The Hidden Conflicts Of Interest That Financial Experts And Investment Media Don't Want You To Know – Revealed!
- Most experts provide inaccurate or incomplete advice tainted with bias to help them profit.
- All “financial experts” will be 100% wrong at some point in the future.
- When you defer to an expert, your ability to think for yourself diminishes.
If you think the expert financial advice you receive is unbiased then I have a swamp to sell you in Florida.
You can't understand the advice you're given until you know how the person is compensated and what inherent biases or beliefs taint that advice.
The problem is most people don't understand the many problems inherent in the financial advice business. They naively trust in experts.
They're not aware of the bias caused by the advisor's current portfolio positions, or his need to sell products and services, or any other self-interests that might make his expert advice less than impartial.
Instead, most people follow the investment media and listen to professionals with the mistaken belief that expertise somehow ensures good results.
The truth is there are a lot of underlying problems making your financial expert's advice less reliable than you'd like to believe:
- Expert advice is plagued with conflicts of interest
- Expert advice is often incomplete or inaccurate
- Expert advice can limit independent thinking
- Experts can be dishonest
- Experts can be self-deceived
- The whole idea of an investment expert is incongruent with the probabilistic nature of investing.
“An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen today.”– Laurence J. Peter
In this article I'll explain the exact reasons why there's no real alternative to becoming your own financial expert.
Yes, investing is complex, and it takes work to become your own financial authority, but there's no other choice if freedom and financial security are your goals.
The alternative (trusting financial experts) has too many inherent flaws to justify risking your financial future.
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Truth #1: Financial Experts Provide Incomplete Or Inaccurate Advice
Webster's dictionary defines an expert as:
“a person with a high degree of skill or knowledge about a certain subject, or one demonstrating great skill, dexterity, or knowledge as a result of experience or training.”
We intuitively believe an expert should excel in his specialized field and provide greater results than an amateur.
However, research study after research study proves the opposite is true.
For example, on New Year's Day in 2002, the venerable Wall Street Journal published its annual survey of economists for the upcoming year. Despite the fact that the economy had already been weak for nearly a year, not one of the 55 economists believed a serious decline was ahead.
Every single one of them was wrong – 55 out of 55 experts – a 100% failure rate. Even a PhD provides zero immunity from the fallacy of expert opinion.
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”– Niels Bohr
This is just one of many studies documenting the failure of expert opinion.
You can also find numerous studies published showing the under-performance of professionally managed mutual funds compared to their passive index cousins. What that means is the stock picking experts running these funds have failed to show superior performance net of fees and expenses.
I've documented many other studies showing the failure of financial experts in this post here. There's no shortage of research proving the fallibility of expert financial opinion.
Not only are experts fallible, but much of the financial advice they offer is incomplete.
For example, the next time a talking head on CNBC tells you to buy his latest stock pick, make sure to ask yourself:
- How will you know when to sell if things don't work out?
- How are you going to know when he's wrong?
- When should you add to the position if he's right?
- How much of your portfolio should you allocate to his great stock pick?
- What investment goals and risk tolerances are compatible with his recommended advice?
Did he cover all that during his 60 second sound-bite where he touted his latest and greatest stock advice? I didn't think so.
Telling you what to buy or when to buy is only one small piece of the investment equation.
For a complete method to assessing the quality of investment advice, see this article. It provides a complete solution to the problem of incomplete investment advice.
Truth #2: Financial Experts Have Conflicts Of Interest
Not only do you run the risk of receiving incomplete or inaccurate financial advice from experts, but the advice is often tainted by hidden financial incentives, causing a conflict of interest.
Always remember that you can't judge the quality of an expert's advice until you know the financial incentives hiding behind that advice. Consider the following questions:
- Does the advisor personally have a position in the security recommended?
- Does the advisory firm have a business relationship with the company recommended?
- Has the advisor been taught and trained by a firm with financial incentives to promote certain investment products?
- Does the advisor make more if you buy that security than competing, comparable securities?
- The list goes on and on…
The history of the conflict of interest in financial advice is documented with numerous examples because the economic incentive to deceive is so high. Every month, new allegations of hidden incentives biasing investment advice emerge.
One high profile case from the past is Dan Dorfman leaving his reporter job at Money magazine and CNBC after unproven allegations of behind the scenes kickbacks for promoting stock stories in the media.
