Know Thy Investments

The primary foundations of Financial DNA are “Know Thyself” and Know Thy Client”. However, what I have not spoken up much before about is “Know Thy Investments”. For both the advisor and the client this is absolutely critical to successful investing. Who at some point has been caught in an investment they did not fully understand and lost money? Usually, they are the “smart” investments that offer lucrative returns and/or tax breaks.

In recent times, I have had discussions with many advisors and investors who have been caught with an investment that they did not fully understand. You should forgive yourself because even the best investors have been caught at some point. This point is not just about “ponzi schemes” but also bona fide investments.

Market declines like we have had in the past year usually expose the cracks. When the market is going up the holes can often be covered up. Some of these investments are so complex that not even the creator or manager even understands them fully, let alone the advisor recommending it.

I have always said to my clients: “If you do not know what is inside the sausage do not invest”. Until a year or so ago, I did have some doubts as to whether I had been too conservative and that I was the fool for not riding the trend. Well now I am very relieved. A good example of this advice was 5 years ago when I told a very wealthy retired couple not to invest in a hedge fund that they had been offered by someone who was trying to impress them.

I do not believe most people know what they have invested in other than the belief they will make a lot of money. Many hedge funds rely on very complex models and very fine margins. Also, many change their strategy after you have invested. So that what you have invested in is not underneath the same investment as what you exit. I also know that many investors and advisors did not understand how leveraged with debt our financial markets were. All of these complex products usually have a lot of debt in them. So when the market declines, the fall can be accelerated because everyone has to get out quickly.

If you are an investor, now is a great time to review all of the investments in your portfolio and check that you truly understand them. Also, does your advisor understand your investments? Can your questions be confidently answered? I also think advisors need to take stock and totally understand what they are offering their clients. You really need to get behind the “research” reports.