Tag Archives: Financial Plan

Writing an Investment Statement Policy (ISP)

If you are familiar with this blog, you know that I like to have written plans.  The purpose of a plan is to have a guide.  I am not into hardcore manifestos that are rigid and do not allow room to make changes.  I like to have plans that are written in pencil and can be amended when opportunities present themselves.  An Investment Statment Policy is a good example of one such plan.

I believe in being intentional in life.  Before I act, I need to know what my intentions are.  In most situations, the outcomes are out of our hands, but the reasoning behind our actions are not.

By having a written financial plan, it is a map for our financial life.  A financial plan allows us to know where we currently are on the journey to financial independence.  It is also a guide to where we are going and what we should do when we reach different destinations on our financial journey.

As part of every financial plan, there should be an investment statement policy (ISP).  Nobody knows for sure where the economy is heading in the short term.  That is why it is considered wise to have an investment statement policy (ISP) to guide us along the way.

What type of an investor are you

Having an investment statement policy enables you to define who you are as an investor.  Are you a value investor who looks to buy low-priced stocks?  Do you follow a three-fund approach and like to own all the stocks in a market capitalization-weighted portfolio?  Are you comfortable with average market returns or do you try to beat the market by investing in actively managed mutual funds?  Do you invest in hot-trends like Bitcoin or alternative investments like crowdfunding?

By knowing the type of investor that you are will give direction to your decisions.  It will prevent you from chasing the hot investing tips that your coworkers are talking about at the water cooler.  Before you buy or sell an investment, you will look at your investment statement policy and ask yourself if it follows what you have established in your plan.

Know what you own

Without looking, could you list all your investments?  Could you explain why you own them?  What was your reasoning for adding a given ETF or individual security to your portfolio?

If you cannot list all your investments in less than a few minutes, you might have too many different investments.  If you cannot explain why you own an investment, you probably should not own that investment.  The same is true if you cannot give a sound reason as to why you bought an investment in the first place.

An investment statement policy can remove all those ambiguities that are tied to your investment decisions.  By having an ISP, you will know the why behind every investment in your portfolio.  Your investments will have a specific purpose in your portfolio.

Risk and return

Different asset classes come with different levels of risk and expected returns.  Conservative investments like FDIC insured savings accounts normally have low returns because the returns are guaranteed by the government.  Small-cap value stocks or emerging markets have higher than average returns because an investor is taking on more risk when they invest in these asset classes.

Do you know how much risk you are comfortable with?  Would you be able to keep buying more shares of an investment if it lost (30%) of its value in one year?  Do you think that you could hold onto an investment if it produced negative returns for a few years in a row?

By having an investment statement policy, these decisions will be made in advance.  If you have established that you see market volatility as a time to buy low, you will have established bands that will trigger when it is time to buy.  If you are not comfortable with short-term volatility, your investment statement policy will have already established a more conservative asset allocation that has less volatility.

Time Horizon

When will you be spending the money that you have invested?  Are you planning on retiring in 5 years, 15 years, or longer?  Knowing the answer to that question will help to establish how much of your money should be in equities and how much should be in fixed assets.

If you will not be retiring for ten or more years, holding a higher asset allocation of equities might be suitable for your situation.  If you are recently retired and are following the 4% rule, an asset allocation of 100% in stocks would be too aggressive due to market volatility.  When you are young you have time to recover from market corrections, but after you retire a (50%) market decline or prolonged recession could easily force a retiree back to work.

By having an investment statement policy, an investor can review their timeline annually.  An investment statement policy can help an investor with monitoring their path to retirement.  On that journey, the investment statement policy can guide them as to when it might be time to reduce some portfolio risk as retirement nears.

Monitoring Performance

Do you know what the expected return of your asset allocation is?  How is your portfolio performing this year?  Do you know how much your portfolio is up or down over the past 12-months?  Do you know what your average return was for the past 5 or 10 years?

Monitoring the daily performance of your investments is not helpful.  Listening to the daily market reports is an emotional roller coaster. In can do more harm than good and cause you to panic when there is short-term volatility.

By having an investment statement policy, you get to establish when you monitor your investment returns.  You can monitor your investments quarterly, twice per year, or annually.  If you are a passive investor, it could even be every other year.  It is your plan and up to you to establish how it will be monitored.  Personal Capital is a useful tool for monitoring the performance of your investments and it is free.

Skill Level

Are you a personal finance nerd?  Do you read investing forums, listen to podcasts, or attend local chapter meet-ups?  Do you write your own blog or are active in the financial independence community?  As a member of the financial independence community, you are most likely comfortable writing and updating your investment statement policy.

If you are not comfortable managing your own portfolio, there are many good financial advisors out there.  Even if you hire a professional to manage your money, work with them to help you to establish your investment statement policy.  You want to be sure that their decisions align with your needs and long-term goals.

Conclusion

Be intentional about your investment decisions and know the why behind every move.  Having an investment statement policy will help you to stay true to your long-term goals.  It is an invaluable part of a written financial plan.  An investment statement policy is useful to keep you focused on long-term goals when internal or external forces might be tempting you to stray.

After you write your investment statement policy, review it at least once per year.  Update it when needed.  Our financial situations are not static.  The investment statement policy will be different for everyone.  Your ISP will also change with time.  It is recommended to make amendments when a change is needed.  Just be sure that you can explain and make a sober justification for the change.

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Define Your Investment Style

There are many different approaches an investor can take in managing their money.  Some approaches are hands-off and require little effort to maintain the desired asset allocation.  Other approaches are more time intensive and might require daily or weekly management.  There are other approaches that fall somewhere in-between.  The key to success is to define your investment style.

