Q&A with Morgan Housel
- From your experiences, what do you believe investors are doing well and what could they be doing better?
Investors have more information available to them than ever before. The amount of both corporate data on company health, and market data that lets people understand investing history, is orders of magnitude greater today than it was just a decade ago. So I think investors are better informed than ever, and it's helped move them away from previously poor practices. Some of the most egregious high-fee products and brokerage services no longer exist, because investors are better informed. But the behavioural side of investing - your relationship with greed and fear, your ability to have a long-term mind-set - is still a problem. It will always be a problem, because it's so fundamental to who we are as people. It's the area I think most investors should spend their time focusing on.
- What would you say are the most important and most underrated qualities for being a successful investor?
A big one that goes overlooked is simply knowing yourself - your own goals, your own risk tolerances, your own faults. There's a desire to look for The Best investment answer - a universal solution - when in reality what's best is whatever works for you and your own life. My goals and preferences may be different than yours, so what's true and right for me might not work for you. One way I think about this is that investors may opt to maximize for sleeping well at night, not necessarily the highest returns.
- What is the best piece of investment advice you have ever been given?
There is a wonderful quote, intended to be humorous: "Save a little bit of money each month, and at the end of the year you'll be surprised at how little you still have."
It's such a good reminder to all of us that savings is an important part of an investing plan. I think it's the single most important part. But it tends to get overlooked, because it's so simple and not very fun to discuss.
- What single issue should most be concerning investors at the moment?
It's now been 10 years since the financial crisis. I tend to think people are still scarred from it - and will be forever - but when it's been that long since investors have felt significant loss, the next episode will feel that much worse. The longer you go between downturns, the more surprising and painful they feel when they do come.
- If you were chief executive of the FCA for a day, what would you change?
I would effectively ban fine print, making financial contracts between clients and their banks/advisors one-page-long, simple-to-understand deals. No reasonable client actually understands the nuance of what they're signing in a lot of financial products, and it tilts the odds in the businesses' favour when things go wrong.
- What do you see as the main challenges now facing the financial services sector?
The new generation of investors - those below age 30 - grew up with technology and, because of that, have a much greater expectation of transparency and access to information than the generations that came before them. Trust, for them, is something acquired digitally, vs. face to face, which means trust is built by disclosing all relevant information up front rather than a warm smile and a handshake. Not all firms have figured this out, but I suspect all will have to short order.