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Risk-tolerance

(Far) Beyond Risk-tolerance Questionnaires

My colleagues and I have been having an active discussion about the relevance of risk-tolerance questionnaires. So, I was excited to see a Sept. 6 article in the Wall Street Journal by Jason Zweig, “Knowing if you can stomach the next big market swing.”

Not the right data, not enough data

Zweig’s bottom line, “Any good adviser should devote more time to your risk capacity and your goals than to your risk tolerance.” In leading up to that point, he makes the case that risk-tolerance questionnaires not only don’t go far enough in that they target just that one metric, but also says they may not even be accurate in that area – at least not in the long run.

Research cited by Zweig notes that risk-tolerance questionnaires are susceptible to being short-circuited, for instance, by emotions of the moment. Thus, a questionnaire that should be predictive across your investing for years to come may really just reflect your risk tolerance or aversion that day.

Similarly, when looking at what different advisers do with risk-tolerance survey results, we see adviser bias. That is, the questionnaire’s results can be — and are — interpreted by financial pros in significantly different ways. Further, Zweig says its known that advisers often ignore the results of such surveys altogether.

This article identifies the problem with traditional risk profile questionnaires that we overcome with a more objective, non-situational psychometric model — validated insights that provide a fuller, more lasting set of robust data points that may be relied on, theoretically, in perpetuity and which cannot be gamed by investor or adviser.

The right info, better results

Among the differences with our 17-years-in-the-making Financial DNA tools: We do not have market-driven questions that lead to situational bias. We do not get into market perceptions. The questions we ask are neutral to education, experiences in the past, feelings and more.

We get a broader set of insights, including behavioral biases, spending, goals and communication. Most people do not understand risk because it is not explained well and knowing communication style powers better communication on such key points.

The power exists for investors and advisers to better assess risk…and to move beyond just that one metric. Still, I continue to hear — anecdotally and directly — that some advisers think their clients won’t take the time to complete the more accurate and more robust discovery process.

If I am to believe that, then it means most investors are not willing to spend 10 to 12 minutes gaining insights that will impact their portfolio for a lifetime. (Insights that, by the way, also can powerfully affect decision-making and relationships across any and all facets of our lives.)

Rubbish! That’s a supposition I cannot accept.

The proof is in the pudding

A forced-choice scoring model like ours is academically proven to be one standard deviation more accurate than the Likert Scoring Models (aka, situational questions used in traditional risk questionnaires). The traditional scoring model of risk profiles leads to over-inflated scoring and situational results, whereas forced-choice scoring provides a more accurate and reliable starting point for long-term decision making.

The forced-choice questions also lead to more predictive measurement, making a subjective process more objective. For example, non-situational phraseology consistently measures ingrained (rather than learned) behaviors. They lower the chance of misinterpretation. Traditional situational questions lead to inconsistent measurement, meaning responses change depending the situation and market, they are difficult to interpret and require more education, and they tend to over-state strengths (like risk tolerance) and understate struggles (challenges you and your adviser will face).

Finally, a short, tight discovery process deploys validated questions that lead to highly accurate, deep and reliable results which remain consistent for the long term. And again, they are harder to game.

Not convinced? Complete the Financial DNA discovery for no-cost and no-obligation. You’ll ultimately get a one-page infographic report with actionable insights. Now, imagine sharing that report with your adviser (or with your client if you are the adviser) and having this brief investment of your time paying dividends across your portfolio and the rest of your life – for a lifetime.