December 07, 2015

Normal Investors – Status Quo

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Think back to Thanksgiving. Remember the turkey, the dressing, the delicious side dishes, and the waiting on Aunt Ethel to finish warming her green bean casserole? Think about where you were sitting. Was this where you always sit? If you typically celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way, at the same place, with the same people, I bet you were sitting in your usual place. Given the chance, would you have chosen a different seat? Unless you’re still stuck at the “kid’s table,” you’re over an air vent, or that really smelly cousin is next to you, I bet you would prefer not to change seats.

Where do you bank? If it’s with a big, national bank, I bet there’s a pretty good chance it’s where your parents banked or where you have banked for a long time. Why do you still bank there? Is the interest rate spectacular? Is the customer service spectacular?

Why do many people sit at the same spot every year at Thanksgiving? Why do many people bank with the same bank for all of their lives? I think it’s because it’s easier to stay with what you know. It’s easier to stay with what you have. It’s easier to keep the status quo. An inherent desire to keep the status quo is a fifth tendency I believe many normal investors have.

In my line of work people usually come to me for one of two things. Some people want me to analyze how they’re doing financially and to let them know if they’re forgetting anything major or if they’re doing anything blatantly wrong, but a majority of people want me to analyze their financial situation and make recommendations as to how they can improve or enhance their financial standing. In both cases, I often end up trying to get people to tweak their financial status quos. From my experience I’ve found that trying to convince someone to diversify out of a particular stock they’ve always had can be like trying to convince a teenager they can’t keep dating someone, trying to tell someone they need to reduce their lifestyle a little can be like trying to tell a sports fanatic they can’t watch all of their team’s games, and trying to get someone to change their insurance coverage can be like trying to get someone to change an ingredient in grandma’s legendary potato salad recipe. Even if people concur with my recommendations, achieving the implementation of those recommendations, can be another thing entirely.

This status quo tendency to stay with what you know and are used to negatively impacts many investors. It can cause someone not to prudently diversify their investments. It can cause someone not to reallocate/rebalance their portfolio at the top of a bull market or at the bottom of a cyclical pullback. It can even cause someone to never invest at all!

Another part of the status quo tendency is that many people, like myself, don’t enjoy making difficult or complicated decisions. Consider organ donation. Are you an organ donor? Are you not? Don’t you want to help others? Don’t you want every chance to live before your organs are “harvested?” Let’s consider organ donation in Europe. Look at the chart below showing the percentage of citizens in certain European countries who are organ donors.

Why are there so many less organ donors in Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany? It’s because in Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany, you have to opt-in to be an organ donor. If you go with the default, you are not an organ donor. In the other countries illustrated in blue, the opposite holds true. You have to opt-out to not be an organ donor. If you go with the default, you are an organ donor. I find this pretty convincing that many people feel it’s easier to go with the status quo than really spend the time and energy considering and implementing a difficult decision like whether to be an organ donor or not; or whether to diversify investments, cut spending, or adjust insurance.

Change can be good, but change is not always better. It’s my job to give people confidence when they have a good thing going, and to give people questions to ponder and recommendations to consider when I believe the status quo can be improved upon. Don’t just be a normal investor. I encourage you to really consider your status quo, and to tweak it if necessary.


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