As a practicing financial advisors who conduct hundreds of financial review meetings a year, we can say with authority that financial stagnation in some form hinders most people.
Financial stagnation is a state of impaired action – when you are stuck in an inactive state due to some fear, conflict, or mental block. A classic example is avoiding participating in the stock market for fear of losing money while simultaneously feeling stressed about dismal bond or money market returns. Another classic example is delaying to create or update your estate plan, even though you are exposed to more taxation than necessary or have family members who would suffer the consequences of an unoptimized or incomplete plan. Financial stagnation may be isolated to one financial domain, such as investments or estate planning, or may be present across many financial domains.
I have witnessed how exciting it can be when people plagued by inaction for 10 years or more make more progress in one year than they did in the previous decade by confronting the root cause(s) of their stagnation. You will feel tremendous relief and personal satisfaction by identifying and confronting the causes of any financial stagnation you are experiencing.
Lifelong learning. It’s a core belief here at our firm, and we regularly read across a variety of topics. I recently asked the team to share any of their favorite books from the past year, business or otherwise. Below is what we’d offer up as our recommendations from 2017, and if you have any good book recommendations from the last year, please let us know!
As my clients know, planning for the future eventually includes a conversation about mortality. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a powerful memoir that tackles this topic to its core. This story made me reflect on how the human spirit allows us to re-imagine a new future that includes hope, faith, love and joy – no matter what the circumstances and regardless of the uncertainty. There is so much about this story that lingers, leaving each reader a new set of ideas, and most likely questions, that will, no doubt, leave you changed.
My favorite book of 2017 was The Obsession by Nora Roberts. While Nora Roberts is probably better known as a romance writer, her last several books are more mystery/thriller types that appeal to me. This story is a mystery about woman who (as a child) discovered her dad was a serial killer. Fast forward to her adulthood and she is being stalked by a serial killer who is mimicking her father’s style. The setting is the islands of Puget Sound, and I liked the story and flow of the book.
I thought Principles by Ray Dalio was a great read not just from a business perspective (Dalio founded what is now the world’s largest hedge fund), but also life principles. Obliviously he has been vastly successful in the business world, but he also shares valuable thoughts on how he lives his own life, and I think most would take something meaningful away from this book. As Dalio writes, “Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that require us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river and we can’t avoid those encounters. We can only approach them in the best possible way.” Good stuff!
This year, I re-read The Power of TED by David Emerald because it provides great guidance on how to best interact with others in more effective ways. It explains the undesirable roles and techniques we often find ourselves in and provides an empowering alternative. For anyone who wants to lead, manage, coach, parent or help others with greater impact and results, this book is for you.
One that caught my attention earlier this year and challenged many of my longstanding beliefs was Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It’s a book about human behavior and how we consistently act irrationally. So consistent, in fact, our irrational behavior is predictable. Many of his illustrations point out the ways we repeatedly act irrationally in every day behavior and makes the reader much more conscious of these actions.
The most common question clients ask me in meetings these days is, “When will this run end, and how bad will the downturn be?” Published in 2008, “The Great Depression: A Diary” is part history and part finance that offers some perspective for today’s environment. Authored by a young attorney who was fascinated with the 1929 stock market crash, this story offers an in-the-trenches account of the ugliest recession our country has ever faced. My takeaways include not only the changes in our economy and markets since the 1930s that will help prevent another 10-year depression, but also the things that remain the same, such as fear, greed, and the folly of relying on predictions in managing one’s money.
Powerful changes in today’s world are empowering individuals and consumers like no other time in history. But as our employment, political and social circles rapidly change, we seek ways to cope, survive and thrive under these new circumstances. While providing tremendous opportunities on one end, they challenge our beliefs and security blankets on the other. These changes can at first seem alarming because they not only allow us to be our best but actually demand us to be our best. How do we handle all of this change? What do we do?
The turbulence of our times demands strong finances and habits that can be effective in all economic climates. With the breakdown of employment security, it is a dangerous moment in history not to have our finances in tip-top shape. To face the future with poor financial flexibility and stamina creates a severe disadvantage. Therefore, the economic and job stability we cannot find in the outside world must be created within our own personal finances.
While the S&P 500 remained near its all-time high, the recent massive selloff in the technology sector went mostly unnoticed. But for investors who follow the so-called “FANG” stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) the hit was painful: About $60 billion in value was wiped out in just one afternoon, representing the largest selloff in nearly 2 years.
The wipeout was a function of just how big these companies have become and the position they are in with new tax reform looming. Tech companies are expected to receive little benefit given its already-low average tax rate of 18.5% (below the 20% proposed rate).
This has caused investors to rotate out of the tech stocks and into the financial services sector, which stands to benefit more from a corporate tax rate that would drop from the current 35% to 20%.
Interestingly, the S&P 500 was relatively unaffected while this rotation into financials and out of tech ensued. The index’s volatility actually remained low, as did correlations among the S&P 500’s member stocks.
In other words, the diversity offered by the S&P 500 Index allowed for the index too remain relatively unscathed by the trading within the tech and financial sectors, a key reminder to investors that having proper exposure across the markets continues to be important with the S&P 500 near its all-time high.
What Are Your Own Possibilities?
Sometimes, the pursuit of wealth can leave a void in our lives—a place left empty because we lacked the energy or time to pursue a dream. There is a saying: “Wealth is not an end, it is a means to an end.” The problem is that the complexity of creating wealth and the subsequent financial planning often gets in the way of seeing and pursuing an end truly aligned with your highest purpose in life.
My life’s work has been focused on this critical unmet need. I hope to help people see the possibilities that open up once you escape from the chaos and confusion that characterize so much of the wealth management field today. I absolutely know it is possible to put a large portion of wealth management on automatic; I have built the system, structure, support and discipline to achieve this; and I’ve seen how using these benefits helps people define and achieve their highest ambitions. This approach is both effective and rewarding.
Clients are surprised sometimes when I ask them about their higher purpose and possibilities. It is not that they feel I’m prying; they just don’t expect an advisor to be concerned with such matters. I tell them that these are the most important questions for them to consider when it comes to financial planning.
Does intelligence equate with investment management success?
What might it take to succeed in investing? Intelligence alone? You have to be intelligent to get into Mensa. They only accept applicants with IQs that place them in the top 2 percent of the population. One might expect that if Mensa members formed an investment club, their returns would exceed market averages, or at least match them. In actuality, between 1986 and 2001, while the S&P 500 was returning a robust 15.3% annually, the Mensa Investment Club had average returns of 2.5% per year.
How did these geniuses and near geniuses manage such poor results in such a strong market? Their basic problem was a lack of discipline. Instead of using their intellects to determine a sound investment approach and sticking with it, they got sidetracked into exploring trendy new tools and theories of how to predict market trends. When one strategy didn’t work they tried another. They made frequent trades, thus increasing their transaction costs. In short, they provided a perfect example of Warren Buffett’s comment: “Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with the 130 IQ.” Common sense and discipline will beat erratic genius every time.