The Value of Vulnerability for Advisors

The Value of Vulnerability for Advisors

Recently, while walking home from school, one of my kids got sucker-punched by the stomach flu. It wasn’t great timing. No one wants to be sick in public, but it’s even worse when everyone watches you do something embarrassing. In an effort to comfort him, I told him about times when similar things had happened to me. It didn’t make his stomach feel any better or completely remove his mortification, but he smiled and thanked me. 

Whenever someone is in a place where they feel exposed – whether it’s from getting sick in front of others, forgetting to do a task for a client, or making an unwise financial decision – we can either sit in judgement of that moment or we can step into the vulnerability and say “me too.” It’s a little easier for me to have that kind of compassion for my child who isn’t feeling well than for the coworker who blows a deadline. It’s for sure not the norm for advisors to talk with their clients about mistakes they’ve made when it comes to their personal finances. Why is that?

We tend to get caught up in the “what will other people think of me?” trap that tells us not to go easy on our employee for fear that they’ll not understand how important their mistake was, or to grow the facade that we have always been a financial guru. But these kinds of self-protecting behaviors keep us from experiencing relationships that have real depth, which increases employee and client retention.

The people we serve and work with need to know we’ve been where they are, especially when something goes wrong. You don’t have to turn into your grandfather and start telling stories every time something happens, and you don’t have to have had the same exact experience. You just need to see the thread of similarity in their face-down moment so you can mitigate your reaction and find compassion as quickly as possible. 

Once you share an “I’ve been there too” moment with a person who’s done something regrettable, you’re all set to move onto the next step: helping them move from this moment to make it right. 

Related: 2 Rules of Email Marketing That Most Advisors Aren’t Following

Making it right involves a few steps. Here are the ones I recommend taking:

  1. Own what went wrong. Clearly identify the problem and its root cause. It might take a little bit of effort to track down exactly what happened and even more time to figure out why it occurred. Did an employee miss a deadline because they had too many other things on their plate or because they weren’t focused at all? Did your client loan a large sum to a relative out of guilt, or are they thinking clearly about treating it like a gift? Putting words to the actions and motivations allows everyone involved to understand the details. 
  2. State the positive action you will take going forward. This isn’t just an “I won’t do it again” idea. Instead, it sounds like: “In the future, I will speak up when I know that my workload is beyond my capacity.” Or, “In the future, I will consider whether giving my relative money is helping or hurting them.”
  3. Ask for forgiveness. This is obviously really difficult. We don’t typically do this part as a society because it feels so awkward. You’ll have to apply some wisdom to each situation to decide if you want to walk through this part or not, but it’s certainly something you can put into practice when you mess something up in the office or at home. Hearing another adult say the words, “Will you please forgive me?” can be alarming, but every time I’ve used those words, the person on the other side has answered with “of course.” In my opinion, nothing builds trust and respect quite like it. 

How do you tend to handle face-down moments with your team or your clients? I’d love to hear strategies you employ to create greater degrees of vulnerability and trust among your team and clients.

Jud Mackrill
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Jud Mackrill serves as the Cofounder of Mineral. At Mineral, his focus is helping investment advisory businesses focus on growing digitally through full-scale design, brand de ... Click for full bio

Multi-Factor or Not Multi-Factor? That Is the Question

Multi-Factor or Not Multi-Factor? That Is the Question

Written by: Chris Shuba, Helios Quantitative Research, LLC

Let’s pretend you are a US investor that wants to deploy some of your money overseas.  You think international developed market stocks are attractive relative to US stocks, and you also think the US dollar will decline over the period you intend to hold your investment.  Your investment decision is logical to you. But you have choices:  You could a) simply invest in a traditional index like the MSCI EAFE, b) invest in a fund that systematically emphasizes a single factor (like a value fund) that only buys specific stocks related to that factor, or c) invest in a developed fund that blends several factors together, like the JPMorgan Diversified Return International Equity ETF (JPIN).  What is the best choice? 

Investing in a traditional international market capitalization index like the MSCI EAFE is not a bad choice. It has delivered nice returns for a US investor, especially uncorrelated outperformance in the 1970s and 1980s, and helped to diversify a US-only portfolio.

Your second choice is to invest in one particular factor because it makes sense to you.  Sticking with the example of a value strategy, you might believe a fund or index that chooses the cheapest or most attractively valued stocks based on metrics like Price to Earnings (PE) is best.  

You could go find a discretionary portfolio manager who only buys stocks he deems to be cheap.  Typically the concept of “cheap” is based on some absolute metric that the manager has in mind, such as never buying a stock with a PE greater than 15.  If there are not enough stocks that are attractive, he will hold his money in cash until he finds the prudent bargains he seeks.  This prudence also obviously risks possible underperformance from being absent from the market.

