Hey Investor, Are Your Underbuying?!

When it comes to modern retail investing, you might not be overpaying, but are you underbuying?

The mutual fund industry has been built, in a sense, on witchcraft. - Jack Bogle

The decades of high fees in the wealth management industry are a thing of the past. Good riddance.

We are now in a world of ultra low fee ETFs and broad based index funds that can offer retail investors easy and cheap (if not zero fee!) diversified products to invest their savings over the long term. Put simply, it is a marvelous development. And it is one that has been largely driven by a key strategic decision - the rise of the passive investing industry - that was then accelerated by technological innovation over the last four decades. 

In fact, one of the only downsides is that it did not happen sooner. Jack Bogle is a legend but his arguments - and his products - should have won out long before they did.

Now that we have successfully achieved zero fee ETFs however and, most critically, the sky has not yet fallen nor has the wealth management industry sundered, we can instead turn to new challenges. One of the most underrated of these might center around what, exactly, consumers are buying, rather than the past focus of what they are paying for it. 

What do we mean by this? Well, in a world of endless consumer choice in countless other industries and one where technology has brought ever cheaper safe financial assets and diversified portfolios could they not also bring greater individual choice?

By greater choice we do not mean the blizzard of perplexing or corny named ETFs that have myriad fees and a dangerous diversity of approaches, regulations and structural constraints. Nor also the army of auto rebalancing robo-advisors. These are fine and useful products but struggle to provide their users with the level of individuality that a lot of people who have grown up with Starbucks and Chipotle and, especially, individually curated social media feeds.

Rather, in a world where the likes of Amazon or Facebook can target consumers with precision and also offer an ever updating shift of our tastes and preferences, why is it impossible to achieve a similar level of depth about your financial portfolio? An asset that, after your home, might be the wealthiest thing most people own? In an era when everything is personalized, why is it so hard to have your portfolio reflect who you are?

Most people who care to can now find a cheap and easy-to-use option to invest their savings. The ruthless competition in the wealth management space and the slow but steady erosion of fees has seen to that. The next step however is to become less of a cost conscious investor - at 0% what is the point? - and instead become a different type of consumer. A different type of customer.

There is evidence for this already with the runaway success of the famous (infamous?) ARK ETFs run by Cathie Wood. As they prove, people are not just open to thematic investing, they are passionate about it and ready to devote not just their resources but also the tee shirts they wear to represent what they own. 

So, hopefully the next generation will no longer revel in low fee investing and, like true humans, will find it commonplace and therefore boring. Instead, they will confidently become a different type of investor and consumer of financial products. This will be a multifaceted campaign (can we get rid of terrible and uninformative dashboards please?!) but overall these new demanding breed of customer will, well, demand new and better allocation strategies and low cost products so they can invest in ways that fit their lifestyle, their values and their lives, in all their individual glory.

In other words, we have been forced fed overpriced and even risky financial products for decades. But we have also been crammed into generic strategies despite endless commercials and marketing campaigns promising the opposite. This reality really needs to end and a new one needs to begin. 

Let’s start tomorrow.


    On ESG, Let’s Get The Incentives Right First