Diversification – A lesson from Cricket

Indians treat Cricket not just a game but we eat, sleep and breathe cricket.  Cricketers are as popular as a movie star and every victory in the field is a festival for the masses. Since cricket is so much entrenched in our psyche that we think there is no better way but Cricket to explain the benefit of diversification in your investment portfolio. The cricket is the most watched sports in India and every other Indian claim to be the bona fide expert of the game. Even the youngster will tell, “I know my cricket as my mamma knows her household.”

But for few tyro, Wikipedia explain the game as – Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a cricket field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard-long pitch with a wicket (a set of three wooden stumps) at each end. One team bats, attempting to score as many runs as possible, whilst their opponents field. Each phase of play is called an innings. After either ten batsmen have been dismissed or a fixed number of overs have been completed, the innings ends and the two teams then swap roles. The winning team is the one that scores the most runs, including any extras gained, during their innings.

So what are the basics, there are eleven players on the field for each team during a match and every member of the team has an assigned role to play. The top order players are the batsman, the middle order consists of wicket keeper and all-rounders and lower order players are bowlers. The team has to score runs and restrict the opposition team to score as many runs as they have scored to win the match. The players who score runs are called batsman and the players who restrict the opposition team to score are called bowlers. Hence the reward is to score as many as runs you can and risk is the rival team can score more run than what you have scored.

If scoring the runs is the most important aspect of the game then why we can’t have a team with eleven specialist batsmen to maximize the rewards or eleven specialist bowlers to minimize the risk? If you ask this question even to somebody who wasn’t a big cricket fan, they could probably tell you that everyone has a job to do during any given match. If you don’t have a bowler in your team, your risk will magnify and it would be difficult for your team to restrict opponent to score more run than your team. Similarly, the team consisting of only bowlers can’t expect to score many runs and thus lose out to the opposition. This exactly explains the reason for having a diversified portfolio – as in cricket, every asset class has a specific job to do within the portfolio.

So if you are an investor trying to build a portfolio, let see what Cricket can teach you.

Go for Diversification

Holding several investments in a single asset class doesn’t mean a portfolio is well-diversified. Generally, diversification may lower risk when investments are negatively correlated, meaning their prices typically move in opposite directions. Your portfolio should be diverse enough to weather all sorts of markets – a mix of aggressive and defensive assets, such as stocks and bonds, may reduce the general risk of investing in the market. Dividend-paying blue chip stocks or mutual funds could be the core of your portfolio, while smaller growth stocks can give your portfolio speed and agility.

Diversification doesn’t mean sacrificing return

A well-balanced cricket team with six specialist batsmen and five specialist bowlers will have greater chance to win. A good all-rounder only adds the strength. Similarly, diversification may boost returns while lowering risk when compared to a single asset class. It’s possible at times that a portfolio holding separate asset classes produces a total return greater than the respective returns of each individual asset class. Since the portfolio is not subject to the volatility of a single asset class and covariance among the assets also lower the portfolio risk.

Build a core for Long Term Success

A team works best when they are built for a long period of steady success rather than a single, brilliant season. The best teams build a talented core group of players and only make changes when they need to address weaknesses in the team. M S Dhoni and Saurav Ganguly was the most successful captain of the Indian cricket team and both back their players to the hilt and gradually built a core which remains constant throughout their captaincy.

It’s the same in your portfolio. Rather than constantly rebalancing your portfolio and guessing the next winner, find some mutual funds that you like and plan to hold them for long time period. You should not obsess over whether your portfolio is up or down on a given day. Plan for the long-term; it’s better to have your portfolio perform above average over years than to have a few big years but performing sub-optimally in most of the other years.

Identify and stick with steady Manager

In the first decade of this century, we have two very successful coaches – John Wright and Gary Kirsten. In between, we also have Greg Chappell. The records of these coaches speak for themselves. Rather than firing the players after disappointing performances, the successful coaches kept faith in their long-term ability to win and stuck with them, even in the bad times. Whereas, Greg Chappell’s firing policy proves a disaster for Indian cricket team.

