Do Knowledgeable Investors Need A Financial Advisor? [A Mathematical Approach]

BrainA never-ending challenge for the financial advisory industry is quantifying the value it produces for its clients. We know advisors help people set goals, choose investments and sleep well at night but what about the dollars and cents impact? As clients get smarter they’ll be able to construct their own passive, well-diversified and regularly rebalanced portfolio. They’ll become Knowledgeable.

As Michael Kitces mentioned a few months back “a well-diversified passive strategic portfolio is on its way to being totally commoditized”. Instead of catering to the average investor, advisors will have to work for the client of tomorrow. The Knowledgeable investor.

So the question is, what is the quantifiable value of a financial advisor for the Knowledgeable investor?

First, let’s define the knowledgeable investor. In my eyes the knowledgeable investor understands the following, which an average investor may not…

  • They understand they should have a financial plan. It may not be complicated or consider all the variables but they should have something.
  • A passive diversified portfolio is likely to meet their investment needs over the long term. Most active investment strategies don’t beat the index over sustained (10 year plus) periods.
  • They should rebalance regularly.
  • They should minimize fees (fund fees, transaction fees etc).
  • Investor psychology (i.e. overconfidence, loss aversion, mental accounting etc.) can lead to actions that limit investment returns.
  • Getting started with investing today means they will benefit more from compounding.

Importantly, the knowledgeable investor may understand the points above but never act on them and this gives an advisor the opportunity to force good behavior.

Quantifiable Benefits of a Financial Advisor

 1.    A Financial Plan

Knowledgeable investors understand they should have a plan and probably have something in their head but it is not a formalized IPS, a strict budget or a retirement number. It’s more like “max out my 401k and hope for the best”. This puts them ahead of most people but may not be enough for them to live the life they want. Even for those who have used retirement calculators or read the books the variables can be overwhelming. A financial advisor will give a knowledgeable investor a specific actionable plan. In my opinion this is the most valuable contribution an advisor can make to a person’s future.

 So what is the quantifiable benefit of a financial plan? Likely several years even a decade or more of retirement. That means you can spend less time working and more time with your loved ones. Put a price on that!

 2.    Managing Investor Behavior

The DALBAR studies (which compared dollar weighted investor returns with index returns) popularized the idea that the average investor jumps in and out of investments, buying high and selling low resulting in poor performance. Their conclusion was that “The average equity investor underperformed the S&P 500 by 4.32% for the past 20 years on an annualized basis.”

Further investigation led by Harry Sit and Michael Edesess showed these numbers were exaggerated and possibly even completely false. The DALBAR methodology failed to account for the fact that poor equity market performance during the 2000’s accounted for poor dollar weighted investment performance not investors jumping in and out of the market. Furthermore, earlier this year another DALBAR study showed that 55% of the reason investors fail to meet the index is because they didn’t have the capital to invest and buy at the lows. Therefore we must conclude that the importance financial advisors have in managing behavior has been overstated.

Despite the apparent failing of the DALBAR studies others have attempted to quantify average investor behavior. Russell Investments recently showed that if you had invested in the Russell 3000 index in 1984 and done nothing you would have performed 2.2% better than the average investor (using ICI’s monthly fund flow data to mimic the average investor). I had difficulty getting all the methodological details of this study so I’ll take it with a grain of salt.

What we can say is that the importance of managing investor behavior has probably been exaggerated but it is still significant. If an advisor can save an investor 1-2% a year through managing behavior this more than covers their advisory fee.

But what happens if you are a knowledgeable investor who needs little behavioral management? Then you’ll end up paying for something you do not need.

That’s the question knowledgeable investors have to ask themselves. Without an advisor how good will my behavior be throughout my investing lifespan? If you have serious doubts about your behavior an advisor could well be smart investment.

 3.    Fund Selection and Rebalancing

Another area where having an advisor could have a quantifiable benefit on the bottom line is in fund selection and rebalancing. Russell Investments have shown that a regular (monthly, quarterly annually) rebalancing policy can juice your returns from 0.51-0.93% annually.

However, knowledgeable investors are now well versed in passive fund selection and the importance of rebalancing. Any knowledgeable investor who has done a modicum of research knows Vanguard is highly recommended when it comes to minimizing fees and with their Life Strategy Funds you don’t have to worry about the rebalancing.

Frankly the knowledgeable investor doesn’t choose an advisor to help pick funds and rebalance unless they believe in active investing.

 4.    Tax Planning

A further quantifiable benefit of working with an advisor is the tax planning. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find any statistics on the tax savings people accumulate from working with a financial advisor. Anecdotally it’s not uncommon to hear of advisors saving their clients 10’s of thousands of dollars. If these savings are invested, grow and compound the benefit of working with an advisor could be worth a lot more than managing behavior or selecting the right funds.

What investors have to ask themselves is whether their tax situation is complicated enough to realize significant savings. A regular W2 employee with a fixed salary is unlikely to benefit as much as business owner, with stock options and investment real estate. If I were to hazard a guess I’d estimate someone with a tax situation that is more complicated than a regularly salaried employee could save several percentage points on an annualized basis over their lifetime through working with an advisor.

 Dollar and Cents Return

So let’s put this into an example. Let’s assume you are a knowledgeable investor who is considering working with a financial advisor. Is it worth it? Well based on the details above the answer would be an emphatic yes….

Advisor Makes You Advisor Costs You
Proper Financial Plan – You end up saving an extra 5% a year Annual Advisory Fee – 1.5%
Managing Behavior – 1.5%
Fund Selection and Rebalancing – 0%
Tax Planning – 2%

Using the numbers above if we assume you have a $100,000 salary and have $250,000 in savings/investments.

Financial Plan  = +$5,000

Managing Behavior = +$1,500

Fund Selection and Rebalancing = +$0

Tax Planning = +$2,000

Advisory Fee = -$3,750

Net Benefit per Year = $4,750

 A knowledgeable investor working with a competent financial advisor is likely see a positive ROI over the long term so long as the expense is not too high.

I find it unlikely that for 20 years even knowledgeable investors can create a viable financial plan, which they can stick to, while simultaneously managing their behavior, keeping up with changes in the industry and optimizing their tax situation. It’s just a very difficult thing to do over a long period of time. Not impossible but very difficult.

The greatest achievers in any field have always needed coaches, advisors and people to keep them accountable. When it comes to investing doing it alone is as tough as it comes.

image source – www.wired.com

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