Risk is a four-letter word

By Paul K. Bates

From time to time I have offered that the fundamental difference between investing and speculating is time. If I strive to reach a 10% return in one year, this goal likely falls into the ‘investing’ category. If I strive for a 10% return in a month, I’m speculating. A blinding glimpse of the obvious, I know. However, when was the last time you sat down with your client—better yet with your client and key members of their family—to update the risk parameters of their investment activities? Approaching year-end may be a really good time to do this. Markets change, needs change, income expectations change, health circumstances change, weddings and births come along. Many changes! 

Research that I have reviewed suggests that almost all critical financial decisions occur either in anticipation of, or as a result of, life changes.

When I lead presentations on financial decisions, I always begin with a discussion of expected inflation rates over, say, the next 15 years. People will offer 3%, 4%. Then I talk about the time in the early 1980s when I renewed our mortgage at 22.75%! This discussion about ranges of potential inflation scenarios leads to a discussion about potential rates of investment returns—after fees. And this discussion leads to a discussion about potential returns from different classes of investments, and the riskiness and potential volatility of those different classes of investments. This can also lead to discussing the different mixes of investment classes, together with methods for mitigating certain ranges of risk.

Approaching this discussion toward year end makes ample room for tax-driven changes, and for philanthropic decisions. My suggestion: now is the time for an overall revisit of the risk and return dialogue.

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Paul Bates

A Chartered Professional Accountant (FCPA), Fellow of the Society of Management Accountants (FCMA) and Certified Management Consultant (CMC), Paul’s career has spanned: senior academic administration; business and divinity school lecturing; investor advocacy; capital markets regulation; investment dealer executive leadership with P&L accountability; expert witness and international consulting in the financial services sector. Paul holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from McMaster Divinity College, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Theology. Paul is available for speaking engagements through Blu Pagoda LLC.