Another high profile case was the Merrill Lynch $100 million dollar, multi-state settlement for alleged wrongdoing regarding conflicts of interest between the investment advice they gave brokerage clients and their investment banking relationships with the companies they promoted.
“The biases the media has are much bigger than conservative or liberal. They're about getting ratings, about making money, about doing stories that are easy to cover.”– Al Franken
I mention these two cases not to pick on Merrill Lynch or Dorfman because these are just two examples of many similar cases.
Instead, I chose these two because they were both high profile examples demonstrating how no expert resource is too big or trustworthy to be free of bias and conflicts of interest.
If a nationally syndicated columnist and a top investment bank can't be trusted, then who can you trust?
If you think the answer is your neighborhood broker, then look more carefully.
Every year the financial periodicals report similar problems with local brokers accused of recommending stocks to the public. This is because their firm has an investment banking relationship with the company and they're recommending stocks that the analyst owns or the brokerage firm holds a large position in.
The list of wrong-doings by neighborhood brokers includes churning accounts, recommending inappropriate investment products, promoting high-cost products that generate fees when low cost products perform just as well, and much more.
For a complete analysis of the conflicts of interest in financial advice resulting from compensation incentives and how to protect yourself, see this article.
Furthermore, some conflicts of interest by financial experts aren't immediately obvious. The seemingly unbiased university professor calling for the demise of capitalism may have a hidden incentive to offer eye-catching headlines to promote his latest book to the best-seller list.
High profile economists whose paychecks are supported by banking and financial institutions may be reticent to give an honest assessment about the seriousness of the latest financial downturn and how it will affect the banking stocks.
Sometimes, the expert may not even be aware how his positive opinion about a stock is largely affected by the fact that he already owns the stock and is emotionally committed to the position. This is perhaps the most insidious type of expert bias.
In fact, it doesn't matter how prominent the expert or their pedigree – they all have bias and conflicts of interest.
When Warren Buffett provided his calming words during the peak of the 2008 banking crisis and took out full page ads, we should remember he was reported to own 300 million shares of Wells Fargo stock.
When Bill Gross lobbied the U.S. Government in 2008 to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it was reported that 61% of PIMCO holdings were invested in mortgage backed securities.
Were these two high profile, well-respected experts offering their infinite wisdom for our greater good, or were they using the media to sway public opinion in an effort to defend their portfolios?
The truth is the financial services industry as a whole – which includes all banks, brokers, real estate firms, lenders, and everything in between – has a massive vested interest in maintaining your confidence in the investment system they earn their living from.
They all have products to sell and will go out of business if you no longer trust them. No matter how intelligent, educated, knowledgeable, and trustworthy they may appear, they all make a living selling you a financial product or service. They're all inherently biased, so buyer beware.
“If stock market experts were so expert, they would be buying stock, not selling advice.”– Norman Augustine
You would be wise to always ask yourself these two questions when receiving financial advice:
- “What's the motivation of the person saying this?”
- “How does he get paid?”
Ask these questions whether the source is your local broker, CNBC, an investment newsletter, financial periodical, or even this website.
Remember, you can't judge the quality of the financial advice until you know how the financial expert's pockets are lined.
Don't allow yourself to be unduly influenced by financial experts without first considering the numerous potential sources of bias and conflict of interest that might drive their public statements and actions.
To do this, you must develop some level of financial skill yourself.
Truth #3: Expert Financial Advice Reduces Your Critical Thinking
Another reason to become your own financial expert is to avoid the numbing impact of expert advice on your own critical thinking.
A recent study led by Gregory Berns and discussed in Wired, Discover, and CNN showed that when research subjects were given expert opinions, they ceased using areas of their brains associated with critical thinking.
“It's almost as if the brain stops trying to make a decision on its own,” said Berns during a CNN interview when discussing this effect. This can be extraordinarily dangerous when investing.
For example, during the study, college students were asked to make a financial choice between a guaranteed payment or a riskier alternative with a higher payoff.
One group was left to solve the problem on their own while the other group was given bogus advice from an expert (an authority economist counseling the Federal Reserve).
The students independently thinking for themselves reasoned the probabilities using critical thinking areas of their brains, while the group receiving “expert advice” tended to follow that advice while suppressing critical thinking. Amazing!
