1. How do you know when it is the right time to be in or out of the market?
We don’t know that, with any consistency, and I’m happy to report that no one else does either.
It is not important and thank goodness it isn’t, because nobody can do it. Read almost any of Warren Buffett’s annual reports, and he’ll proudly tell you he can’t time the market, and never tries.
Twenty years ago the market was at a fraction of where it is now; thirty years ago it was at an even smaller fraction of where it is now. That doesn’t even include the dividends it has paid. For folks who are still saving for retirement and for those who are already in retirement and may need to live on their investment for upwards of 30 years- that is what is really important.
It’s not that you can’t try to time the market; it’s that you don’t need to.
2. How do you know which will be the top-performing investments?
We don’t, and neither does anyone else.
Investment ratings are essentially backward looking, because that’s all they can be. There’s no reliable way of projecting future performance from past performance.
Moreover, the nature of the cycle is that sectors and styles that have outperformed in the last several years will often be the underperformers of the next block of time. What we can certainly do is make sure you’re in the right kinds of investments, given your long-term goals and your ability to handle market volatility. I would urge you to be terribly careful of any advisor who says they can do much more than that.
3. Can you just manage my money without a plan for now?
We have no idea how to manage a portfolio other than is dictated by a plan. Most of the money we manage is our client’s retirement money. It is likely that by reading this you are concerned about retirement and your retirement money. Without a plan we don’t know how much of your retirement money it is, how long you have until retirement, nor how much you may be able to add to your retirement between now and then. Most of all, we don’t know how much of an income you’ll need your portfolio to throw off when you stop working, such that you can maintain your dignity and independence in retirement. We simply would not know what to recommend until we figured all that out together.
4. Could we split the account between you and my other financial advisor to see how you do?
We would never accept an account on that basis. We would expect to be responsible for the entire portfolio or none of it. We don’t think it makes any sense for you and your family to use two financial advisors. The way you’re going to get the best real-life return is to make a comprehensive plan with one advisor you implicitly trust. Then build a portfolio that carries the plan forward in a coherent and concentrated way. With two advisor’s portfolios, you’re going to get gaps, redundancies, quite possibly fee inefficiencies, and just general cross-purposes. And you are going to end up judging them against each other by whoever’s got the higher return over a year or two or three, which is just random. Pick the one of us whom your head and your heart tell you will be the most personally committed to your financial success, and entrust him/her with the whole assignment.
5. How should we choose an advisor and why should we hire you?
Let us answer with a story. Back in 1957, when Warren Buffett was just starting out, he was referred to a wealthy family in Omaha named Davis. This would be the first really important client he would have outside his family, and so he went over there, made his presentation, and left – and the Davises didn’t know what to make of him. He was 27, and kind of odd-looking, and the family just kept talking back and forth, but they couldn’t decide what to do. And then Mrs. Davis spoke up, and she just said, “I like everything about that young man”. And that was that. It may not seem very scientific, but that is the way we like to get chosen – or not at all.
Our commitment to the clients who choose to work with us is simple: We are going to care more about you, and be more personally devoted to your financial success, than anyone in the world who doesn’t have your last name. If somebody else is cheaper, or somebody else puts up better numbers for a year or two – We don’t think that stuff matters very much in the long run.
The right advisor for you is the one you and your family trust the most, and have the most personal faith in. The very best advice we can give you, from the heart, is this: choose your advisor the way the Davis family decided to hire Warren Buffett.
6. Other brokers or online brokerages will manage our portfolio for less than you charge.
That may be a valid comparison, if advice were a commodity. But that isn’t a valid comparison. Advice is the un-commodity; it varies widely in quality, as do advisors themselves. And most advisors are continuing to render investment advice based on market prognostication, and trying to guess which investments will outperform – an approach we believe is thoroughly discredited, and which invariably lead to substandard returns. We would encourage you to think back to a time you received great advice in your life ... maybe it came from your father or mother, family, friend, or trusted colleague. It is likely this advice was priceless to you. In other words, it was worth more than advice you may have gotten elsewhere. Financial advice is very similar. The cost of advice must be returned to you many times over in the form of improved long-term, real life outcomes which proceed from our financial planning and behavioral advice at critical moments. If you’re not completely convinced of that, let us advise you, as strongly and sincerely as we can: Go with the broker, online service, or bank that is cheapest.
7. I can’t grasp why I would pay you a management fee if you are not trying to outperform the market or you aren’t changing my portfolio much at all.
At critical market junctures, nothing is almost impossible for most people to do. You need a really outstanding advisor to convince you to do nothing when it really counts. When markets are rising spectacularly, people naturally want to concentrate their portfolios in the one or two red hot market sectors that are producing spectacular returns. Inside every tortoise, there’s a hare struggling to get out, and we try to prevent that. We say “You have a beautifully diversified portfolio, ideally suited to your most important long term goals. Don’t put your plan at risk chasing a fad. Do Nothing.” And of course, sooner or later, nothing turns out to be the one right thing to have done. The same is true, and perhaps even more so, in the late stages of bear markets. Many clients will want to get completely out of stocks and move into cash alternatives funds. Our advice again – “You have a beautifully diversified portfolio, ideally suited to your most important goals. The sky is not falling. This time is never different. Do Nothing.” We try to help our clients work toward their financial objectives. Our approach is goal-focused and planning-driven, rather than being based on some attempt to outguess the economy or the markets. We are convinced that all successful investing involves constantly acting toward the realization of goals within the framework of a plan, and all unsuccessful investing is based on reacting to whatever the markets happen to be doing at the moment.
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Investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy insures success or protects against loss.