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The pitfalls of DIY investing

By Jerry Wagner

DIY investing surged during the early years of the pandemic. A survey of online brokerage operations showed new account openings up 50%–300% in the first quarter of 2020, and the stock-trading app Robinhood added 10 million accounts in 2021, according to CNBC.

Most of these new DIY investors would be wise to remember that there are costs to trying to do it yourself.

Since 1984, analysts at independent investment research firm DALBAR Inc. have been publishing their annual “Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior” report (QAIB). Since that time, the report has shown that investors managing their own accounts consistently underperform the mutual funds in which they invest.

While we were one of the first to create a turnkey asset management platform that allows the adviser to be the portfolio manager (DIY investing for your financial adviser), we’ve also learned that there are some common pitfalls to attempting to do it yourself:

1. Insufficient knowledge of what you are investing in. Whether you are investing in assets or strategies, you have to spend the time to learn about the investment. This sounds pretty basic, but losses of inexperienced investors in options, bitcoins, volatility vehicles, and leveraged and inverse funds are testimony to the fact that many do not research before they invest.

Hopefully, these investors have learned how important this knowledge is to be able to correctly use the investment. But it is also important because the more you know the characteristics of an asset class or strategy, the more you are able to trust it to do what it is intended to do within an investment portfolio. This trust is essential to allow investors to stick with their plans and invest for the long run.

2. No time or opportunity. Most investors cannot devote all of their time to their investments, yet the 24-hour investment and news cycle demands such attention. And, of course, the demands of everyday life further dilute the necessary time investment. They can’t do everything all of the time.

3. Emotion gets in the way. Frustration and anxiety are the most likely result of the chaos so many investors believe is endemic in the financial markets.

Fintech entrepreneur George Mitra makes the following point in his insightful article about DIY investing:

“The two emotions that always compete in investment decisions are Greed and Fear. In reality, it is only one – Fear. It’s either FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or the fear of losing something. One leads to making a decision when times are good and gives investors more confidence in their ability, their risk tolerance, and knowledge about their needs. Whereas, the other freezes us, or makes us take decisions in haste looking at short term rather than longer horizons.”

The interplay of these and other investment biases has spawned a whole new field of study: behavioral finance. We now know that the internal mechanisms of the human brain work against successful investing. Successful professional investors establish procedures and do the quantitative research necessary to overcome these emotional roadblocks to profits.

4. Lack of discipline. This can undermine the best-laid plans and overcome years of research. When I was doing weekly seminars for investors, I used to tell my attendees that I had researched thousands of investment systems. Many of these systems have long-term records of success. Based on my experience with investors, I know that I can explain a profitable system’s rules and history, but I know that, in most cases, investors will not go home and follow it.

It’s like when investors subscribe to an investment newsletter. The writer tells them when to buy and sell. Here’s what investors typically do with that information: (1) They wait to see if a recommended trade is successful in real time. (2) When they see enough successful trades, they finally start investing. (3) Once they have a losing trade or two, they stop following the signals and let the newsletter subscription expire. DIY investors tend to be easily discouraged.

Of course, investors eventually learn that, unfortunately, the best buy and sell signals seem to occur when it is hardest to pull the trigger. You probably know how the story goes: The market falls and falls, and then you get the buy signal. At this point, you may have been losing money for weeks, losses have mounted from 20% to 30% to 40%, and now you are being told to invest. It’s very hard to do. Similarly, if you get a sell signal when gains are multiplying and it seems like the best of times, will you sell?

If not DIY investing, then what?

As a TAMP (a turnkey asset management program), the answer for Flexible Plan Investments is easy: turnkey investment management. With turnkey separate accounts, we pick the investments, allocate and reallocate them for you, and provide the dynamic risk management that we are known for.

Since the founding of Flexible Plan in 1981, we have always provided turnkey separately managed accounts and nothing else. In the past, these have mostly consisted of a single strategy, often involving a single asset class.

As we developed and made available hundreds of these strategies over the years, advisers and investors asked us if, instead of just picking when to invest in an asset class, we could also pick the strategies and when to invest in them. The results were our turnkey multi-strategy offerings: QFC Multi-Strategy Core, QFC Multi-Strategy Explore, and QFC Fusion 2.0.

Because these are turnkey strategies, you don’t have any of the roadblocks that foil DIY investors:

1. Choosing investments just got less complicated. You don’t have to learn the ins and outs of Flexible Plan’s 100-plus strategies to make an informed judgment of what is right for you in the current environment—nor do you have to stay up late reviewing all of the stats on every one of them so as to have enough confidence to stay with the strategy for the long run.

This is also an incredible advantage for financial advisers. It means that they have a limited number of strategies to become familiar with, and a single, unchanging concept on which to educate clients—the advantages of multi-strategy investing.

No longer will you have to decide which strategies to buy and when to do it. And you won’t have to agonize over how much to invest in each strategy you choose.

No more strategy changes when market conditions change. No learning new strategies. No monitoring individual strategy performance. No having to learn how to tell whether a strategy has just stalled or suddenly stopped working. No dropping old strategies when they become ineffective. We do all of that for our turnkey investors and their advisers.

2. Time constraints are no more. Flexible Plan has more than 70 financial service personnel to watch over your accounts when you have pressing personal or business concerns. You can even take a vacation, and we’re there to cover for you.

3. Investor emotion is not a problem. Our quantitative strategies are all drawn from years of research, backtesting, and experience. The rules for buying, holding, and selling are all laid out in technical precision and constantly monitored for improvement. They are detailed in advance, so there is no question about what to do when the time for action presents itself.

4. Trading discipline is not a problem. Our quantitative systems leave no room for indecision. The signals are generated by our computers and go to a trading staff that is not connected with the strategy development. There are no egos involved with the people charged with executing the signals. They are only concerned with getting the trading done accurately and as soon as the computers generate a signal to buy or sell. The trading staff is judged not by the profitability of the trade but by precision and timing in each trade’s execution.

DIY investing remains susceptible to all of these pitfalls. Turnkey multi-strategy investing avoids them all.


Fintech entrepreneur George Mitra concluded the following:

 “DIY investors tend to perceive risk management as avoiding losses. In reality, risk management is about taking chances while mitigating potential negative fallout with safer bets: it’s about maintaining an acceptable level of risk to enable higher returns. Part of this process is also reviewing investments. To not be swayed by personal bias, hindsight bias, or being too attached to them. This helps in identifying losers and pruning them, to make way for the new potential winners.”

Robert R. Johnson, president and CEO of the American College of Financial Services, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, sums it up like this:  

“Basically, when people get sick, they go to a doctor. When people get in a legal tangle, they seek the advice of a lawyer. Yet, somehow, people believe they should be able to navigate the complex financial waters on their own.”

Generally, people can’t. But today, people don’t have to!

Turnkey multi-strategy investing is here, and you don’t have to do it yourself any longer.


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