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Investing: Olympics Teach Investors A Lesson

Aug 17, 2007
Perhaps the only area outside the financial world where performance is so closely measured is the Olympics. Competition is fierce, and with events measured to the hundredths of a second, athletes go to great lengths to gain even the slightest edge. The Olympics can teach us a lot about investing.

Take skiing for example. Whether it's for cross country or the downhill, each ski team has a group of specialists with one job and one job only: to put the right wax on the skis. They carefully take multiple measurements of factors such as temperature, humidity and even the shape of the snow crystals to determine which wax formula will give their athletes optimum performance. Regardless of the athletes training and ability, it's the skills of the wax technician that will determine whether the racer wins or loses.

These technicians have a number of waxes to choose from and it's not that one wax is always better than another. Rather, that day's conditions and the unique needs of each athlete will determine which wax is the top choice. You'd never have a wax specialist say that "Wax A" is always the best, or that only fools would use "Wax B". They keep their options open and are always looking for new coatings to maximize performance.

The job of a wax technician is far different from that of a wax salesman. Picture the wax salesman trying to sell the skier on using his wax (or one of the waxes he sells). The wax salesman isn't trying to convince the skier that his wax is the best for current conditions, but that it should be relied on in all conditions. Obviously, I'm taking some liberty with the analogy, but can you imagine the skiers' reaction?

As a investor--whether you are putting your money into a CD, an annuity, mutual fund or stock--knowing the difference between the advisor who functions as a wax technician and the one that is a wax salesman is vital to your success.

Any advisor who recommends an investment that requires you to keep it for several years is a financial wax salesman. That advisor isn't trying to help you win the race, he/she is trying to sell wax. There are numerous conflicts of interest between you and a salesman, few between yourself and a technician.

We are committed to your success. We recognize that our job is to understand the market and economic conditions, along with your personal situation and risk tolerance. Only then can we recommend the financial wax designed to help you win.

It's easy to understand that an advisor shouldn't be committed to any specific product. It's more important to make sure the advisor isn't committed to a single underlying strategy. For instance, Buy & Hold is an investment strategy. Index investing is an investment strategy. Active management is an investing strategy. Many advisors base their entire practice on a single strategy. That's like the wax technician that will only use one kind of wax.

Financial wax technicians are wise enough to recognize that there aren't any perfect investments and that there aren't any perfect strategies. Each investment and each strategy has strengths and weaknesses.

Unlike the wax technician, we don't look at conditions the next few hours, but we recognize that what occurs in the next couple of years can be far different from what happens over the next 7-10 years. We form a long-term strategy but make tactical adjustments based on shorter-term (1-3 years) conditions.

I've developed several proprietary strategies that I use in my clients' accounts. That doesn't mean I always use them. Some years they have a larger place, other years a smaller one. It all depends on the client and current conditions. More importantly, I'm willing to admit when something isn't working and to make adjustments.

A skier's success is dependent on his/her wax technician. Likewise, your financial success is greatly influenced by the advisor you work with. Choose wisely and you'll have a podium finish!
About the Author
Nationally-syndicated financial columnist and Certified Financial Planner Jeffrey Voudrie provides personal, in-depth money management services and advice to select private clients throughout the USA. He will answer your financial question FREE at http://www.guardingyourwealth.net
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