An investor should do well to analyse the performance of the fund house instead concentrating on a single scheme. One should not quit a fund if it is going through a rough patch. A steady, successful fund management team always pull out of rubbles and steer the fund back to its winning way by adhering to winning strategies, putting up good numbers in the long run. The track record matters and investing in a hotshot new manager with no track record can be risky.


The great team doesn’t build in a jiffy; it takes years and load of patience. Even the best team loses sometime hence one should not lose sleep if your portfolio gives negative returns when market capsizes. We all are well aware of the history of US stock market crash of 1929. Some investors must have first-hand experiences during market meltdown in 1999 and 2008. The reality is that some market crashes are so sudden that even the most diversified portfolios suffer. Risk can only be minimised, can’t be wished away. However, portfolio diversification may stabilise risk to help lower a portfolio’s sensitivity to market volatility.



White Paper – Investment Plan

One of the parts of developing a comprehensive financial plan is the development of an investment plan. Investment Planning is the process of finding the right mix of investment option based on your future goals, time horizon, and risk profile. There are six steps that you should follow when you are developing your investment plan.

The Means to Invest

In order to even begin this portion of your financial plan, you must determine that you are ready to invest. In this step, you will determine if you are going to use the money for some good or service (spend it), or if you will invest or save the money.

Investment Time Horizon

In this step, you will be determining how long you plan to invest and when you will need the funds to meet your financial objective(s). You must decide, based on the time horizon of your objectives, among short-term investments, long-term investments or some combination. In this step, you are going to be determining what you will be saving for, which should give some indication of your time horizon.

Risk and Return

You will need to determine what your level of risk tolerance is. As the level of risk tolerance increases so does the potential for higher returns as well as larger losses.

Investment Selection

Based on 1, 2 and 3 above, investments should be selected to meet your goals. These investments must satisfy your time horizon and your risk tolerance.

Evaluate Performance

Once investments are chosen and expectations are established, the performance of your investments should be determined by comparing the actual realized returns against the expected returns. The returns should also be compared to a benchmark, such as the Sensex or Nifty index. In addition, the investments should be reevaluated to determine if they continue to meet your investment criteria.

Adjust Your Portfolio

Your portfolio should be adjusted to maintain your goals and your investment criteria. If your goals change, your investments should be reviewed to determine if they continue to meet your objectives.

Benefits of Investment Planning

 Investment planning helps you:

  • Generate income and/or capital gains.
  • Enhance your future wealth.
  • Strengthen your investment portfolio.
  • Save on taxes.

Investment Strategies – Passive vs. Active Strategy


Passive strategies do not seek to outperform the market but simply to do as well as the market. The emphasis is on minimizing transaction costs and time spent in managing the portfolio because any expected benefits from active trading or analysis are likely to be less than the costs. Passive investors act as if the market is efficient and accept the consensus estimates of return and risk, accepting the current market price as the best estimate of a security’s value.

A buy-and-hold strategy means exactly that – an investor buys fund or stock and basically holds them until some future time in order to meet some objective. The emphasis is on avoiding transaction costs, additional search costs, and so forth. The investor believes that such a strategy will, over some period of time, produce results as good as alternatives that require active management whereby some securities are deemed not satisfactory, sold, and replaced with other securities. These alternatives incur transaction costs and involve inevitable mistakes.


An active strategy involves shifting sector weights in the portfolio in order to take advantage of those sectors that are expected to do relatively better and avoid or de-emphasize those sectors that are expected to do relatively worse. Investors employing this strategy are betting that particular sectors will repeat their price performance relative to the current phase of the business and credit cycle.

Most of the Mutual funds in India are actively managed. The goal of active management is to beat a particular benchmark. Because the markets are inefficient, the anomalies and irregularities in the capital markets are exploited by the active fund manager. Prices react to information slowly enough to allow skillful investors to systematically outperform the market.

