Physicians: Stop Looking at Your Investment Statements

April 20, 2015

Looking at your investment statements leads to emotions, which can lead to financially injurious behavior by physicians.

Honestly, as an adviser, I see no greater behavior that can hurt you financially on a regular basis than looking at your investment statements. It leads to emotions and emotions may lead to behavior that can be financially injurious.

If you happen to see prices rising, you will more than likely be complacent, maybe even happy. You are unlikely to act on that emotion. But if you see some holdings (or the whole account) losing money, you will most certainly experience a reaction of loss or remorse.

We know that humans experience loss at roughly twice the emotional power of a similar gain. We are more likely to want to act on loss (or at least a perceived loss). Note carefully that your "loss" is never a true event unless you sell when something goes down. This is one of the great coping mechanisms you should use when you see lower prices: Remind yourself that it is all on paper and of no consequence in the long run.

We should know that our investment portfolios are designed to produce very long term positive returns. We should know that there will be significant drops in prices about every three years to five years on average. We should know that no one can time the market effectively to take advantage of these movements.

So, having the emotional reaction to dropping prices is bad. It will make you want to change something. If you are investing yourself, you may sell at the lows and buy at the highs (as many "investors" do on a regular basis). If you are using an adviser, you may question his choices or even change advisers to "get a better return."

Ask any fiduciary adviser about this and they will tell you the truth. The truth is that investment portfolios swing in value over a great number of years. But the truth is also that if you are disciplined and patient and well diversified, you should see a steady increase in value over decades of investing.

If you think it is easier than that, or that you (or someone else) can do better, you will be sorely disappointed (and less wealthy).

I look at my net worth once a year. I don’t do anything with the information, but it is a habit. What I see is that in most years I have more money than before. Some years, I have less. Over periods of time that are 10 years or more, I invariably have much more money. Good enough for me. I hope it is good enough for you.