In my experience working with investment advisors, I’ve seen this happen time and time again:
An investor will create a financial plan. He or she will either do it themselves or go to a big-name firm that will do it for them. They have their goals identified, their retirement plans put in place and they feel good about their retirement and future plans. If they had a risk assessment done at all, it was probably done by a quick and simple, very basic, four- or five-question quiz. However, sometimes a professional will evaluate the client’s situation and create a plan around their risk tolerance.
This may sound like a thorough job, but the problem is that this is how the story ends. The investor never returns to the advisor for a review or doesn’t have the time to review the plan on their own.
This can be dangerous, because your risk tolerance changes all the time. Risk needs to be managed, because a declining portfolio can leave you without sufficient funds for the short term or, more likely, your future plans.
It’s a good idea to re-evaluate the risk in your financial plan periodically, and that’s why, at Global View, we meet with clients at least once a year to make sure their financial plan is still appropriate. We look at things like:
- Has the client’s situation changed?
- Did he or she get married, lose a spouse or have a child?
- Does the client still have the same job and income?
All of these factors can affect what your future looks like and what you are preparing for. For example, if your original goal was to retire early and spend time at home with grandchildren, but then they move, does your plan allow enough money to relocate or change your plans altogether and travel the world? Are you still investing aggressively as you near retirement? Re-evaluating your risk allows you to address these issues early on.
Risk Versus Reward in Financial Planning
Risk in financial planning is often paired with reward. All classes of investments have a risk/reward profile, ranging from low to comparatively high. Cash instruments like savings accounts and Certificates of Deposits (CDs), for example, have very low risk. However, these instruments also have a low reward profile, as current interest rates are very low. In other words, you won’t earn much interest on money placed in these funds as a result.
Stocks, in contrast, offer relatively high reward. From 1973 to 2016, the S&P 500 rose 11.69 percent per year, on average, a figure that factors in both up and down years. That’s far higher than cash accounts. It’s also higher than most fixed-income investments like bonds. Bonds, which pay periodic interest to investors, are less risky than stocks and can offer higher interest than cash. But stocks also have relatively high risk. Stocks fluctuate up and down as a matter of course, making stocks a volatile investment class. A market correction can send the stock market averages down 10 percent; in a bear market, the averages sink 20 percent or more. As a result, investors whose portfolios are weighted heavily toward stocks can lose money.
All investors have a risk tolerance level, ranging from low to high. A financial advisor should assess yours. Some aspects of risk tolerance are related to age. Younger people have more decades to recover from the effect of bear markets, for example, so their portfolios can typically be more heavily invested in stocks without excessive long-term risk.
Other aspects of risk tolerance are related to psychology and feelings. Some people are simply not comfortable with a large degree of fluctuation or with the prospect of declining net worth. Your financial plan should reflect your own risk tolerance level, and have a risk/reward profile that works for you.
What if Risk is Too High or Too Low?
When discussing your risk tolerance level with a financial advisor, consider what could happen to a portfolio at either extreme of risk.
If risk is too high, you might see negative returns in your portfolio. If you are saving for planned events, such as a wedding, education or a new house, a falling stock market could hurt those plans. A bear market decline of 20 percent might shrink your savings for these plans to the point where you can’t go forward with them. As a result, savings accounts and CDs may be better vehicles for short-term plan savings.
If risk is too low, on the other hand, you run a related risk: Not achieving returns as high as you might if you took on more risk. For example, if the S&P 500 gained 30 percent, investors who stayed on the stock market sidelines, fearing erosion of their money, would have missed not only that increase but the years of stock market advances that follow it.
I have worked with other SC investment advisors, and at Global View, a client’s risk tolerance is taken very seriously.
When Should You Re-Evaluate Your Risk?
Changes in your life and your economic status all affect risk management. There are 3 times to think about re-evaluating your risk.
1. When you have a major life change
When a major life change occurs, such as a new baby, a marriage or a divorce, it is recommended to re-evaluate your risk. New babies and marriages can affect the amount of money you want on hand in the short term. Will you be moving to a bigger house, for instance, or saving up for an extensive honeymoon? You might want more liquid cash in your financial plan at those times. A divorce can also result in a new home, a move and requirements for financial support, requiring more cash on hand.
You should also re-evaluate your financial planning in the event of babies, marriages and divorces. You might want to make changes in your plans for disposition of assets, for example. Your will should reflect where you want your assets to go.
2. If you establish new plans
Saving for something big can affect your risk/reward profile. Because stocks can fluctuate, it may be prudent to save in low-risk cash instruments. If your plans change, your risk may too. Talk with a financial advisor.
3. If it’s a new year
It’s a good idea to review your risk/reward profile every year, regardless of whether new plans or changes are in the works. An annual review helps ensure prudent review of how your financial life is going and gives you time to think about needed changes in your portfolio or disposition of assets.
The Relationship of Age to Risk
As noted above, your risk/reward profile can have a relationship to age. High-risk instruments like stocks can go down in some years. Younger people have a long-term horizon in which any losses can be made back, given historical averages. But people with shorter-term horizons have less chance of making it back. Make sure you have a thorough risk assessment with one of the top SC investment advisors who understands how important this step is.