A Milestone and reflections

Blog post #400

Numbers can represent milestones. Significant events. Progress. Moving forward. Growth, age and experience.

This is the 400th blog post we have written as a firm. 

What began as irregular blog posts in 2009 became a weekly commitment 5 years ago, in June, 2014. Since then, writing weekly has been a firm-wide effort, which involves coming up with an idea, writing, research and editing, compliance reviews and the final processing so the blog post is emailed to you for Friday am reading and adding to our firm’s website.

For me, as the founder of WWM, and primary author of nearly all of these blog posts, it represents a true source of pride and commitment to our clients. It represents the dedication and discipline to write, research and communicate to you, our clients and friends across the country, about relevant topics on a timely, regular basis.

There are very few independent financial advisors that have made this type of commitment to their clients to produce their own, original content on a weekly basis. We hope you find this valuable and helps you to be a better and more successful investor.

As this can be thought of as a milestone blog post, I wanted to share some bigger picture thoughts. Lessons. Key advice. Reflections since founding this firm in 2003.

We truly value the client relationships that we have developed. We take very seriously the trust that each client and their family places in us. We are confident that putting our clients interest first and using a transparent business model are vital to our past and future. That we own the same types of investments as our clients should give you even greater confidence that we strive to always act and be on the same side of the table as you, our clients.

During informal conversations, I have sometimes reflected that clients come to us for investment advice, but we can (and do) provide you with so much more. We help to determine a safe and reasonable annual withdrawal rate during the retirement phase of your life. We assist with college funding, retirement planning and analysis, aging, life transitions, estate planning and charitable giving. It brings us great satisfaction when clients request our input and advice on important decisions and transitions in their lives.

One of the core elements of our success was the adoption of an investment philosophy that we have been able to stick with, through all kinds of market ups and downs, as well as dramatic changes in the economy and companies, over the past 16 years. We are able to communicate our investment philosophy to clients, so they can understand it, adhere to it and appreciate that it is rationale and not guess work. More importantly, we continue to be confident that our core investment principles are valid and should remain so for the future.  Please read our blog, “A Philosophy You Can Stick With”, for further reading on why having an investment philosophy that we believe in allows us to be more disciplined and help our clients adhere to their financial plan.

Structuring a broadly diversified, global portfolio means that during some time periods we will outperform certain widely cited indexes, and at other times we will underperform these indexes. We structure and tilt our portfolios for the long term, towards asset classes that we believe will provide you with the best chance of long-term investment success, such as small and value, with significant International exposure. Sometimes value will underperform growth, or large companies will do better than small companies. We realize and accept this and explain this to you when we begin our relationship. We discuss and write about this often. We feel that providing you with guidance and discipline should help you to reach your financial goals.

One of our core principles since day one has been globally diversified stock portfolios, constructed with low-cost asset class mutual funds. There have been times, such as in recent years, that investing primarily in the US has been more successful than having a significant International allocation. As we base much of our investment advice and guidance on academic data, and not predictions, we remain confident that over the long term, our belief and adherence to being globally diversified will be beneficial.

While we listen to and read extensively from others we respect and trust, we make our own firm policy decisions after careful evaluation and analysis.

One of the few major portfolio changes we have made relates to commodity holdings. Many years ago, prior to 2008-09, academic data showed that adding commodities to a diversified portfolio would provide even more diversification benefits, as a hedge against inflation. The thought was that a commodity investment, with a significant component of oil related holdings, would provide good returns, particularly when inflation rose. As a firm, we later made the decision to drop most of these commodity allocations from client portfolios, as we perceived that the inflation hedge may not exist as often in the future because of the huge structural changes in the oil industry, mostly due to the growth of the US fracking industry. This has turned out to be a good strategic decision.

As interest rates dropped in the past decade, we made the decision to invest in high quality corporate bonds for certain clients who hold large fixed income investments. Some in our industry feel that high quality corporate bonds are not worth the additional default risk. We make the decision when we purchase new fixed income investments for clients, if the high-quality corporate bond interest rate premium is worthwhile over CDs and government securities, that this is a beneficial risk-reward trade-off. We remain confident that this has been very beneficial for our clients.

Another area that we differ from many advisory firms, both small and large, is our avoidance of many types of alternatives investments (such as alternative lending, reinsurance and hedge fund like investments). We believe that the investments we own and recommend to you should be as liquid as possible, have low fees, and are understandable and transparent. We have evaluated many such alternatives, and we remain very comfortable that our policy in this area has been to your best interest.

We wish that we had a clear crystal ball for the future. Unfortunately, we do not.

What we do offer to you is our goal of providing excellent financial advice, dedication to client service, the continued value of being lifelong learners in many areas of financial and investment matters, the intent to listen to your questions and concerns, and the commitment to invest in people and technology to provide the level of service and advice that you deserve.

We plan to remain disciplined and stick with our commitment to communicate with our clients regularly, via this blog, phone calls and meetings with you.

Thank you for reading.

And thank you for being a loyal client!
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