Investment Advertising: Sell to Fear and Greed | March 2016

I like math. Yes, I’m talking about mathematics, the subject we all took in school. I have come to the conclusion (based upon my personal observation and with no scientific process whatsoever), that people fall into two categories regarding mathematics: those that “get it” and find it easy, and those that don’t get it at all, and find it hopelessly opaque.
Now mind you, the “get it” category has to work hard on problem solving and concepts, but there is a basic understanding of the language and sense of math. Those in the “hopelessly opaque” category can do quite well with algebra, trigonometry and calculus, but will spend lots of hours of hard work getting the passing grades.
But today, I believe, we are teaching our children less math, less conceptual skills and problem solving, and teaching more formulas and use of tools. Generally, that works well enough, but leaves us hanging when it comes to handling money, or more particularly, the time value of money.
As a financial advisor, I try to help people, avoid, mitigate, lessen, recognize and manage risk. It’s an uphill battle. Sometimes it’s like Sisyphus eternally rolling the ball uphill, only to watch it roll to the bottom once again.
Some of the tools I use to recognize and manage risk are math and statistics (put me in the hopelessly opaque category for Statistics in college), and while statistics are often hard to compute, they are easy to misuse. We see it in advertising often. Three out of 4 dentists recommend…
Do they really? Who are these four dentists? Or are we talking about 8? Are we talking about dentists we paid to come on a corporate retreat and answer the question while at a luau in Waikiki? My point is (and I do have one) that we are all rightly suspicious of statistics and what we here hear in TV and radio ads. (I’m trying hard not to address “love makes it a Subaru” which really drives me nuts.) No, I’m just going to rant and rave a little about some financial products I hear touted on the radio these days.
This week I heard some radio blurb to go check a website or call an 800 number to protect your IRA because the market is going down by 30, 40, even fifty percent? Really? I wonder how this guy knows that. And if he does, why doesn’t he forget making ads, and put every dime he owns into shorting the market? Methinks, perhaps it is because he is selling to our fears, not to any rational need.
Another radio guy that galls me is the one saying, “Invest in mutual funds that earn an average of 12 percent. They are easy to find.” Uhh, no, no they’re not. They don’t really exist. Oh, I can certainly find you lots of mutual funds that have averaged 12% if you let me carefully pick the time period over which they did so, but if I so much as even hint that they would earn that going forward, I would face fines and regulatory sanctions.
Then there are the gold bugs. I don’t hate gold; I even have a little in the bank safety deposit box. Last time I checked, that metal sitting there paid zero in dividends or interest though.
So where am I? I’m back to that long term financial plan. Don’t be dissuaded from your plan by ads, hype, fear, or even greed when the markets are hot. A good investing plan geared to your risk tolerance and spending needs, is the only way to be an investor, not a speculator or a pushover!