“A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices.”– William James
What makes this study so important is most people believe they integrate expert advice with their own critical thinking to make a well-reasoned decision, but Berns believes otherwise.
“Normally, the human brain uses a specific set of regions to figure out the trade-offs between risk and reward, but when an expert offers advice on how to make those decisions, we found that activity in these regions decreases,” said Berns.
In other words, we tend to defer to experts. This makes sense because we believe they know more than us. It would be logical if the investment advice was trustworthy. Unfortunately, for all the reasons cited in this article, that just isn't true.
Therefore, it's essential that you avoid the problem of suppressing your critical thinking and deferring to expert opinion by becoming your own financial expert. You must learn to trust your judgement and perform your own due diligence.
You must think critically. Don't blindly accept expert opinion.
Truth #4: Not All Financial Experts Are Honest
As if bias, inaccuracy, and conflicts of interest weren't enough, we must also consider the potential for outright dishonesty by financial experts. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, not all people are honest – experts included.
That's not to say everyone is dishonest, either. We're not alarmists here at Financial Mentor. However, you can't blindly trust someone because they're famous, wear a suit, work for a reputable firm, or appear trustworthy for any reason whatsoever.
You must rely on your own expertise by completing your due diligence and investigating further.
For example, wholeadvice.com did their own due diligence on Pittsburgh's top advisors as list in Barron's annual roundup of the nation's top 1,000 financial advisors.
You would think a reputable publication like Barron's would include only reputable advisors in a “Top 1000” list.
Well, Wholeadvice.com's due diligence found some advisors from this list with multiple customer dispute claims, including one for losses of more than $600,000 and another for misrepresentation.
These are the nations top financial advisors? Would you trust your money to them?
Many people do because they never completed their own due diligence so they have no idea what problems exist.
Another self-proclaimed financial expert, John T. Reed, who isn't without his own share of controversy, has assembled an interesting list of real estate experts that I'll partially excerpt here to further illustrate why you must always do your own due diligence before trusting expert financial advice.
Please note that the authors listed below achieved notoriety and fame during the prior real estate boom by teaching you how to be prosperous:
- Albert Lowry, author of “How You Can Become Financially Independent By Investing In Real Estate,” declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1987
- Wade Cook, author of “How To Build A Real Estate Money Machine” and numerous other money making titles, declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1987 and 2003
- Charles Givens, author of “Wealth Without Risk,” was successfully sued by a former customer for bad financial advice and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1995
- Ed Beckley, author of “Million Dollar Secrets,” declared bankruptcy in 1987 and was sentenced to federal prison for wire fraud
- Robert Allen, the author of “Nothing Down” and “Creating Wealth,” declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 1996
Hmmm, something just doesn't seem right if the guys teaching you how to build wealth are declaring bankruptcy – sort of like the Lasik surgery doctor who wears glasses or the overweight guy running a diet clinic.
The contradiction undermines your confidence in the expert advice provided.
Also, it's important to remember this is only a partial list. I chose only the big name authors, but the actual list of authors with major financial and legal problems is much, much longer.
The lesson is clear: just because someone has a book or appears in the media as an expert doesn't mean they know what they're talking about or can be trusted. Conversely, it also doesn't mean all experts writing books are crooks.
What it does mean is you must always complete your own due diligence.
You must become your own financial expert because you can't pay someone enough to care more about your money than their own.
Truth #5: The Consensus View Expert Is Also Dangerous
Many of you may be thinking, “Todd, that's all fine and dandy, but my broker is an honest guy and none of this applies to my situation.”
That's probably true – most financial advisors are honest people trying to provide a genuinely valuable service. But that doesn't mean you should trust your financial future to them.
The problem is your advisor is probably preaching Wall Street's latest consensus wisdom to buy and hold for the long term. This has become the universally accepted truth adopted by nearly every financial advisor – including yours, most likely. (For more on the buy and hold myth click here.)
It has become the “sacred cow” of the financial world and is considered beyond reproach. Most people believe that adhering to the standard practices of the experts by buying and holding a diversified portfolio is the right thing to do.
Believe it or not, I disagree. In my opinion buy and hold is only appropriate for certain investors who understand and accept the extraordinarily high risk and poor risk to reward ratios inherent in this strategy.
