Asset allocation matters. Remember, there is still something to be said about a portfolio that is well-diversified. Asset allocation accounts for 90% of portfolio returns. Investing isn’t just about choosing where to put your money, but choosing the right combination of stocks and bonds to help balance your risk to return ratio.

Understanding how the factors discussed here impact your investing success before and during retirement is only the first step. You then need an investment strategy that can truly overcome them.


4 Important Questions You Should Ask About Personal Finance

It’s long been the impression that the most important question you can ask in your financial journey is “Where should I invest my money?” And yes, this is an important question. After all, smart investments can mean the difference between financial success and failure. But what about the questions that must come before that, the important questions about personal finance that play a key role in reaching – and protecting – your full financial potential?

The Wrong Question Can Lose the Race

Today, personal finance has almost become a rat race of sorts. We’re all out here scrambling for retirement, chasing an elusive number that we THINK we’re going to need to survive once our income stops. But what’s your number? How do you know what the cost of living will be 15, 20, 30 years down the road? How do you know what life changes you may face?

Here’s the ugly truth: No one, not financial advisor extraordinaire or your next door neighbor, knows the answer to this question.

We all fear the unknown. And retirement is one of the biggest unknowns we will ever face. So, we’ve become consumed with where to invest our money. Many investors chase returns, flip flopping their investment strategy based on the “next big thing,” and try to time the markets for when to get in and get out. Some investors have become so fearful of the market that they pull out at the slightest sign of volatility.

We’re obsessed with asking “Where should I invest my money?” It’s the first and the last thing on our mind throughout our financial journey.

But when you make an investment decision, it’s more than just putting your money in a portfolio. This is one of the most complex decisions you will make; it has tax implications, estate planning implications and liquidity implications, just to name a few.

Four Questions You Should Ask About Personal Finance

Making one investment decision sends a ripple through your entire financial life. This is why it’s essential to address that ripple effect before asking where your money should be invested.

Here are four important questions that you should ask about personal finance when making an investment decision:

1. How is the account titled? The way in which your account is crucial. Having the wrong title can mean negative consequences for the health of your estate. For example, say you’re opening a joint investment account with your spouse. If you title the account as Joint Tenants With Rights of Survivorship, it means that you each own 50% of the asset. Ideal, but it also lacks in credit protection since they can go after assets in your name – i.e. 50% of your joint investment account. If you title the account as Joint Tenants by Entirety, you each own 100% of the asset. This offers a much higher level of credit protection, as the asset is owned in both of your names. Creditors can’t go after those assets. How is your account titled? A simple, but powerful question.

2. What are the tax implications? If you’re investing in a qualified account, this is pretty cut and dry. You’ll either pay tax on the money now, or tax on the money when you pull it out. But when it comes to unqualified accounts, investors often forget the importance of tax management. In a recent study by U.S. Trust, more than half of the high net worth investors surveyed said that minimizing the impact of taxes was more important than pursuing a higher return. Sure, you can get a 12% return, but what’s that investment costing you in tax? After all, your net pay – how much you’re making in returns after taxes – is what counts. Poor tax management adds up over the long haul. It’s one of the easiest ways for investors to forfeit large portions of their annual gains.

3. Who will be the beneficiaries of your investment accounts? This brings us back to estate planning implications. Determining who your assets will pass to should something happen to you is key in personal finance. You have several ways of doing this, but for the sake of this article we will keep it simple. Every investment account will give you the opportunity to specifically stipulate your primary and contingent beneficiaries. Just be sure you update them regularly – your beneficiary information trumps what’s stated in your will. You can also set up a trust to hold your assets, titling your investment accounts accordingly. This offers maximum asset protection, and ensures that your assets will be passed on according to your specific wishes.

4. Do you even have enough core liquidity to begin investing? In its simplest form, investing impacts your rainy day fund, your ability to save liquid dollars. It may not make that big of a difference at first, but several investment accounts later your dollar stretches less and less. Once you invest your money, it’s not meant to be touched – whether for retirement or not. It’s meant to be invested, to grow and produce a return. You have to have a place to turn to when life happens and you need money NOW. This is why it’s so critical to have at least six months of core liquidity built up before you start investing. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in this business, it’s that life can and will happen. You have to be able to react effectively if and when it does, or you may end up risking your financial success.

Why Does it Matter to You?

The world of personal finance isn’t just about picking the right investments. It’s about building a foundation centered on one goal: Protecting your life’s work. Our financial lives are so much more complex than where we put our money. That’s just one decision that affects several areas of our financial life. When you only ask one question, you fail to evaluate the critical factors that can impact your financial success.

Reaching your full financial potential requires more than chasing investment returns. You have to continually optimize and protect your complete financial position, giving yourself the ability to effectively react to whatever life may throw at you.