No matter how you decide to invest, you need to have an investment philosophy.  It should be part of your financial plan.  Without having direction, there is just too much noise to misdirect you on a daily basis.  Every hot investment tip will sound like a good idea.  That will lead an investor to try to chase performance.

It is up to you to decide how you want to invest your money.  Some approaches are considered more favorable than others because they are tax efficient, cost very little, and allow investors to capture average market returns.  There are approaches that rely on investment professionals to try to beat the market.  Some investors feel confident that they can manage their own selection of individual securities and want to pick their own stocks.  There are also Robo-Advisors that investors can use to manage their investments.

When it comes to trying to invest to build wealth, there are countless avenues for investors to explore.  There is passive investing, active investing, crowdfunding, and countless other forms of ventures to invest in.  The purpose of this post is to cover some of the most common forms of investing where the transactions can occur with the click of a mouse.

Index Funds

Index funds are what their name implies.  An index fund is a mutual fund that is composed of stocks that track a specific index.  For example, if you buy a share of an S&P 500 index fund, you are buying an investment that is made up of the largest publicly traded U.S. corporations.

There is little actual management and turnover with index funds.  That is what makes them cheap and tax-efficient.  A management team is not required.  There are very little trading and turnover within most index funds.

There are index funds that track large-cap stocks, small-cap stocks, international stocks, and bonds.  There are index funds that hold every publicly traded stock in the world.  There are also index funds that track individual sectors or sub-asset classes such as consumer stables, natural resources, technology stocks, and other sectors.

An investor can keep it simple and buy three index funds like the total U.S. stock fund, total international stock fund, and total bond market fund that would allow them to own every publicly traded stock in the world.  An investor can slice and dice and break it down into many different funds and build a custom portfolio with different tilts.  There truly are limitless possibilities.

Managed Funds

Managed funds are like index funds.  They invest in a basket of different stocks or bonds.  The major difference is that they do not track an index.  They have a fund manager or team of managers who try to beat a benchmark.  For example, a managed large-cap growth stock fund would try to beat the S&P 500 index.

Compared to index funds, managed funds have higher fees.  The average expense ratio for a managed large-cap stock fund is 0.99%.  The expense ratio for the Vanguard S&P 500 is 0.04%.  That is almost one whole basis point.

The goal of the fund manager is to outperform its benchmark.  Based on the difference in fees, the fund manager must outperform the S&P 500 by almost 1% per year to just break even.  That is very difficult to do.  It is getting even harder as the result of the shrinking alpha.

For the fund manager to try to beat their respective benchmark, they need to make trades.  They are paid to buy stocks within the fund that they think will outperform.  They also must identify the stocks that they think will underperform and sell them.

All of that buying and selling is called turnover.  Some managed funds have a turnover ratio of 90% or more of their portfolio annually.  If a managed fund is held in a taxable account, all those trades trigger capital gains that are passed on to the investor.

Most managed funds do not beat their benchmark.  In 2016, only 34% of large-cap mutual funds beat the S&P 500.  It gets worse with time.  Only 10% of large-cap mutual funds beat the S&P 500 over the last 15 years.

What happens to the underperformers?  Usually, a new manager is brought in to right the ship.  If its performance does not improve, it normally merges with another fund.

Individual Stocks

Investing in individual stocks can be rewarding.  If you select the right stock, you will outperform the major indexes.  Just look at Google, Amazon, or even Apple.

The problem with investing in individual stocks is that it is hard.  Most active mutual fund managers who have unlimited resources cannot consistently do it.  It is not likely that an individual investor will outperform the S&P 500 for a decade or longer.

Can an investor get lucky when they buy a few stocks?  Sure, they can.  That, however, is speculation.  Investing is not gambling.

When an investor buys an individual stock, it is a vote of confidence in a company.  It is a vote that they know the stock is undervalued compared to its market price.  They are making a statement that says they know more about the fundamental business operations of the company and they are positive that it is sure to appreciate.

They do not know any of those details.  The individual investor receives their information from the financial media or a stock screener.  They are the last to know anything about the value of a stock.  The professionals, analysists, and insiders know before the media.  They provide the information to the media.  The media informs the individual investor.

Robo Advisors

Robo-Advisors are the new frontier for individual investors.  Robo-Advisors are financial management platforms that allow investors to manage their investments based on algorithm-based variables.  An investor plugs in their goals, risk profile, and other survey data and Robo-Adviser does the rest.

The technology used by Robo-Advisors is not new.  The investment industry has been using it to rebalance accounts since the early 2000’s.  It is new, however, for individual investors to have access to this type of asset management technology.

Even though it has been around for some time, it is fascinating technology.  Since it is automated and based off an algorithm, there is not much room for human error.  Not only can it be used for investment selection, but it can also be used for more sophisticated processes like tax-loss harvesting.

There are some nice benefits to using a Robo-Advisor.  They are a much more affordable option than having to hire a human Financial Advisor.  The annual fee to use a Robo-Advisor is between 0.2% to 0.5%.  That is much more affordable than must shell out up to 2% for a human financial advisor.  The minimum amount that is required to invest with a Robo-Advisor is much lower than the standard six-figure minimum that many traditional human financial advisors require.

Conclusion

The above investment styles are just a few of the more popular methods for individual investors.  Over the years, my portfolio has become primarily made up of a few index funds.  I have invested in a few managed funds but sold off all except one.  As far as individual stocks, I have only bought and sold five individual stocks since I started investing.  I have not owned any individual stocks since 2004.  Many investors in the financial independence community use individual stocks as part of their dividend strategy.  As for the Rob-Advisors, I have invested using that technology, but do see its value for tax-loss-harvesting in a retirement account.

What is your approach to investing?

Do you follow any of the methods that I covered or a blend of a few different approaches?

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