The alternative is to buy a value index or fund that systematically only buys the cheapest stocks in a particular investment universe.  So if there are 1000 investable stocks available, the index ONLY buys the cheapest decile of 100 stocks and is always fully invested in the 100 securities that are relatively cheapest.  This is an investment approach that a discretionary manger may disdain.  The discretionary value manager may look at those same 100 stocks and think they are pricey.  But nevertheless, academic research has shown that always being fully invested in the relatively cheapest percentiles of stocks in the US has produced superior returns over many decades. 

Such a portfolio is called a “factor” portfolio.  Why the name?   In the early 1960s, academics introduced the concept of beta and demonstrated that individual US stocks had sensitivities to, and were driven by, movements in the broad market.  In the early 1990s, academic research began to show that other “factors” such as value and size also drove US stock returns.  Since then, several factors have been identified as driving individual stock outperformance: value, size, volatility, momentum and quality.  Stocks that are cheaper, smaller, less volatile, have more positive annual returns and higher profitability have historically outperformed their peers.  It turns out these factors also work internationally.

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Of all the factors, value is the factor that has been the best known the longest (even before it was academically identified as a “factor”), thanks to the books of Warren Buffet’s teacher Ben Graham.   And if you look abroad at an array of developed global markets and create a value index and compare it to its simple market capitalization weighted brother, the historic outperformance of value has been stunning.  Until recently.  

While there was some variability by country, on average from the mid-1970s up until 2005 a value factor portfolio in a developed market outperformed its market cap weighted index by about 2% a year.  That’s a lot. By contrast, since 2005, the average developed country value portfolio has underperformed a market cap indexes by about -40 basis points.  Which is the danger of investing in one factor.  It may not always work at every point in time.

So if investing in one factor like value runs the risk of underperforming, how about a multi-factor international developed equity portfolio?

Below is a breakdown of individual factor portfolios’ performance in international developed equity markets since 2005, an equal weighted factor portfolio as well the performance of the MSCI EAFE as our performance reference.  Note that, for the last 13 years, value has been the poorest factor by far, while the others have handily beaten the EAFE.  An equal weighted portfolio of all 5 factors, while not as optimal as some of the individual factor results, beats the EAFE by 1.6% and has an information ratio, or risk adjusted returns that are superior by 37%.  The equal weighted factor portfolio also has the advantage of not having to predict which factor will work when, so even when a factor like value does not beat the market, the other factors can pick up the slack.

SOURCE: MSCI, Data as of January 31, 2018. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Shown for illustrative purposes only.

The equal weighted factor portfolio has one other advantage over the market cap weighted alternative. Note in the chart below how well the portfolio outperformed in the 2008 crisis, so it tends to do relatively well in highly volatile sell offs.

SOURCE: MSCI, Data as of January 31, 2018. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Shown for illustrative purposes only.

While it’s not inconceivable that one or two of these factors could erode, or underperform for a stretch, the fact that you have exposure to multiple factors in a portfolio that seems to do especially well in crises suggest the multi-factor blended portfolio remains the most attractive way to invest in developed markets.

So, when asked the question: Multi-factor or not multi-factor?  The data speaks for itself.

Learn more about alternative beta and our ETF capabilities here.

DEFINITIONS: Price to earnings (P/E) ratio:  The price-earnings ratio (P/E ratio) is the ratio for valuing a company that measures its current share price relative to its per-share earnings.

DISCLOSURES: MSCI EAFE Investable Market Index (IMI): The MSCI EAFE Investable Market Index (IMI), is an equity index which captures large, mid and small cap representation across Developed Markets countries* around the world, excluding the US and Canada. The index is based on the MSCI Global Investable Market Indexes (GIMI) Methodology—a comprehensive and consistent approach to index construction that allows for meaningful global views and cross regional comparisons across all market capitalization size, sector and style segments and combinations. This methodology aims to provide exhaustive coverage of the relevant investment opportunity set with a strong emphasis on index liquidity, investability and replicability. The index is reviewed quarterly—in February, May, August and November—with the objective of reflecting change in the underlying equity markets in a timely manner, while limiting undue index turnover. During the May and November semi-annual index reviews, the index is rebalanced and the large, mid and small capitalization cutoff points are recalculated.

Investors should carefully consider the investment objectives and risks as well as charges and expenses of the ETF before investing. The summary and full  prospectuses contain this and other information about the ETF. Read the prospectus carefully before investing. Call 1-844-4JPM-ETF or visit to obtain a prospectus.
J.P. Morgan Asset Management
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See how ETFs differ from other investment vehicles, learn how to evaluate them, and discover how ETFs can be used effectively to achieve a diversity of investment strategies. ... Click for full bio