Building an Investment Portfolio

Asset Allocation

Investors often consider the investment decision as consisting of two steps:

  1. Asset allocation
  2. Fund selection

The asset allocation decision refers to the allocation of portfolio assets to broad asset markets; in other words, how much of the portfolio’s funds are to be invested in stocks, how much in bonds, money market assets, and so forth. Each weight can range from zero percent to 100 percent.

The asset allocation decision may be the most important decision made by an investor.

The rationale behind this approach is that different asset classes offer various potential returns and various levels of risk, and the correlation coefficients may be quite low.

Portfolio construction involves the selection of securities or mutual funds to be included in the portfolio and the determination of portfolio weights. The Modern Portfolio theory provides the basis for a scientific portfolio construction that results in efficient portfolios. An efficient portfolio is one with the highest level of expected return for a given level of risk or the lowest risk for a given level of expected return.

Asset Classes

Portfolio construction begins with the basic building blocks of asset classes, which are the following major categories of investments:

  • Cash (or cash equivalents such as money market funds)
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Real Estate (including Real Estate AIF)
  • Commodity, bullion or others

Each investor must determine which of these major categories of investments is suitable for him/her. The next step is to determine which percentage of total investable assets should be allocated to each category deemed appropriate.

Risk Reduction in the Portfolio


One has to remember that no investment is Risk-free. Every investment has the potential gain as well as losses. The diversification is not a guarantee against any potential loss. Based on your goals, time horizon, and tolerance for volatility, diversification may provide the potential to improve returns for that level of risk.

A diversified portfolio is built by a judicious mix of assets—stocks, bonds, cash, or others—whose returns haven’t historically moved in the same direction, and to the same degree. This way, even if a portion of your portfolio is declining, the rest of your portfolio, hopefully, is growing. The intention of using this strategy is that the loss incurred due to the negative performance of a particular asset class is partially or wholly offset by gains via the positive performance of another asset class. Another important aspect of building a well-diversified portfolio is that you try to stay diversified within each type of investment.

Modern Portfolio Theory

Covariance is a measure of the co-movements between securities returns used in the calculation of portfolio risk. We could analyze how security returns move together by considering the correlation coefficient, a measure of association learned in statistics.

As used in portfolio theory, the correlation coefficient is a statistical measure of the relative co-movements between security returns. It measures the extent to which the returns on any two securities are related; however, it denotes only association, not causation. It is a relative measure of association that is bounded by +1.0 and -1.0, with

Pi,j = +1.0, perfect positive correlation

Pi,j = -1.0, perfect negative (inverse) correlation

Pi,j = 0.0, zero correlation

With perfect positive correlation, the returns have a perfect direct linear relationship. Knowing what the return on one security will do allows an investor to forecast perfectly what the other will do.

With perfect negative correlation, the securities’ returns have a perfect inverse linear relationship to each other.

With zero correlation, there is no relationship between the returns on the two securities. Knowledge of the return on one security is of no value in predicting the return of the second security.

Rupee Cost Averaging

The systematic investment with mutual funds, along with consistent periodic new purchases of the mutual fund, creates risk reduction by creating a lower cost per unit owned over time. This is known as rupee cost averaging. This strategy allows one to take away the guesswork of trying to time the market. You invest a fixed amount of money at a regular interval, regardless of whether the market is high or low. By doing so, you buy fewer units when the prices are high and more units when the prices are low. Because rupee cost averaging involves regular investments during periods of fluctuating prices, you should consider your financial ability to continue investing when price levels are low. However, this approach reduces the effects of market fluctuation on the average price you pay for your shares. Additionally, it helps you maintain a regular investing plan.


Even the best-laid investment plan will fail if you can’t control your behaviour.  That’s one of the biggest reasons for keeping your disciplined investment strategy as simple as possible.

It’s much easier to control how you behave with a simple strategy since you won’t be tempted to jump in and out of the market or find the next best investment trend.  And basing your decisions on complex and structured products won’t keep you in your plan when turmoil hits.

There is enough statistical evidence to suggest that if you invest regularly for a long term, your money will grow on a consistent basis.


