We Versus Me: Identifying An Investment Mindset

We Versus Me: Identifying An Investment Mindset

By Diane Harrison

When deciding where to put money, investors have many choices and multiple goals they are trying to achieve. Commonly, one seeks to partner with outside managers to enhance or increase the chances of meeting investment goals beyond what passive investing can deliver. Aside from the somewhat obvious objectives of asset allocation diversity and overall portfolio risk reduction are a myriad of other investment concerns that investors might have: time horizons, legacy planning, liquidity, and the like. Money managers can bring a higher level of skill, wider industry exposures, and sophisticated strategies that can assist in meeting some of these goals.

But beside all the positive qualities embodied in investing with professional money managers is a caution to investors about the primary driver of investment decision-making: identifying whether or not the manager is a strong fiduciary. Does the manager have a singular or collective investment mindset, the ‘We’ versus ‘Me’ mentality, and how does that impact the management of other people’s money?

“AN INVESTMENT IN KNOWLEDGE PAYS THE BEST INTEREST.”- Benjamin Franklin

Franklin’s advice is as wise today as it was in his time. Every investor has a first obligation to learn what they can about who they partner with in any investment sense. Managers who solicit ‘OPM,’ or other people’s money, as a business activity will ideally have a ‘We’ mindset, one in which the manager equally weights investment action on behalf of personal and outside patners. What are some of the qualities that the ‘We’ mindset manager possesses? Here are five attributes that investors might look for when researching potential money management partners.

  1. Someone who can make wise short- and long-term decisions. Managers need to be able to assess their investment decisions on both time horizons, and balance both kinds for the sake of the right direction long-term. Sometimes this means making an investment into the business infrastructure, operationally or professionally, in order to achieve long-term scale and success for the whole. Other times there are legitimate short-term decisions, perhaps of an investment nature, that benefit the whole enterprise in the future. Much risk management processes incorporate this type of activity, allowing for a greater success in long-term investing practices.
  2. Someone who possesses a spirit of creativity. Creativity implies originality, a newness, which can lead to innovation. For money managers, having the ability to view things differently, develop new opportunities, and see possibilities where others don’t is a valuable commodity. This type of mindset can foster growth for managers and the investment partners who have entrusted their money to grow with them.
  3. Someone who exhibits a healthy dose of intuition. Intuition and creativity often go hand in hand, but there are distinctive qualities to intuition that are desirable in one who manages money. Jason Voss, CFA, puts it best in his book, The Intuitive Investor: ‘it is intuition that allows investors to identify what unique data are relevant from a nearly infinite sea of information. Likewise, intuition helps to identify nonstandard risks when evaluating a business for possible investment. Intuition allows for an evaluation of perennially difficult factors that are used to inform our buy and sell decisions…’
  4. Someone with the ability to assimilate others’ opinions into your own. This is one of the primary qualities of a ‘We’ mindset. Particularly when one is in the business of making investment decisions that affect both personal and others’ investments, being able to evaluate and incorporate outside perspectives is a critical skill. ‘The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.’ —Elbert Hubbard, American 19th century philosopher.
  5. Someone who has a strong sense of self-awareness. Another hallmark of a ‘We’ mindset is this quality of introspection. Jim Ware, CFA, defines this quality in his article on the CFA Institute blog, ‘The Value of Self-Awareness,’ as those who: 1) know their own strengths and weaknesses, 2) seek feedback and attempt to always learn and improve, and 3) consistently practice self-reflection. Furthermore, he points out that people with high self-awareness are effective readers of other people, good collaborators, and promote feelings of integrity and trust from others. The antithesis of self-awareness might be hubris, which leads us to the identification of ‘Me’ mindset managers.

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

Hubris is the hallmark of an investment manager’s “Me” mindset. It encompasses a deadly combination of too much self-confidence, runaway arrogance, and ruthless ambition all working in concert to cloud investment objectivity.

As Sangeeth Varghese pointed out in his article in Forbes, “Beware of Hubris,” back in 2009:

How does hubris invite such massive destruction? One answer can be found in an old mathematical idea called the “gambler’s ruin.” It predicts that a gambler who always raises his bets when he wins but doesn’t lower them when he loses will eventually go broke, even if the odds on each bet are in his favor. A belief in his own invincibility sets in motion a circular self-reinforcing logic–but can’t overcome the laws of probability.

Long-Term Capital Management, founded in 1994, was backed by a dream team including Nobel Prize winners and investment banking experts like John Meriwether, the former vice-chairman of Salomon Brothers. It succeeded enormously at first, only to eventually succumb to the folly of its managers’ overweening pride as its most sophisticated computer models failed to anticipate commonsense economic problems, leading the hedge fund to spectacular failure by 2000.

In 2017, the CFA Institute published its survey, “The Value of Premium Wealth Management for Investors,” which explores the wants and needs of investors. The survey concluded that: “the top four ‘essential adviser qualities’ sought by wealthy investors are: professionalism, integrity, clear communication, and financial acumen.” Considering the attributes of “We” and “Me” managers discussed above, it seems logical that aligning the interests of investors with “We” managers makes for the stronger collaboration.

 Diane Harrison is principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, a strategic marketing communications firm founded in 2002 specializing in alternative assets.  She has over 25 years’ of expertise in hedge fund and private equity marketing, investor relations, articles, white papers, blog posts, and other thought leadership deliverables. 

 

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