Sailing with the Tides
Embarking on a financial plan is like sailing around the world. The voyage won’t always go to plan, and there’ll be rough seas. But the odds of reaching your destination increase greatly if you are prepared, flexible, patient, and well-advised.
A mistake many inexperienced sailors make is not having a plan at all. They embark without a clear sense of their destination. And once they do decide, they often find themselves lost at sea in the wrong boat with inadequate provisions.
Likewise, in planning an investment journey, you need to decide on your goal. A first step should be to consider whether the goal is realistic and achievable. For instance, while you may long to retire in the south of France or in Tuscany, you may not be prepared to sacrifice your needs today to satisfy that distant future desire. Delaying gratification now is, after all, one of the hardest things to do for humans.
Once you are set on a realistic destination, you need to ensure you have the right portfolio to get you there. Have you planned for multiple contingencies? What degree of “bad weather” can your plan withstand along the way? Basing your portfolio on the insights of Nobel Laureates will help you in this regard.
Key to a successful voyage is a good navigator. A trusted advisor is like that, regularly taking coordinates and making adjustments, if necessary. If your circumstances change, the advisor may suggest you replot your course.
As with the weather at sea, markets can be unpredictable. A sudden squall can whip up waves of volatility, tides can shift, and strong currents can threaten to blow you off course, just as the recent market volatility in Q1 2018 might have done to you. Like a seasoned sailor, an experienced advisor will work with these conditions.
Once the storm passes, you can pick up speed again. Just as a sturdy vessel will help you withstand most conditions at sea, a well-diversified portfolio acts as a bulwark against the sometimes tempestuous conditions in equity markets.
Circumnavigating the globe is not exciting every day, in fact, most of the time it is akin to watching paint dry or grass grow. Patience is required with local customs and paperwork as you pull into different ports. Likewise, a lack of attention to investment costs and in-built conflicts of interests is the enemy of many a long-term financial plan.
Distractions can also send investors, like sailors, off course. In the face of “hot” investment trends (Bitcoin anybody?), it takes discipline not to veer from your chosen plan. Like the sirens of Greek mythology, media pundits are also diverting, tempting you to change tack and act on news that is already priced in to markets (see our discussion about the Efficient Market Hypothesis here by Nobel Laureate Prof Fama).
A lack of flexibility is another impediment to a successful investment journey. If it doesn’t look as though you’ll make your destination in time, you may have to extend your voyage, take a different route to get there, or adjust your goal.
The important point is that you become comfortable with the idea that uncertainty is inherent to the investment journey, just as it is with any sea voyage. That is why preparation and planning are so critical. While you can’t control every outcome, you can be prepared for the range of possibilities and understand that you have clear choices if things don’t go according to plan.
If you can’t live with the volatility, you can change your plan. If the goal looks unachievable, you can lower your sights. If it doesn’t look as if you’ll arrive on time, you can extend your journey.
Of course, not everyone’s journey is the same. Neither is everyone’s destination. We take different routes to different places, and we meet a range of challenges and opportunities along the way.
But for all of us, it’s critical that we are prepared for our journeys in the right vessel, keep our destinations in mind, stick with the plans, and have a trusted navigator to chart our courses and keep us on target. Building evidence-based, low-cost index fund investment vessels is the right way to embark on this journey successfully.