Based on historical evidence, a passive buy and hold investor should expect to endure occasional 50% losses to achieve single digit compound returns net of inflation.
Why that has been accepted as the “best” investment solution for all investors at all times eludes me. It makes no sense.
With that said, however, long-term buy and hold can be a useful investment strategy when market valuations approach low levels.
In other words, buy and hold isn't the “one size fits all” investment strategy that most financial advisors preach. Instead, it's a special case investment strategy that should be used only when appropriate.
Please note: this position is diametrically opposed to the consensus opinion provided by the vast majority of resources giving you financial advice.
“Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices, but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thought in clear form.”– Albert Einstein
You may be tempted to criticize me for disagreeing with the consensus, but before you commit that criticism to writing, please realize I've successfully taken on the consensus view several times before and been right.
For example, most experts agreed up until 2006-2007 that real estate “never goes down”. The data was clear and the conclusion was obvious for everyone to see, until the real estate crash began in 2007.
I disagreed and sold my investment real estate in 2006. That sacred cow is now hamburger.
The experts also piled on the bandwagon during the 1990s run-up in technology stocks declaring a “new era” where old valuation standards no longer made sense.
The ensuing decline caused many tech investors 70-80% losses. I owned no tech stocks during the decline. (Full disclosure: I also didn't own them during the run-up in the late 1990s because they were insanely valued long before they crashed.)
You may believe buy and hold will endure where the other consensus viewpoints failed, but I disagree. It's the current consensus that will be proven wrong in the future, just like the previous “truths”.
For example, in 1935 Gerald Loeb published the book “Your Battle for Investment Survival”. (You can download it for free on the internet.) This books' message reflected the investment industry consensus view following the Great Depression, which was diametrically opposite today's consensus view. Can you imagine someone advocating buy and hold in 1935 after the major indexes endured a greater than 80% decline? The reality is today's consensus view is as fundamentally flawed as the previous consensus views and will face the same fate. Consensus view is always a reflection of the market period that preceded it, and will have little relevance to the market period that follows it.
The reason consensus viewpoints come and go is because most financial experts aren't deep thinkers about money and investing; they're practical businessmen. They sell what people think they want, not what they need.
That's why mutual funds advertise their biggest performers. It attracts sales even though every study shows previous top performing funds tend to under-perform in the future. It's practical business, but it's lousy investing.
Humans are social animals with a propensity toward herding. The fact that everyone believes an idea is true converts that idea into truth through the mechanism of social proof. It becomes the consensus view, and only a fool (like me) would oppose that consensus view.
A practical businessman will align himself with that “truth” because it's easier to make the sale when the customer already believes what you're saying, even if it's wrong. Such is the power of consensus viewpoint.
“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”– Albert Einstein
That's why nearly all financial planners and brokers recommend you own a diversified buy and hold, asset allocation portfolio – it's the consensus viewpoint. The practical businessman knows it's easy to sell. After all, everyone knows it's “investment truth” beyond reproach, so who's going to argue with you?
If your portfolio loses money, it was just an unfortunate, temporary setback. A brief aberration. The advisor did nothing wrong because everyone knows “buy and hold a diversified portfolio” is the right thing to do…Right?
The practical businessman sells what's most profitable for his business even if it's not most profitable for his clients. This isn't some diabolical conspiracy theory, it's the way business works.
Heck, most financial advisors are genuinely caring people who fully believe that what they're doing is the right thing. They have great hearts and are as honest as the day is long.
However, they also believe the consensus view is correct, and that's the problem. They're not bad people and they're not dishonest; they're just part of the consensus and their expert opinion contributes to that consensus.
Let me repeat that point because it's critical to understand. Most financial advisors are honest, caring people doing their level best with 100% integrity to serve your needs. The problem is that means nothing when their beliefs are consistent with the consensus viewpoint.
The reason that's true is because the consensus viewpoint can never be the most profitable investment strategy for the client because security prices are determined by supply and demand.
Any viewpoint that's consensus must, by definition, represent peak demand and premium pricing – the exact opposite of what a smart investor should be buying.
By definition, the consensus viewpoint isn't a good value, yet, that's what most financial experts recommend. It happened with tech stocks in the 90s, real estate in 2006, and it's happening right before your eyes with buy and hold.
