Better Off Dead?

Dr. Daniel Crosby is the author of The Behavioral Investor. In his book he highlights a story about Fidelity Investments and their attempt to identify their best performing retail accounts. They found that the individuals who owned these accounts had forgotten they existed, or the original account owner had passed away.[1] Fidelity was probably looking for an investment theme to duplicate. However, they discovered that these accounts weren’t being traded or tainted by human hands – living or deceased.

He tells of another story from the book Behavioral Investment Management: An Efficient Alternative to Modern Portfolio Theory written by Greg B. Davies and Arnaud de Servigny. The authors discuss a study about how often people check their investment accounts and their corresponding performance. They found that people who check their account balances daily experienced a loss 41% of the time. Individuals who checked their balances every five years experienced a loss about 12% of the time and those who checked it every 12 years never lost money.[2]

Stocks have never lost money during a rolling 20-year period according to multiple studies. From 1926 to 2018 there have been 74 rolling 20-year periods and stocks have made money 100% of the time.[3] The most recent period, 1998-2018, finished with a positive return. An investment in the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) on 1/1/1998 generated an average annual return of 7.10% through 1/1/2018. However, during this 20-year period you would’ve experienced significant losses on several occasions. From 2000 to 2002 the market fell 43.07% and in 2008 it dropped 36.81%. As I mentioned, if you checked your balances daily, your chance of a realized loss was high.[4]

It’s hard to ignore your accounts especially if you’re connected to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. Custodians and brokerage firms also have apps allowing you to check your accounts 24/7. Investment firms offer trading alerts and other notices to keep you in the know. It’s a fast-paced world and reacting to headline news stories may wreak havoc to your long-term wealth.

To protect your wealth from irrational reactions turnoff your account alerts and notices. Rather than reviewing your balances daily, try extending it to a month, then three months, and so on. Extending the time frame for reviewing your accounts will reduce your anxiety and potentially increase your returns.

You don’t have to die to generate solid returns. Rather, incorporate a buy and hold investment strategy with a balanced portfolio of low-cost investments. A diversified portfolio of low-cost mutual funds will reduce your dependence to constantly check your accounts. In doing so you’ll be able to enjoy your life while you’re living.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ~ Matthew 6:13

February 11, 2019

Bill Parrott is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ than those posted in this blog.


[1] The Behavioral Investor by Daniel Crosby, Ph.D. – Kindle Edition, location 2673, accessed 2/10/19.

[2] Greg B. Davies, Behavioral Investment Management: An Efficient Alternative to Modern Portfolio Theory (McGraw-Hill, 2012), p. 53. The Behavioral Investor by Daniel Crosby, Ph.D. – Kindle Edition, location 1423, accessed 2/10/19.

[3] Ibbotson® SBBI® 2015 Classic Yearbook

[4] Morningstar Office Hypothetical – SPY, 1/01/1198 to 1/1/2018.

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