This week I’ve been cleaning out my desk as I prepare for our move to our new offices on Glenwood Avenue. While organizing, I discovered that I have a paper copy of every single tax return I’ve filed since 1994. The financial nerd in me has thoroughly enjoyed reviewing copies of my old Schedule D tax forms. Schedule D is the form where you report all your capital gains, err losses, to the IRS. Having copies of mine has given me the gift of being able to reflect on almost all the investment decisions I’ve made over the years – at least outside of my retirement accounts.
As I remember my early years as an investor one thing is clear: I had no real process for making investment decisions. Some investments I’d thoroughly research, others I’d buy because a friend told me it was a sure thing. And if I didn’t have a process for deciding what to buy, I certainly didn’t have a process for deciding when to buy and when to sell. This meant that many of my investment decisions were based on emotion which can and often does have dangerous consequences. Fortunately for me, in my early twenties the consequences were limited.
One of my favorite purchases was my investment in the ProFunds Ultra OTC mutual fund. Its objective was to offer a return equivalent to 2x the return on the NASDAQ 100, the index containing all the big tech names of the the time. So if the NASDAQ 100 was up 2% on a particular day my investment in the fund would be up 4% but if the index was down 2%, well… At age 28 I remember watching my $10k investment grow to $80k in just a few years! However, a quick glance at my 2001 Schedule D reminded me that I sold it for $6k after the tech bubble had burst. I can’t tell you why I didn’t at least sell some of my shares earlier other than that it had something to do with not wanting to pay taxes and sheer greed.
That experience along with years of hearing about and witnessing other’s experiences has taught me the importance of having a well thought out, rules-based process for making investment decisions. One that efficiently captures the long term returns of the capital markets while also keeping costs and taxes low. One that also minimizes or removes the possibility of making poor emotional choices at the wrong times – something to which we are all susceptible. With that said, the best investment process in the world is useless if you can’t stick with it in good times and in bad. So it’s important to understand ahead of time how your process might behave in different kinds of markets, and to have the outside perspective of someone who can serve as a barrier between you and a costly emotional decision.
I don’t know what a rules-based investment process would have meant for my Profunds investment. Perhaps I wouldn’t even have owned it, but I feel confident that it would have at least prevented my 40% loss! Today I’m happy to consider that loss a cost I paid to learn a valuable lesson at an early age.
This year marks my 21st year of offering financial advice to clients. I’m thankful that I get to work with such wonderful people in a job that I’m passionate about. I’m also thankful for the financial wisdom I’ve gained over the years. It makes me a better advisor and a better steward over my family’s money.
Tim Keller, a favorite pastor of mine, likes to say, “Your future self will always see your present self as unwise and immature. That means you are currently a fool right now.” I look forward to another 20+ years of learning, growing and getting better as a financial advisor, one that puts a rules-based investment process in place for clients so they don’t have a Profunds story of their own twenty years from now.
Do you have a rules based investment process? If not, give us a call. We’d love to help.