The problem is profitable opinions by definition will be unpopular due to the nature of supply and demand. That's not what practical businessmen seeking to maximize business profits (as opposed to your portfolio profits) will attempt to sell.
Stated simply, profitable investing requires occasionally going against consensus opinion when it becomes extreme. However, a profitable investment advisory business requires support for the consensus opinion.
That's why mutual fund companies and brokerages promoted technology stocks and funds in the late 1990s. It sells well.
I can still remember when I sold my investment real estate in 2006 and paid the taxes on the gains because I wanted to go to cash rather than reinvest.
Amazingly, not one person agreed with me (except my wife, bless her heart), and many “experts” went so far as to claim my decision was foolish. After all, the consensus view back then was real estate never goes down, and the boom showed no signs of ending.
Similarly, I can remember coaching one of my clients in the late 1990s on risk management issues because his entire fortune was invested in tech stocks. My message to develop a sell discipline to manage risk was completely out of sync with the consensus view, but also correct.
His response was to fire me as his financial coach, and he went on to lose almost everything in the market decline that followed. Such is the appeal of the siren song of consensus, expert opinion.
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”– John F. Kennedy
You are inundated every day by the consensus viewpoint of financial experts. It's nearly impossible to escape the onslaught of mundane, superficial, consensus opinion masquerading as financial expertise.
Consensus view and the natural herding instinct of human beings is a dangerous factor that negatively affects the quality of advice offered by even the most honest, caring, and best intentioned financial experts.
Even if they pass every other hurdle listed in this article, they're rarely immune from the practical needs of business and the consensus viewpoint. It's a difficult conundrum for even the best experts to escape.
Again, your only solution is to develop your own, independent investment viewpoint and always complete your own due diligence on the financial experts you choose to employ.
At some level, you must become your own financial expert. There is no alternative if financial security is your goal.
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Truth #6: Financial Experts Are Always Fallible – Regardless Of Their Track Record And Knowledge
Please be clear that my purpose isn't to insult financial experts or put down the financial advice industry. That serves nobody – least of all me, since I'm part of the very group I'm warning you about. They make mistakes and I make mistakes. We're all fallible.
“Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices.”– Laurence J. Peter
What I'm trying to do is educate you on the fundamental problems underlying the financial advice business and make you aware that no expert is immune to these issues – including me.
I'm trying to help you see why there's no choice but to become your own financial expert, do your own investment due diligence, and come to your own, independent investment decisions.
In other words, the point of this article isn't to insult financial experts, but instead to use the inherent weaknesses built into the financial advice system to motivate you to stop trusting others and start educating yourself.
I would like to tell you there's a viable alternative to becoming your own financial expert that's easier and requires less work on your part, but I would be lying.
Believe me, if such an alternative existed, I'd already be using it because I always prefer easier solutions when available. Unfortunately, no such easy solution exists. There's no royal road to consistent investment profits.
Experience has taught me the path to financial success requires independent investing, which means I must continually educate myself to improve my investment decision process. It's not the easiest path, but I believe it's the most effective, secure, and personally rewarding path.
If you're not similarly convinced that financial experts can't be relied upon to provide a financial “gravy train”, then this last point should drive the nail in the coffin.
It doesn't matter how wise, honest, and educated your investment advisor is, you can never completely depend on his expert advice because investing is a probabilistic process where certainty is impossible.
Your chosen expert will be wrong at some point in the future with 100% confidence.
In other words, next time you watch a talking-head expert on CNBC securely proclaim how his latest, greatest stock pick will outperform the market, remember that there's no possible way he can know with anything near the level of certainty he's projecting that what he says is true. It's impossible.
The reason is because investing is at best a probabilistic outcome. Nobody knows with certainty what will happen in the future because the future is unknowable.
There are too many variables and inputs affecting the ultimate outcome – many of which have yet to occur in the future.
Every investment is a bet on an unknowable future, so certainty is 100% impossible. Every investment is at best just a probability, and every expert bet can always be wrong, mine included.
We may choose to believe the education and experience of financial experts increases the certainty and accuracy of their opinions, but we have little evidence to support that opinion and lots of evidence that contradicts it.
The term “expert” implies accuracy of opinion, but the very nature of investing into an unknowable future denies that possibility.
