I love working with the tech community. I started my career at Microsoft and have since been inspired by the creative and innovative minds of folks working at tech companies large and small. I also enjoy working with tech employees, because as a personal finance nerd, I get to help people navigate the plethora of benefits available that are often only available at tech companies. Between RSUs, ESPP, Non-Qualified or Incentive Stock Options, Mega Backdoor Roth 401(k)s, Deferred Compensation, Legal Services, and even Pet Insurance, it is the benefits equivalent of picking from a menu of a Michelin three-star-rated restaurant.
Through my own experience as a tech employee and my experiences now as an advisor working with tech professionals, I’ve identified some of the biggest financial planning mistakes that can hold the tech community back from achieving financial independence and success.
Mistake #2 – Building and Maintaining Concentrated Stock Positions
I consider a concentrated position to be any investment that comprises over a quarter of your investable assets. It can be easy to accumulate a concentrated stock position in the same company that is responsible for your paycheck. If you receive stock as part of your compensation, without a disciplined plan to sell shares on an ongoing basis, you will continue to accumulate more and more company stock. Over the past several years, countless families have become wealthy because of the stock compensation they’ve received and its seemingly never-ending climb in price. While the strategy of holding onto RSUs and ESPP over the recent past has worked out incredibly well, we know that continuing to maintain a concentrated stock position is incredibly risky if you want to ensure you maintain your newly built wealth.
There are two explanations for not reducing a concentrated position that I hear most often: (1) My company has outperformed the rest of the market several years in a row. If I believe in my company and our growth prospects for the future, why would I sell? (2) If I sell my company stock now, I’ll have to pay a significant amount of tax on the gain. Let’s debunk each of these as reasons not to diversify:
(1) Typically, returns of a single stock position are intensely more volatile than the returns of a market index. This can work out in your favor, or it can work to your detriment. Historically, about 12% of stocks result in a 100% loss.* In addition, approximately 40% of stocks end up with negative lifetime returns, and the median stock underperformed the market by greater than 50%.* This means that a few star performers drive the positive average returns of the market. The odds of randomly picking one of these extreme winners is 1 in 15.* If you’ve been lucky enough to hold one of these outperformers, I encourage some humility around acknowledging that maybe being in the right place at the right time has attributed to your rapid accumulation of wealth.
Companies that achieve such success and become the largest company in their sector may become subject to what is called the winner’s curse. Since the 1970s, data shows that sector leaders underperform their sector by 30% in the five years after becoming the largest company in that sector.* Over a long time horizon, you are probably more likely to obtain positive investment returns by ensuring you hold the future Microsofts and Amazons of the world through broad diversification, not concentration.
(2) I hate to tell you this, but unless you hold onto an investment until you die, you will have to pay tax on the growth at some point. I encourage people to think of paying long-term capital gains taxes as a good thing, because it means your investments went up and you made money. A surprisingly small fluctuation in stock price can wipe out any benefit of delaying the recognition of capital gains tax. As advisors like to say, “Don’t let the tax tail wag the dog.” If you’d like to discuss your situation, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Be sure to read our previous and upcoming blog posts for additional mistakes to avoid as a tech professional.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.
I want to acknowledge that all women are wonderfully unique individuals and therefore these tips will not be applicable to all of us equally and may be very helpful to some men and nonbinary individuals. This is written in an effort to support women, not to exclude, generalize, or stereotype any group.
I was recently reminded of a troubling statistic: Two-thirds of women do not trust their advisors. Having worked in the financial services industry for nearly two decades, this is unfortunately not surprising to me. But it is troubling, largely because it’s so preventable.
Whether you have a long-standing relationship with an advisor, are just starting to consider working with a financial planner, or are considering making a change, there are some simple tips all women should be aware of to improve this relationship and strengthen their financial futures.