  1. Investments: Analysis and Management by  Charles P. Jones

  2. US SEC

Why to Invest in Hedge Funds

“Higher the risk, higher the return; lower the risk, lower the Return”. This is the first concept of Investment you come across whether you are a seasoned investor or a newbie while talking to any adviser or participating in any investors’ education programme.

For many years, investors have been told that risk and return are correlated. Low levels of uncertainty (low risk) are associated with low potential returns. High levels of uncertainty (high risk) are associated with high potential returns. The risk/return trade-off is the balance between the desire for the lowest possible risk and the highest possible return. This whole idea is graphically illustrated here and we are sure each one of us must have seen this graph at least once in our lifetime.


This graph depicts the idea beautifully but there is one flaw. The Risk-Return trade-off line is not a straight line in real life. That is, the return per unit of risk is not constant. More risk will not necessarily bring you more return and the return per unit of risk start diminishing as you take more and more risk. This is the second concept of Investment called Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.

‘Utility’ is a term used in economics to describe how much value or happiness one derives from a good or service. Marginal utility refers to how much additional value/happiness is derived from one additional unit of the good or service. Most goods and services are said to have “diminishing marginal utility.”

Diminishing marginal utility‘ can be understood by this simple example – If you are hungry, you will relish your first dosa, you may eat your second dosa but very few of us will enjoy the third one. As our hunger satiates after the first one, our urge to eat another dosa diminishes though the taste of each dosa is the same.

More risk can’t generate a proportionate higher return and it’s a fact of life that markets fluctuate and unpredictable. But occasionally markets experience bouts of extreme volatility and declines, which can wreak havoc on portfolios. Statistics over the last 20 years show 5% pullbacks typically happen about two to three times a year, 10% to 15% corrections every one to two years and 20% bear drops every three to five years and over 50% once in a decade.

It’s easy to ride out small fluctuations given a long time horizon. But with rare large declines, most investors get perturbed by the mark to market loss and allow the behaviour aspect rode over the fundamental aspect of investment. It would be better having a bit of protection or hedge — either for peace of mind or for performance. This concept of Investment is called Hedging, which can be achieved by buying derivative to protect your long position. This cost reduces your return in an up swinging market but protect you from draw downs and generate better risk adjusted return.

Hedging risk has been an integral part of the financial markets for centuries. One of the more notable early successes came in the 17th Century when commodity producers and merchants devised a way to protect themselves against unfavorable price changes through a system of ‘forward contracts’.

Another aspect of hedging is Arbitrage. Arbitrage is a strategy where you try to capture the price difference of stock, commodity, etc in two different markets by buying in one and selling in another simultaneously. This is a market neutral strategy and you are not concern about the market direction. In India, you profit by exploiting the price differences by buying in the cash market and selling in the future market. Subsequently, you square up the trade on or before the expiry of future contract to realise the gain.

The term ‘hedge fund‘, however, dates back only to 1949. At that time, almost all investment strategies took only long positions. Alfred Winslow Jones, a reporter for Fortune, published an article arguing that investors could achieve far better returns if hedging became an integral part of an investment strategy. Jones launched a small investment partnership to test his belief. He incorporated two investment tools into his strategy – short selling and leverage – to simultaneously limit market risk and magnify returns.

As an Indian, we have historically invested in long-only strategies, be it Stocks, Mutual funds, PMS or Insurance. Since the naked short sale is not permitted in any of these investment avenues, we never benefited like global investors and fund managers who take advantage of mispricing, overvaluation, and euphoria in the markets to make investment returns by shorting a stock. This strategy yields sizable returns in bearish markets, where the share prices take a plunge.

A long-short strategy is used primarily by hedge funds, seek to deliver positive returns with low correlation to equity markets by taking long positions in stocks whose prices are expected to rise and short positions in stocks that are expected to decline.

The fund manager take a long position in a stock by buying it: If the stock price rises, the fund will make money. For shorting a stock, fund either uses the derivatives or borrows the stock they don’t own, sell it and then hoping it declines in value and then buy it back at a lower price and return the borrowed shares.

