Even Superstar Fund Managers Struggle with Personal Investing

I recently came across an article in the FT which told the story of Victor Haghani, who was a very successful fund manager in the 1990s. He managed billions of dollars for huge hedge funds, worked with Nobel-prize winning economists, and legendary Wall Street names at Salomon Brothers and then Long Term Capital Management (which famously went bump in 1998).

But when it came to investing his own money, he didn’t know where to start.

This really resonated with me as on my most recent trip to Singapore, I spoke with a few front-office ex-colleagues who all said similar things to me. They may well manage millions of dollars on a daily basis but due to mix of restrictions on trading, lack of awareness and a small dollop of apathy, they have the vast majority of their wealth simply sitting in cash accounts.

Haghani was in a very similar situation. He hadn’t a clue how to invest his own personal wealth and a journey of discovery led him straight towards low-cost trackers funds.

“I don’t know if it is embarrassing or amazing, but I knew nothing about how to invest in my family. As I started… discussing it with friends and former colleagues, I realised a lot of people were in a similar position. People say investing is simple, and it is, but if you have been really close to the markets for a long time you have to unclutter your mind.”

He now uses index-tracking funds to invest across the largest asset classes and get broad exposure to global economic growth at the lowest possible cost. ETFs are perfect for this and very simple and cheap to buy.

Mr Haghani now passionately espouses the value of long-term, low-turnover investment at the lowest possible cost. “I don’t know what is going to happen next year or the year after,” he says. “But now, knowing how I want to invest over a very long horizon is actually the easier part.”

“The desire to be active manifests itself in a number of big problems. Repeated studies show that investor returns are worse than fund returns because people chase returns and try and time the market. This means they end up doing worse than they would have with a simple static allocation to the market,” he says.

Passive is preferable to active as it also keeps costs exceptionally low. “Active management means you have to pay higher fees, which is a drag on performance. Another drag is tax inefficiency. Very active strategies don’t realise that we tend to pay taxes when we realise gains. That means deferring gains is a good thing.”

Since leaving his Wall Street days behind him, Haghani has since set up a new company to manage his family and friends wealth and the aim is “to stop investors hurting themselves by following their irresistible urge to be active with their investing.”

If such a high-powered trader surrounded by experienced colleagues and clever bits of kit didn’t know where start then why should you? There’s no shame in getting help.

This is an original article written by Max Keeling, Head of Expat Division at Providend, Singapore’s Fee-only Wealth Advisory Firm.

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