Your Personal Iceberg: There is More to Measuring Success Than What Lies on the Surface

Wallens, JordanJordan Wallens, Regional Director, Retirement Plan Services

This is part one of a two-part blog series.

As a financial professional, I’m often asked what equity markets will do next. My response never changes: “It will fluctuate”. This truth they do not relish.

A wise man once declared that the beauty of an iceberg lies in the fact that it is 8/9 submerged. Yet when it comes to our investments, we too often make ill-advised decisions driven by passing metrics, subjective outlooks, weather, inputs, and theories that concern only the 1/9 of our personal iceberg showing above the water’s surface. The true tale of the tape for all of us will ultimately be measured not by those investment results, but by our own investor behavior, which accounts for the 8/9 of the iceberg that wise man spoke of. We fret and posture over raindrops when we should in fact, focus on our vessel and navigating the ocean beneath us.

According to a recent nationwide advertising campaign conducted by a prominent global financial services firm, we, as investors, are surrounded on all sides and ever beset by a constantly changing system of confusing and complex variable equations. Whoa, really? Getting anxious? Good, that’s what they intended.

3.12.13_Wallens_PersonalBenchmarksDeep breath and relax. This is but a typical modern example of the financial industrial complex’s fundamental mistruth laid bare by author Michael Lewis, who pointed out that the reason financial types speak in such stilted esoteric jargon, is to constantly remind individual investors that they should never ever consider trying to do this stuff for themselves. They tout “custom strategic solutions” yet sow widespread tactical bewilderment.

And besides, nothing could be further from the truth. Though the eddies of Finance, Economics, and Mathematics may swirl around all of us, the one and only equation that does not change is the “you” part. Your personal benchmark isn’t the S&P500, unless you trade at a 14 P/E and aspire to be one of America’s 500 largest companies. No, your personal benchmarks, like progress toward retirement, college funding, security, vacation home, trip around the world, or whatever you aspire to, are far more static than media barkers would have you believe—which is a good thing (for you, not them).

Worse, this type of indiscrete industry mongering exerts a deleterious effect on individuals’ resolve to do something, anything, to embark upon preparing for retirement, or at least take proper control of their financial future. So what can be done? The good news is things are not nearly as complicated as industry “Chicken Littles” would have you fear. Salvation begins with divorcing the benchmark, and eliminating that pesky habit of gauging your progress by how any given index performs today, this month, this quarter.

Look for Part Two of this blog next week!

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