Behavioral Finance Speaker Dr. Daniel Crosby - #FINCON 14 Keynote

To learn more about booking Dr. Crosby for your event click HERE. 

Three Action Steps for a Volatile Market

With bad news seemingly everywhere and situated at the end of a long-in-the-tooth bull market it’s not hard to see why investors are rattled. But at times like this, it behooves investors to take a deep breath and rely on rules instead of emotions. To assist you in this difficult time, I’ve prepared a handful of “do’s” for worried investors, with the “don’ts” to follow in my next post.

Do Know Your History – Despite what political pundits and TV commentators would have you believe, this is not an unusually scary time to be alive. Although you’d never know it from watching cable, the economy is growing (slowly) and most quality of life statistics (e.g., crime, drug use, teen pregnancy) have been headed in the right direction for years! Markets always have and always will climb a wall of worry, rewarding those who stay the course and punishing those who succumb to fear. 

Warren Buffett expressed this beautifully when he said, “In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.” Such it has ever been, thus will it ever be.

Do Take Responsibility – Pop quiz! Which of the following do you think is most predictive of financial performance – a. market timing b. investment returns c. financial behavior? Ask most any man or woman on the street and they are likely to tell you that timing and returns are the biggest drivers of financial performance, but the research tells another story. In fact, the research says that you – that’s right – you, are the best friend and the worst enemy of your own portfolio.

Over the last 20 years, the market has returned roughly 8.25% per annum, but the average retail investor has kept just over 4% of those gains because of poor investment behavior. What happens in world financial markets in the coming years is absolutely out of your control. But your ability to follow a plan, diversify across asset classes and maintain your composure are squarely within your power. At times when market moves can feel haphazard, it helps to remember who is really in charge.

Do Work with a Professional – Odds are that when you chose your financial advisor, you selected her because of her academic pedigree, years of experience or a sound investment philosophy. Ironically, what you likely overlooked entirely is the largest value she adds – managing your behavior. Studies from sources as diverse as Aon Hewitt, Vanguard and Morningstar put the value added from working with an advisor at 2 to 3% per year. Compound that effect over a lifetime and the power of financial advice quickly becomes evident.

Vanguard suggests that the benefit of working with an advisor is “lumpy”, that is, the effects of working with an advisor are most pronounced during periods of volatility (like today). They go so far as to break out the impact of the various services provided by an advisor, and while asset management accounts for less than half of one percent, behavioral coaching accounts for fully half of the value provided by working with a professional. Today is the day your financial advisor earns her keep. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your advisor during times of fear and seek her reassurance and advice. After all, she’s saving you more money by holding your hand than by managing your money!

Behavioral Finance is Dead, Long Live Behavioral Finance

Ancient Grecians believed in geocentricity, the idea that the Earth is the center of the Universe around which all others objects orbit. In classical antiquity, it was widely supposed that the body contained four humors, blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm, and that optimal health resulted from an appropriate balance of the four. Maternal Impressionists explained birth defects in children as resulting from negative thoughts from the mother during pregnancy. And phrenology, the practice of making inferences about someone’s character and personality from the shape and contour of their head, was for some time thought to be a legitimate science.

Much as we laugh at these pseudo-scientific anachronisms, I am confident that the time is not far distant that we will puzzle that we ever developed financial models that did not somehow seek to account for the behavior of market participants. In making such a provocative statement, I do not wish to pick on traditional financial models or necessarily to elevate what currently constitutes the burgeoning field of behavioral finance. Rather, I hope to illuminate the ways in which arriving at any sort of truth is an imperfect endeavor and discuss the way in which ideas that begin on the lunatic fringe can sometimes be welcomed into the fold of legitimate scientific inquiry.

Almost since its inception and increasingly with its popularization, proponents of behavioral finance have delighted in dismantling the efficient market machine, gleefully poking holes in this dogma with quirky anecdotes about investor irrationality. For their part, efficient market theorists have given as good as they’ve gotten, criticizing behavioral finance for its lack of theoretical underpinning and inability to consistently improve investment returns. But all of this rhetorical jousting (while fun!), misses the point fundamentally.

Rather than hoping for the death or preeminence of one faction or the other, we ought to be working to combine the findings of both camps in applied ways that positively impacts actual investors, something Dr. Greg Davies calls “behavioralizing finance.” Behavioral finance has a great deal to learn from efficient market theorists about building a comprehensive, rigorous framework of assumptions. Traditional finance could learn a thing or two from the behaviorists about being tentative, respecting the limits of knowledge and safeguarding others’ assets accordingly.

Behavioral finance was born in the ivory tower of academia, legitimized with Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize, popularized by Dan Ariely, Richard Thaler and others who taught us to laugh at and recognize our own financial misbehavior. Oddly enough, the next step in the progression of behavioral finance is an anonymity of sorts, the kind that comes with widespread acceptance and integration. After all, heliocentrism is not an idea anymore, it’s the “way things are.”

My children are six and two and it is my hope that when they attend college there will be no behavioral finance courses offered at their universities. If there are, we will still be mired in the same intellectual turf wars that can keep great ideas from exploring their points of fusion rather than their surface dissimilarities. My hope instead is that they will learn about finance, a complicated, tentative, somewhat messy discipline that their professors approach with some mathematical precision, but would never dream of disconnecting from the people that give it life.