How then, do investors keep calm when facing periods of instability and high volatility? Well, in times of uncertainty, it is crucial that investors concentrate on what they can control, rather than reactively focusing on elements that are out of their control, such as markets, economies and policies.
In such instances, I would recommend a systematic goal-based approach to investing.
Align: Linking your investments to a financial goal helps you see the link between your actions and their outcomes. One approach would be to establish a systematic investment plan in which a certain sum is deployed periodically. This approach helps you to stay focused on the objective of the investment instead of worrying about the short-term impact of market volatility.
Diversify: Volatile market conditions can hit individual asset classes hard, risking the devastation of returns for investors growing only one crop. Aim for a well-diversified portfolio that is aligned to your goals to ensure your investments can thrive under any conditions.
Seek expert advice: The risk of completely self-managing finance is the higher probability of various biases “silently” making their way into your portfolio. Good, independent financial advice goes a long way in terms of managing behaviours and emotions to make consistent, sound investment decisions in the face of extreme volatility. Be aware, too, that an independent adviser may also be subject to similar biases. Ideally, opt for advisers who formulate an investment strategy using a team approach to reduce bias.
While human conditioning and behaviour are difficult to change, there are ways to overcome the negative influences of behavioural tendencies. These are biases, that if acknowledged and remedied, can significantly improve the odds of meeting benchmark returns.
There is plenty of research that shows that there are two approaches to decision making — reflexive (gut feeling) and reflective (methodical). By focusing on the process rather than the outcome, an individual can adopt a more scientific, reflective approach to decision making and avoid acting solely on gut feeling. The same research also recommends having a well-conceived, structured plan around your financial goals and pre-committing to it. In the words of Warren Buffet, pre-committing to a systematic investment plan is important because it helps you with “the temperament to control urges that get others into trouble”.
As a simple first step, roughly estimate how much of your total income is going toward spending, giving, saving and investing. Then ask yourself if that is how you want your money allocated and adjust accordingly.
It is also advisable to take a step back and review one’s decisions, especially in emotional upheavals. Avoid making an important investment decision when you are fearful, greedy and excited. Good investing is mathematical, so if you find yourself in an elevated state of mind, it is not a good place to be in terms of doing anything with your money.
This is where a wealth management adviser comes in handy in helping one avoid mistakes driven by behavioural biases. They know their client and with the strategies they have put in place, they can help the client stick to the plan and do what he or she is supposed to do. Research shows that the portfolios of people who work with an investment adviser do 2% to 3% better on average per year than those who do not, and that is a lot of money. So, 3% a year can double your wealth over the long term.
At Standard Chartered, wealth management advisers harness the best of technology to help clients prepare an investment plan, focus on the process and reduce the influence on behavioural biases that cloud good judgement and sound financial decision making.
Our framing technology helps you overcome biases by enabling you to visualise your financial goals and calculate how much you need in savings to achieve them. Framing helps you determine what financial goals you can realistically achieve or if there is a need for a change in your current spending pattern to accommodate future financial commitments.
We back that up with research and market insights. The solutions we offer are designed using a teambased, dialectic debate of the pros and cons, always seeking views on both sides of outcomes we predict. The advisers at Standard Chartered provide clients with detailed reports on products as well as their investment portfolios. Portfolio-level reporting helps take away the focus from product level performance and helps mitigate the emotional influence on decision making.
Reviewing portfolio investment performance is an important activity that should be done when the customers are in a good frame of mind without the stress of normal distractions. This is powerful from the perspective of helping our clients manage their wealth more efficiently and without biases. The natural inclinations to seek out information, look for patterns, compare options, and even flee to safety, are necessary to keep us out of harm’s way. But these same emotional tendencies are also our biggest liability when we are in investing mode.
The biggest threat to achieving financial independence is your own brain. You can invest in all the right things, minimise fees and taxes and even diversify your holdings. But if you fail to master your own psychology, it is still possible to fall victim to financial self-sabotage.
People feel the pain of losing money much more deeply than the pleasure of making it. To avoid distress, one might hold onto investment losses for too long or sell too hastily when markets recover after a sharp decline, robbing them of the long-term return potential needed to grow their savings and achieve their life goals. The more one experiences losses, the more prone he or she is to loss aversion.
Simply put, we do not like uncertainty. Given a choice, we would often go with the known, even if the unknown might be more financially rewarding. This is why many people stay in familiar but unfulfilling jobs instead of changing careers or starting their own businesses.
As humans, we cling to the status quo because trying something different can result in a painful loss or a frightening uncertainty. This bias is particularly strong when it emerges alongside the loss aversion bias. For example, investors who suffered from the 80% decline in Malaysian equities during the 1997 Asian financial crisis may not be willing to consider any further stock investments.
People who feel more financially secure than they actually are may spend too much or not save enough. Or, they may be overactive traders who believe they can time their investment decisions to beat the market and end up doing the opposite.
People often look for evidence to confirm their beliefs and disregard information that contradicts it. This bias limits our ability to make informed decisions by evaluating factors from a different perspective.
Only one in 10 retirees feels comfortable spending theirretirement savings, often because they lack the confidence that their money will last. This is called lifestyle risk — the risk of not enjoying the quality of life you can afford and worked hard to achieve.
People often buy stocks to keep up with their peers. We tend to do what everyone else is doing, even when our circumstances are completely different. They are influenced by emotions and instinct rather than independent methodical analysis.
Positioning is when someone makes a decision because of the way information is presented to them rather than making decisions based on facts. In other words, if someone sees the same facts presented in a different way, they are likely to come to a different conclusion about the information. Investors may pick investments differently, depending on how the opportunity is presented to them.
A belief that one is more knowledgeable and aware of investments closer to home than overseas. Consequently, this results in investment decisions that are concentrated, or one may avoid new or unfamiliar territories away from current knowledge. If your investment portfolio consists largely of Malaysian or Asian stocks, you may be subject.
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