The Indian equity market is more volatile than US, European and other major Asian markets. Higher Volatility in the market couple with Lower Correlation and Higher Dispersion among Indian stocks provides an opportunity to generate alpha through active management of long and short positions.

Hedge funds profit from winners and losers both by taking long positions in winning stocks and short positions in losing stocks; it reduces the volatility and limits max draw down.

Structure of Hedge Funds in India

Hedge Funds in India are category III Alternative Investment Fund governs by SEBI (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulations, 2012 (“AIF Regulations”).

Alternative Investment Fund or AIF are privately pooled investment vehicle which collects funds from sophisticated investors, whether Indian or foreign, for investing it in accordance with a defined investment policy for the benefit of its investors.

Specific exclusions include family trusts, employee stock option trusts, employee welfare trusts or gratuity trusts, holding companies, special purpose vehicles not established by fund managers and regulated under a specific regulatory framework (eg. securitization trusts), and funds managed by registered securitisation or reconstruction companies.

An AIF under the SEBI (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulations, 2012 can be established or incorporated in the form of a trust or a company or a limited liability partnership or a body corporate. Most of the AIFs registered with SEBI are in trust form.

Category I AIFs

AIFs which invest in start-up or early stage ventures or social ventures or SMEs or infrastructure or other sectors or areas which the government or regulators consider as socially or economically desirable and shall include venture capital funds, SME Funds, social venture funds, infrastructure funds and such other Alternative Investment Funds as may be specified.

“Angel fund” is a sub-category of Venture Capital Fund under Category I Alternative Investment Fund that raises funds from angel investors and invests in accordance with the provisions of AIF Regulations.

Category II AIFs

AIFs which do not fall in Category I and III and which do not undertake leverage or borrowing other than to meet day-to-day operational requirements. Various types of funds such as real estate funds, private equity funds (PE funds), funds for distressed assets, etc. are registered as Category II AIFs.

Category III AIFs

AIFs which employ diverse or complex trading strategies and may employ leverage including through investment in listed or unlisted derivatives. Various types of funds such as hedge funds, PIPE Funds, etc. are registered as Category III AIFs.

There is no exact definition for the term “Hedge Fund”; but it is generally accepted that any investment fund that used incentive fees, short selling, and leverage are hedge funds. However, there are many category III AIF which are not utilizing the hedging and arbitrage strategies and are engage in relatively traditional, long-only strategies.

The eligibility criteria and conditions for Hedge funds in India are:

  • Investors can be Indian, NRI or foreign.
  • Only spouse, parents and children can be a joint investor.
  • Minimum corpus should be Rs. 20 Crores for each scheme.
  • Minimum investment by each investor should be Rs. 1 Crore.
  • The Maximum number of investors can be 1000 for each scheme.
  • Category III AIFs can be both open and close ended.
  • The manager or sponsor shall have a continuing interest in the respective AIF, (a) of not less than 5% of the corpus (in Category III), or (b) Rs. 10 Crores (for each scheme) whichever is lower.
  • Leverage of a Category III AIF cannot exceed 2 times the NAV of the fund.
  • Units of close-ended AIFs may be listed on stock exchange, subject to a minimum tradable lot of Rs. 1 Crore and such listing of AIF is permitted only after the final close of the fund or scheme.


  1. AIF Regulation
  2. AIF FAQ
  3. Registered AIF
  4. The Indian Association of Alternative Investment Funds (IAAIF)

White Paper – Asset Allocation

“Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”. It means don’t risk everything all at once. If you had a certain number of “eggs”, it would be safest to put those eggs in different “baskets” and not “put them all in one basket”. To “put all your eggs in one basket” would be to risk losing all of your “eggs” in case you drop that one “basket”.

Even if you are new to investing, this old adage explain you the most fundamental principles of sound investing. If that makes sense, you’ve got a great start on understanding asset allocation and diversification.

Studies have shown that proper asset allocation is more important to long-term returns than specific investment choices or market timing. Asset allocation means diversifying your money among different types of investment categories, such as stocks, bonds, and cash. The goal is to help reduce risk and enhance returns.

