When people ask me where the market is going, it’s tempting to give them what they want. I could deliver a throwaway sound bite with my can’t-miss forecast for the year.
This might temporarily validate my perceived credibility as a financial planner. After all, it’s unsexy and underwhelming to say, “I don’t know.” But I persist with the untidy answer of a shrug for a variety or reasons. Here are a few.
• Predictions oversimplify. When you focus on predicting the future, you try to simplify extraordinarily complex systems involving millions or billions of different inputs. You open the door for your own biases and concerns to overwhelm the myriad possibilities in the world.
• Predictions lead to overconfidence. Maybe you beat the odds and get it right with a hunch or even a studied forecast. This increases the forcefulness with which you’ll believe in your next great prophecy — increasing the associated risks.
• Predictions are short term. A year is about as good as it gets for your brain’s filing system. Yet investing doesn’t easily present itself in neat 12-month increments. Sustaining a focus on the long term — three years, five, 10 and beyond — is difficult if you’re busy reading the tea leaves about the coming weeks and months.
• Predictions are marketing. Want a fast way to reach new clients? Say something provocative so you gain a larger platform. But business media need ratings and page views as well as thoughtful content. I see investment programming not as education, but entertainment.
• Predictions fail. I’ve heard thousands of market forecasts in my career — some more thoughtful than others. If someone out there got it right all the time, I’d be the first to align my clients with such a guru. Many prognosticators offer valuable observations about the world as it is today, but the accuracy in their forecasts is underwhelming.
• Predictions distract. This is vital. The key to investor success involves focusing on elements clients can control: spending and saving, prudent personal goals and healthy relationships with money. Process-driven investing, with thoughtful, disciplined asset allocation, is a great companion to sound financial planning.
Instead of focusing on home run forecasts, I ask my clients to develop an appreciation for sound financial decision-making. My goal for clients is achievable returns, an investing process prepared with the client’s life picture in mind, and a down-to-earth strategy that pays attention to opportunity and risk over a full market cycle.
This formula may not be the talk of the town, but I’d rather do what’s right for clients than say something flashy — and wrong.
Melissa Joy, CFP, is partner and director of wealth management at the Center for Financial Planning, an independent Raymond James firm in Southfield, Mich.
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