The truth is an “investment expert” is an oxymoron like “government intelligence.” There can never be any certainty at investing, therefore nobody can truly be held as an expert (in the true sense of the word), myself included.
That's why I always advocate risk management as the most important investment discipline. You can make educated guesses, but ultimately everybody gets to be wrong. You must manage risk to control losses when the inevitable occurs.
It's also why my first criteria for judging anyone's financial advice is the quality of their risk management discipline.
The unfortunate truth is advice dispensed by financial experts faces a mountain of problems:
- Financial experts have conflicts of interest
- Financial experts provide incomplete or inaccurate advice
- Expert advice limits your critical thinking abilities
- Financial experts may be dishonest
- Financial experts may be self-deceived
- The whole idea of a “financial expert” is incongruent with the probabilistic nature of investing
When you add these six factors together, it creates an inescapable conundrum that no financial expert is immune from, and neither are you.
Yet everyday, someone will think nothing of handing over their entire life savings to a guy wearing a suit based on little more than a referral, a glossy brochure, and a standardized computer printout filled with pie charts and analyst recommendations.
Why do people do this?
It seems reasonable to believe a trained expert should do better than you at investing. You want to believe they know something you don't, that these experts operate in a confident world of certainty different from your own confusion and uncertainty.
After all, don't they have connections to resources you'll never have? Aren't they insiders with special knowledge and training?
Somebody has to be an expert at all this stuff and know what they're doing! So we hand over the responsibility of our money to experts in the hope they're more knowledgeable than us.
When we do this, we forget the conflicts of interest, bias, and other problems mentioned in this article that taints the expert financial advice you receive and diminishes the value of that specialized knowledge.
We forget that you can never pay someone enough to care more about your money than his own. It makes no sense to trust the experts when you know better.
“Where facts are few, experts are many.”– Donald R. Gannon
My own opinion is there's really no such thing as an “expert” at investing. Sure, some people have more training and experience than others, but investing is different from other fields.
Investing is a probabilistic process of putting capital at risk into an unknowable future; thus, it's antithetical to the whole concept of expertise.
In fact, what you really find with the top investment experts (as proven by their track records) is humility for their inherent ignorance and consequent reliance on risk management disciplines to protect and grow capital.
Yes, investing is complex. Yes, it takes work to learn about investment strategy. Unfortunately, if your goal is financial security, you have no choice. You must take responsibility for your financial life.
The alternative (trusting the experts) is riddled with too many problems to rely on. If you can't trust outside yourself, then the only viable alternative is to trust in yourself. That's the message of this article in a nutshell.
Think for yourself. Educate yourself. Be independent. That's the path of a successful, independent investor on the journey to financial freedom.
I hope it will be your path as well.
I would be remiss to write an entire article from the position of a financial expert discussing all the conflicts of interest in advice without disclosing my own.
As stated in the article, the key to discerning an expert's biases and conflicts is to understand how his pockets are lined. How does he make his money?
My primary source of income is my investments, not this business. However, this business does provide additional income through the sale of financial coaching services, ebooks, courses, and a small amount of advertising revenue from the calculators.
What that means to you is my investment portfolio will bias my financial advice since the beliefs expressed in my writing will be congruent with the positions in my portfolio. Frankly, I'm okay with that bias because it aligns our mutual best interests.
Regarding this website, I have an obvious bias to sell you my financial education products and services since that's how I get paid. No mystery there.
Notice that I've taken great pains to not have any hidden conflicts of interest. I choose not to sell investment products or services on the same platform where I give advice.
All I sell at Financial Mentor is education. That's because I believe investment education and investment product sales must be kept separate to minimize the inherent conflict of interest. You can learn more about my views on this subject in this article.
Hope that helps.
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What a load of crap……….
Hah! Thanks for that constructive criticism. It adds a lot of value to the conversation (NOT!).
Of course, this comes from a financial planner. I would link to his web site for all to see but I don’t want to publicly embarrass him by associating his immature comment with the professional image he attempts to portray about his business online.
It appears the ideas in this article hit a little too close to home and prompted an immature, emotional response.
Thanks for the article.