The process of determining asset mix in your portfolio is a personal choice. The asset allocation that works best for you at any given point in your life will depend largely on your time horizon and your ability to tolerate risk.

Time Horizon – Your time horizon is the expected number of months, years, or decades you will be investing to achieve a particular financial goal. An investor with a longer time horizon may feel more comfortable taking on a riskier, or more volatile, investment because he or she can wait out slow economic cycles and the inevitable ups and downs of our markets. By contrast, an investor saving up for a teenager’s college education would likely take on less risk because he or she has a shorter time horizon.

Risk Tolerance – Risk tolerance is your ability and willingness to lose some or all of your original investment in exchange for greater potential returns. An aggressive investor, or one with a high-risk tolerance, is more likely to risk losing money in order to get better results. A conservative investor, or one with a low-risk tolerance, tends to favour investments that will preserve his or her original investment. Check your risk tolerance here.

The two most commonly used terms when referring to asset allocation are strategic and tactical asset allocation.

Strategic (or neutral) asset allocation refers to the neutral asset allocation that aims to achieve the investor’s long-term investment objectives. It is based on the longer-term risk and return outlook for the asset classes.

Tactical (or dynamic) asset allocation aims to take advantage of perceived inefficiencies in asset pricing in the short-term. The deviation from the Strategic asset allocation is done with the aim to enhance returns in the shorter term. The decision rule that defines how the Tactical asset allocation is implemented could be different for each investor.

Every investor or portfolio has a Strategic asset allocation that is used to model the returns that the investor is likely to achieve in the long-term.

Based on data since 1997 and Risk Tolerance level, we have created five model strategic asset allocations using reverse optimization process through gradient quadratic programming method of Nobel laureate William F. Sharpe.

  1. Conservative Asset Allocation – Equity: 1.6%, Debt: 79.1%, cash: 19.3%
  2. Moderately Conservative Asset Allocation – Equity: 6.4%, Debt: 93.6%, cash: 0.00%
  3. Moderate Asset Allocation – Equity: 23.9%, Debt: 76.1%, cash: 0.00%
  4. Moderately Aggressive Asset Allocation – Equity: 33.9%, Debt: 66.1%, cash: 0.00%
  5. Aggressive Asset Allocation – Equity: 44.0%, Debt: 56.0%, cash: 0.00%

You can check these models here.

We use another reverse optimization model – Black Litterman model to arrive at the tactical asset allocation. Though Nobel laureate Harry Markowitz’s mean-variance optimization is one of the cornerstones of modern portfolio theory and has become the dominant asset allocation model. However,

  1. Mean-variance optimization is very sensitive to the estimates of returns, standard deviations, and correlations. Of these three inputs, returns are by far the most important and, unfortunately, the least stable.
  2. Input sensitivity indicates that the model’s output (the asset allocations) changes significantly due to small changes in the input (the capital market assumptions). Input sensitivity causes mean-variance optimization to lead to highly concentrated asset allocations.

The Black-Litterman model was created by Fischer Black and Robert Litterman. The Black-Litterman model enables investors to combine their unique views regarding the performance of various assets with CAPM market equilibrium returns in a manner that results in intuitive, diversified portfolios. More specifically, the Black-Litterman Model combine the subjective views of an investor regarding the expected returns of one or more assets with the CAPM market equilibrium expected returns (the prior distribution) to form a new, mixed estimate of expected returns (the posterior distribution).

The CAPM market equilibrium returns are calculated using the reverse optimization technique described by Sharpe. You can see the tactical asset allocation area graph based on risk tolerance here.

