Investment risk comes in many forms and is talked about so frequently within the industry, that every type of risk has it’s own name. Just a few are longevity risk, inflation risk, interest rate risk, liquidity risk, political risk, and market risk. This post is not about the risks themselves, rather, it is about the factors that affect our response to the risk and why it may differ from our spouse’s risk tolerance – It’s what contributes to your unique perception of risk.
Usually, when spouses disagree over how aggressive or conservative they want to be with their portfolio, the disagreement can boil down to a few key factors that can influence risk. Below are a list of some of the most common factors that influence our feelings toward risk in general.
Trust: The more trust an investor has in their financial plan, their advisor, the markets, their specific holdings, etc, the less afraid they will be.
Risk/benefit: investors who can weigh the benefits of taking on certain level of risk., the investor may be less fearful of the perceived risks if the perceived benefit outweighs the risks. Millions of people living along the ocean are taking a risk of having their homes flooded. And yet they are highly desirable pieces of property.
Control: The more control or the feeling of control an investor has over the outcome, the less likely they are to be fearful.
Choice: Risk that is imposed on us tends to cause more fear than risk we chose for ourselves.
Uncertainty: This comes as no big surprise, not knowing the likelihood of the risk occurring can cause more fear than actually knowing the likelihood.
Natural/man made: Risk related to a natural event (storms, floods, snow) tend to cause less fear than man-made events (wars).
Horror: The scarier the event, the more fear it causes. A traumatic death is much scarier than a death caused by a sudden heart attack.
Catastrophic/Chronic: Temporary events that cause lots of damage to a small population causes more fear than small amounts of damage caused over time to a large population. Think about how much more damage is caused by pollution or heart disease, and yet we are more afraid of a house fire, car accident, or terrorism. Many investors are more concerned about the sudden market drops, yet completely unaware of the bigger and ever present issue of inflation.
New/familiar: A new risk tends to cause more fear than a risk we’ve been subject to for years. Over time and with more experience and familiarity, the fear of the risk can subside.
Personalization and fairness: risks that affect people we know, children, the poor or the vulnerable tend to evoke a strong negative response.
Awareness: Lastly, simply being aware of the risk raises the level of fear. Knowing that it could happen after reading about it in the news, tends to elevate fears.
These perceptions are constantly changing based on our experiences and as events unfold. As you read this, you may find yourself thinking that a few of these perceptions affect you more than the others, but a whole new set of perceptions could become important if the markets changed.
It is our experience that many of these perceptions have a negative effect on investment decisions. All too often, these perceptions cause investors to sell out at the bottom of a temporary market decline. Investors make their decisions out of fear and emotions rather than facts. Understanding the root cause or key characteristic that drives investor fear and then finding a way to overcome and solve that fear is the first step a fearful investor should take when thinking about getting back into the market.