Active Investing Requires Difficult Decisions

Like you, I have been reading, and seeing, advertising messages that urge us to go it alone as investors and save the fees that we have been paying to an advisor. Lots of online tools are available, we’re told, to make it possible.

And it is true. For a passive or semi-passive investor, it is perfectly reasonable to develop an asset allocation to suit our circumstances, and then populate our portfolio with a variety of mutual funds and/or exchange-traded funds. If this is the plan, why wouldn’t we search for those funds that address our risk/return profile, and which have competitive costs. When we step beyond this, however, the landscape changes, and so does the work. 

Seeking alpha — investment choices that may outperform the market — requires difficult decisions. 

Such decisions often involve pouring over analysts’ opinions that may be wide in their opinions, rather than clustered together, followed by determining which end of the opinion spectrum seems to make greater sense. Beyond this, specific ‘ground-up’ analysis of financial information is required, sometimes looking at situations that almost no-one else is looking at — for example small-cap situations. This is very hard work.  These decisions are extremely difficult, requiring a significant amount of work, not just to identify an opportunity, but then to determine how much to invest, and to determine one’s entry and exit points. A portfolio manager that achieves consistently positive results from such work is worth paying for. 

By the way, not only is this difficult; it requires an inordinate amount of patience. Many years ago, a small-cap investor that I knew shared with me that the small cap market was his ‘grocery store’ for investing. We than spoke about patience. I asked him what his longest hold was. He told me, “twenty-eight years!”


Paul Bates is 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 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. He is a former member of the council of Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Paul now holds board positions in both private and public organizations and chairs a federal audit committee. He holds a master’s degree in Theological Studies from McMaster Divinity College, where he is about to begin the dissertation research phase for his Doctorate, while lecturing. Paul is available for speaking engagements through Blu Pagoda LLC

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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.