risk assessment

Your Safety Net Is Not a Hammock

photo shows a safety net in midair

The advancement of technology has helped humans perform more tasks more safely.

Backup cameras and drift warning systems help curb preventable accidents in our vehicles. Even in our pastimes, technology can monitor more risks and dangers than ever. Big-wave surfers take on, well, bigger waves, prepared with more data about the conditions than ever before… not to mention a jet-ski nearby, ready to help anyone who crashes.

Such monitoring technology may allow us to take on more risk, but this doesn’t mean we ought to. Specifically, this tech becomes dangerous when we let it take over and do our thinking for us too.

Some providers offer tech tools to help “measure” risk tolerance. The tools are, in theory, designed to increase transparency. If we know more about the dangers present, shouldn’t we be able to make better decisions?

For some investors and clients, it’s perfectly comfortable to use such scores to determine the “appropriate” investments. The trouble is that then the tech tool is doing the interpreting, moving from observation to decision.

That middle part—the thinking, the choosing, the deliberation—that’s where we like to focus our energy in this shop.

Many tools may seem like safety nets, keeping us from ever falling too hard, but they should not replace the process.

You may remember The Flying Wallendas, a family that for generations has performed high-wire stunts (one of them crossed the Grand Canyon on live television a few years ago). The family avoids nets when they can.

Why?

The net may make you feel better about the risks involved, but it’s counterproductive—and dangerous—if it leads you to behave with less awareness, intention, and energy.

You must behave as if the risks are always present… And carry on, making the best decisions possible.

Clients, wondering about nets, risk, and more? Let’s chat: call or write anytime.


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Where Did All The Risks Go?

© Can Stock Photo / Hmelevskih

In what seems like the good old days, we thought about many kinds of risk. Now, to many, risk only means one thing. All the other kinds of risk seem to have disappeared. Here are some of the classic risks as we learned them long ago, and still understand today:

Market Risk. Changes in equity prices or interest rates or currency exchange rates that hurt the investment value.

Liquidity Risk. Being unable to sell an investment without a discount for lack of buyers.

Concentration Risk. Having all your eggs in one basket, when the basket gets upset.

Credit Risk. A bond issuer might not be able to pay you back because of adverse conditions.

Inflation Risk. A loss of purchasing power over time because investments fail to keep up with a rising cost of living.

This old-fashioned approach to risk focused on possibilities for what might happen in the future. This makes sense to us, since the future is where we will get all of our coming investment results, good and bad. The past is past.

But perhaps the most popular approach to risk today is based totally on the past, not the future. Past volatility is supposedly the measure of risk in any investment and every portfolio. Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) implicitly assumes that past volatility is the sole measure of risk. Yet volatility is inherent in any form of long-term investing, and has little to do with many of the classic forms of risk.

Investment firms and advisors promoting ‘risk analytics’ and many measures of ‘risk tolerance’ are using this backward-looking theory of risk. It has nothing to do with the classic definitions of risk, outlined above. In our opinion, some of the latest and greatest risk management technology is not focused on actual risk at all, and could discourage people from enduring the volatility required to achieve long term results.

Meanwhile, the classic understanding of risk has us thinking about its many dimensions as we choose securities and build portfolios. One drawback of our approach? It takes more work to do things the old-fashioned way. But we think it is the right way to go. No guarantees, of course.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.