Tip #3 – Know the Difference Between Risk Aware & Risk Averse
Countless studies have shown that women are not necessarily as risk averse as they were once thought to be. As a group, we just tend to be more risk aware than men are. Why does this matter? First of all, I think it’s important to be risk aware. If you aren’t aware of the risk, you can’t possibly make informed decisions. But by not understanding the difference, women sometimes incorrectly identify as conservative investors and then invest inappropriately for their goals and risk tolerance. Since most advisors are well-practiced in helping people identify their risk tolerance, this is an important conversation to have with your advisor. During these conversations, risk-aware people can sometimes focus on temporary monetary loss and lose sight of the other type of risk: not meeting goals. If you complete a simple risk-tolerance questionnaire (there are many versions available online), women may be more likely to answer questions conservatively simply because they are focusing on the potential downside. Here is an example of a common question:
The chart below shows the greatest 1-year loss and the highest 1-year gain on 3 different hypothetical investments of $10,000. Given the potential gain or loss in any 1 year, I would invest my money in …
A risk-aware, goal-oriented person is much more likely to select A because the question is not in terms they relate to. It focuses on the loss (and gain) in a 1-year period without providing any information about the performance over the period of time aligned with their goal or the probability of the investment helping them to achieve their goal. A risk-averse person is going to want to avoid risk no matter the situation. A risk-aware person needs to know that while the B portfolio might have lost $1,020 in a 1-year period, historically it has earned an average of 6% per year, is diversified and generally recovers from losses within 1–3 years, statistically has an 86% probability of outperforming portfolio A in a 10-year period, and is more likely to help them reach their specific goal.
A risk-aware person needs to be able to weigh the pros and cons so when presented with limited information, they are more likely to opt for the conservative choice. Know this about yourself and ask for more information before making a decision based on limiting risk.
Having a conversation about your risk tolerance, the level of risk needed to meet your goals, and asking for more information is always easier when you follow tip #1—work with an advisor you like. There are many different considerations when hiring an advisor: Are they a fiduciary? Do they practice comprehensive planning? How are they compensated? What is their investment philosophy? They may check off all your other boxes, but if you don’t like them, you are unlikely to get all you need out of the relationship. If you’re looking for an advisor you’re compatible with, consider perusing our advisor bios.
Be sure to read our previous and upcoming blog posts for additional tips to help women get the most out of working with a financial advisor.
With coronavirus cases rising, unemployment at historic levels, and ongoing protests across America, the strong market rebound feels like it could be driven by irrational hope. Are the markets assuming there is an effective vaccine by the fall? Are they ignoring the effects of a worldwide 100-year pandemic that has killed over 650,000 people as of July 30th?
While there are certainly times when markets can behave irrationally, such times are few and far between and usually concentrated in a certain asset class or sector. At this point, with the exception of the FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), we do not see signs that the global equity markets are acting irrationally. It is important to distinguish that this belief does not mean that the market might not experience another significant downturn.
Market prices represent the aggregate predictions of thousands of professional and individual investors regarding the value of the company’s future earnings plus the book value of its assets. The operative words here are prediction and future. The stock markets typically bottom when investors have the most fear and have the bleakest outlook on the future. Historically, bottoms have typically coincided with the point of peak unemployment. A rise in the stock market does not mean that the recession is over or that it might not continue for several more years. It simply means that investors are anticipating a better future down the road.
For example, according to Charles Schwab’s analysis of data from Refinitiv, the market consensus estimates for S&P 500 companies for Q3 2020 is a -23.5% drop from the previous year. That does not seem very optimistic to me. Ned Davis and Charles Schwab recently showed that historically the S&P 500 has performed best when year-over-year earnings growth was between -20% and 5%. It seems very counterintuitive that stocks would be rising when earnings growth is negative, but again, markets are predicting the future, not what is happening at present.
Many of you are probably still wondering or worried about the market going down from here. As the future is uncertain, the answer is, unfortunately, yes, the market could go down from here. But that does not mean you should pull all your money out.
Ironically, your risk of losing money in the markets today is less than it was in January. Markets account for uncertainty by keeping prices below fair value. The difference between true fair value and the market price is the compensation investors receive for taking risk. In times of perceived low uncertainty, market prices are close to fair value and investors get little compensation for taking risk. As the pandemic has taught us, risk is always with us whether we see it coming or not. Currently, because of the high degree of uncertainty, market prices incorporate more downside risk, and investors who stay in the market are getting higher compensation for taking that risk. Taking risk is a necessary part of investing, but as investors, one of the most important things we can do for long-term success is to ensure that we are being appropriately compensated for those risks. Staying in markets when we receive high compensation for taking risk is a key part.
I would love to have a crystal ball that could tell you how the market is going to move tomorrow or next month or next year. It seems very possible that the economic recovery could slow, and the market could go sideways or take another dip. It also seems very possible that through a combination of growing knowledge, human adaptation, and government stimulus, the economic impact will not be as severe as some fear, and the market will continue its steady climb. A wide variety of data suggests that current market valuations are not irrational and that markets are appropriately accounting for the high degree of uncertainty surrounding the trajectory of the economic recovery that will ultimately occur. There are plenty of investors who are pulling money out or who are continuing to sit on the sidelines as well as plenty of buyers. Our recommendation is to continue with your target equity allocation. This approach allows you to benefit from the relatively high compensation you are getting for taking on risk right now while providing sufficient downside protection that your financial well-being is not at risk.
Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No client should assume that future performance of any securities, asset classes, or strategy will be profitable, or equal to the previous described performance. The S&P 500 is a market capitalization-weighted index of 500 widely held stocks often used as a proxy for the U.S stock market.
As many of you know, my wife and I had our first child earlier this year. As such, we’ve been slowly working on improvements around our house to make it more kid safe. One project was to upgrade our garage door openers to the 21st century to include the safety reverse sensors. To fund this project, we used the money set aside from the monthly contribution to our home improvements fund. So far so good, right?
What happened next is similar to what many people do when deciding whether to hire a professional to help them.
For this project, I decided to replace my garage door openers on my own. I had never done it before, but I convinced myself that I could do it because of the following considerations:
Time – I’d need to be home while the installation pro was there anyway, so why not just use that time to install them myself? Importantly, I could do it when it wouldn’t impact my wife or son.
Cost – I didn’t want to pay for a professional to install the garage door openers. By doing it myself, we could save our hard-earned money and put it in savings or toward other projects.
Privacy – I simply didn’t want a stranger in my home, even if it was only for a couple of hours in our garage.
Resources –With all of the YouTube how-to videos, forums, and step-by-step guides available online, I thought it would easy to figure out how to do it. Clearly, many others with similar skills had been successful.
Here’s what I learned the hard way after spending 10 plus hours on this project, without installing even one garage door opener successfully:
Time – The project ended up taking four times what I thought it would, without success! I wasn’t very popular with my wife as she had to pick up my slack on the weekend chores and baby duty.
Lesson 1 – A professional could have installed each garage door opener in 45 minutes. I could have spent my time (our most limited resource) in far better ways.
Cost – I ended up paying a professional to install the garage door openers. I was left with a tough choice of paying a small fortune to get them installed right away (my car was outside since I removed a garage door opener) or wait for their regular scheduling. And, I had to replace a couple of parts that I damaged (argh!) and buy a wrench set that I likely won’t use.
Lesson 2 – Focusing only on cost is a mistake. It’s super important to also consider the value of your time. It might have made sense for me to take on this project if it took just two hours to complete, but 10 plus hours – no way!
Privacy – I was anxious about this at first, but the benefit of not having to do it myself eased my mind (especially after what I’d gone through!).
Lesson 3 – A professional is licensed, insured, experienced, and vetted. While my apprehension may lead me to believe that having a stranger in my home is a risk, this was not the case with a professional.
Resources – In hindsight, all the video tutorials and guides in the world wouldn’t have made this project easier. The actual installation was infinitely more difficult than the installation videos made it look.
Lesson 4 – Implementing a task, project or plan is the hardest part of any process. Too often, one part does not go according to plan, throwing everything off. There’s simply no substitute for expertise.
The last consideration I overlooked, which could have been the costliest, is risk. The risks include:
I could have installed the safety sensors or garage door opener incorrectly, causing a family member to be seriously injured. Or, the car could have been damaged.
The garage door opener could have fallen on me during the removal of my old opener and the installation of the new one (especially since we didn’t have the right height of ladder as recommended in the instructions – I didn’t want to buy a new ladder).
I could have injured myself with the disassembly of the old garage door opener or during the assembly of the new garage door opener. Mistakes and injuries happen more often than we think with DIY projects.
I could have damaged major parts (beyond what I already did!), which could have cost me a lot more money. Warranties and store policy exchanges don’t protect against negligence and true ignorance.
We hired a professional to minimize these risks for our family.
As a note: My wife recommended from the start that we hire a professional to install the garage door openers. I learned my lesson here, too! As such, I had to park my car out in the cold until my garage door was fixed. Going forward, I will forever remember these lessons because time is our most finite resource and we need to be more intentional with how we spend it.
More than likely you or a close family member have faced a decision to lease or buy. Whether you’re interested in acquiring a new car, a home or a child’s athletic gear, your choice to lease or buy is likely influenced by what you learned growing up or by discussions around the office water cooler. Why does it feel like it’s such a tough decision? (more…)
Figuring out how much risk to take in a portfolio can seem like a simple calculation, but for most people, emotions tend to make the process more challenging. On the surface, we all know risk is a necessary component of investing, but finding the right amount of risk to achieve our goals is more complicated than just picking a number between one and ten.
There are many factors that determine how risky an investment is. (more…)