Our five-step asset allocation process:

  1. Establish a Strategic (long term) allocation
    1. You need to know the Risk Tolerance Score
    2. And to align with one of the five Market Portfolios based on risk tolerance
    3. Market portfolios are your reference point for monitoring deviation from your risk profile.
  1. Shift your asset allocation away from strategic allocation only when there are “valuation” opportunities:
    1. When one asset class is extremely undervalued relative to competing asset classes
    2. When we can make high-confidence assessments of the impact of cyclical factors that might enhance or detract from such opportunities
  1. Analyse and choose actively managed mutual funds, and in some cases Exchange Traded Funds (ETF), to implement your asset allocation. Use the Fund Screener to select the top-rated Schemes. Choosing more schemes leads to greater diversification, but avoid unnecessary diversification. Eliminate any schemes you do not want to own for any reason; however, you should keep at least 20 schemes in an effort to properly manage risk.
  1. Hold for at least One year – For better Tax Efficiency
    1. In our opinion, it is a better idea to keep your investment for approximately one year. This to maximize your after-tax returns; therefore, holds the gains for more than a year to become long-term, and book any losses before the one year holding period is reached.
  1. Go Back to Step 1
    1. Once you have sold any gains and any losses, select and purchase a new portfolio by following step 1 to 3.


The greatest asset allocation strategy won’t work if you can’t control your behaviour. That’s one of the biggest reasons keeping your disciplined investment strategy as simple as possible. The truth, that long-term investing after fees and taxes beats active wealth management, is hard to accept.

It’s much easier to control how you behave with a simple strategy since you won’t be tempted to jump in and out of the market or find the next best investment trend.  And basing your decisions on complex and structured products won’t keep you in your plan when turmoil hits.


  1. Reverse Optimization aa_gradient_tgblog
  2. Black-Litterman Model aa_bl_tgblog

Acknowledgment (For idea, content, formula and calculation)

  1. http://www.blacklitterman.org and the reading list published on the website.
  2. Macro-Investment Analysis by William F. Sharpe
  3. Financial Modeling by Simon Beninga

Risk: The four letter word

As an adviser, we were expected to educate the investor about the Risk of investing in the financial markets. In today’s environment of transparency, we assume that investors want to know the truth, so don’t hide it.  And hence we inundate them with the idea of Absolute and Relative risk, Systematic and Unsystematic risk, Default Risk, Geography Risk, Interest rate risk, Liquidity risk, and what not.

I totally understand why people talk like that. First, there’s an assumption that lettered person makes better adviser. Second, being able to talk like that makes adviser seasoned, someone who has gone through the rut and his idea is now chiseled out.

In reality most of the time these jargon-laden definition makes an investor more confused. It’s not that investor doesn’t understand the risk but not the way we convey it. This commonly used “four letter word” is the most abused word in the investing annals.  It may have totally different meanings for different individuals. To many investors, risk means the cost of making a mistake.  It could be financial, social, psychological, or even emotional. The risk is about fear of change.

Financial Experts judge risk in terms of quantitative assessments whereas most people’s perception of risk is far more complex, involving numerous psychological and cognitive processes. To assume people perceive risk pertaining to their life, family, career, and profession differently than their investment risk is a false assumption.

People tend to be intolerant of risks that they perceive as being uncontrollable, having catastrophic potential, having fatal consequences, or bearing an inequitable distribution of risks and benefits. Can we overcome this resistant by simply disseminating more and more information about the product and assets we are proposing? I don’t think more data supported by evidence of past and validated by external sources reduces the resistant.

In Investment industry, the assessment of Risk Tolerance of investors is either intuitive or based on risk profiling tools. Most risk profiling tools are based on psychometric test built in the nineties. Most tools are based on inadequate statistics, such as using historic volatility as the key metric for measuring risk and that could lead to “flawed outputs”. The probable consequence of inadequate or poor risk profiling is an investor making investments that are not suitable for their objectives, financial situation, and needs. The results of such a tool should only provide a starting point for a conversation about investment risk, not an ending.

In my last two decades of dealing with investors, I find equity is the most resisted asset class. Some investors find the volatility unnerving; while some dread the probability of absolute loss; some has bad experiences in the past; and some wants a regular income. As an adviser, one need to be persevering. One can’t do a risk profiling of an investor in a session or two. The true assessment of risk tolerance, capacity for loss assessment and a risk required analysis can be done over a period of time. Till such time your proposal should align with the risk perception of the investors.