Two issues I had:
1) I don’t think that buy-and-hold index investing is the consensus view (yet), I seem to recall that indexing comprises 12% of all traded securities. When the time comes that it is over 50%, then using that method will become sub-optimal. But, the way human nature works (mainly greed), I don’t think it will ever come to that.
2) The Lasik surgery example is not the best. First of all since Lasik surgery is a lifestyle choice and cosmetic, so I can definitely understand a doctor not wanting to do it based on that. But there are a few more reasons why a lasik surgeon might not want to have his own eyes fixed: a. Hubris: If he is very skilled he might not trust other surgeons with his eyes, b. risk mitigation, he need his eyes for his livelyhood.
Regarding your thought that passive buy and hold investing is not consensus, I disagree 100%.
While 83% of AUM are in “actively managed” funds as of 2015 (consistent with your stat of 12% of traded securities), nearly all of that money is placed under the investment philosophy of buy and hold and the correlation between those assets and the index benchmarks is so high as to make any distinction practically meaningless.
For example, one of the exercises I put my coaching clients through is to look at the correlation of the investment choices in their 401(k). They might have 30 investment choices, but after the exercise they’re always shocked to find out they really only have 3 – domestic equity, domestic bond, international equity. Everything correlates so closely with the benchmark indexes that the choices are all but meaningless. And they’re all taught to buy and hold whatever funds they pick.
In addition, if you talked to 100 financial bloggers and media professionals asking them how to invest, all but a handful (with fingers leftover) would advocate low cost, passive index buy and hold. It is absolutely the consensus view today.
Conventional wisdom is ephemeral. It has always been that way throughout market history. It reflects what was true in the past, not what will be true in the future.
Regarding your lasik surgery contention, I’m not going to bother addressing it because it seems like nit-picking. I think the point of the example was clear enough and still stands regardless of your contention.
Have you read the book ‘Money: Master the Game” by Tony Robins? I know he is not a financial ‘expert’ himself, but he interviews some of the greatest successful investors of our time to bring as much unbiased information as possible to the masses. One type of “Financial Advisor” he recommends is a Fuduciary (one that has no brokerage licenses with sister companies as they can still have a bias). What is your opinion on that and why isnt there more of an explanation on the different type of advisers available? Do you think they are the least biased financial advisers to seek investment advise from?
So, in referring to the ‘buy and hold’ methodology, I beleive their are some common misconceptions on the approach. It is true that 96% of actively managed mutual funds fail to outperform the market when taken into account all the FEES associated with the fund. To Buy and Hold an index fund has shown to produce stable, consistent market returns over time (but as you stated, usually in the single digit average i.e. less than 10%). Now, I beleive there is a place for index funds in a well balanced portfolio, and one that is re-balanced at least annually or semi- anually based on your portfolio asset allocation goals. You are 100% correct! Nobody can consistently beat the market and everyone will be wrong at some point or another; I beleive knowing you will be wrong should make everyone look hard at their downside, or how they can lose money. How can one protect their nest egg in the long term knowing that at some point in their investment future they will be dead wrong? Is this not the point of diversification? Yes, it tends to produce ‘lower returns’ compared to “actively managed funds” in the short term (last decade has been a bull market and everyone is making higher than market returns for NOW) but what about when the market inevitably ‘corrects itself’ ? In the book mentioned above, they ran a scenerio over the last century, give or take, and showed how this approach would have still produced positive net gains over the life of the investment, even with the big market corrections that occured (30-50% drop in the market). What are you suggesting is a better way to mitigate losses during the decline? To ‘actively manage’ the funds ourselves? Knowing everyone will be wrong at some point or another? This does not seem the most sound approach to protecting your downside and bottom line long term? Just curious what you think sir, I love your website and thank you for the extremely valueable informaition you put out!!
Tony’s is brilliant at teaching personal growth, but he shouldn’t have strayed from his domain expertise by trying to teach sound investing. The book makes too many classic, mistakes to list in a blog comment. With that said, I appreciate and agree with it’s emphasis on controlling costs. That is 100% correct. However, risk parity portfolios (favored by the book) are another form of historical curve fitting that should be avoided. The fact that they overweight bonds based on historical performance when it’s mathematically impossible for bonds to repeat their historical performance is adequate proof of the dangerous premises underlying this methodology. If you want to learn fire walking or how to get motivated then Tony is one of the best. If you want to learn about investing then go somewhere else.