Courage comes in many different shapes and sizes.
From the sporting field to the battle zone to the natural disaster area, courageous acts are acknowledged, understood and celebrated accordingly.
For investors bombarded with conflicting and confusing market signals - profits up/share prices down for example – it can take courage to simply decide to do nothing.
In the US, Vanguard manages retirement investment accounts for many millions of investors in what are known as 401(k) plans. In the first half of August around 2 per cent of people made changes to their portfolio allocations. The key point here being that 98 per cent made no change. So for whatever reason 98 per cent of investors seem to have taken a longer-term view and ignored short-term market signals.
There is no timely industry data available in Australia to gauge how many people – by comparison – may have switched their super fund to the cash option or changed their investment allocation to include more conservative assets. But behavioural finance studies suggest that Australian investors are unlikely to have reacted vastly differently to our US cousins.
This perhaps runs counter to the impression you may have when you turn on the evening TV news and hear that billions of dollars have been lost from the market’s value. You could be forgiven for assuming that hordes of investors are selling en masse and heading for the safe seats.
This simply doesn't seem to be the case.
One of the underlying practical strengths of our super system is the simple process of deducting the 9 per cent super guarantee contribution from regular pay periods – in a way it is compelling us to be a generation of brave investors.
Why? Well unless you are one of the few who have proactively changed your investment choice, your regular super contributions each month go into the same investment pool it was investing in before all the recent market volatility hit the headlines.
For about 85 per cent of working Australians that will be their super fund’s default option – typically a fund with a 70/30 growth to income asset allocation.
In some ways this is a form of mass dollar cost averaging – money being drip-fed into markets over time and certainly the money being invested today is buying assets at lower valuations than a couple of years ago.
While that is an outcome of super being deducted from regular pay periods it also has the effect of lowering one of the key risks every investor faces – timing risk.
Think of it another way. Rather than having your super invested for you every month, assume you could invest your annual super contributions as a lump sum on one day of the year. At times of higher market volatility that sort of timing decision clearly carries considerable risk.
Shoppers never feel like they are making a “brave” decision when buying something at 30 per cent discount in a sale. The same cannot be said for share investors when markets are down sharply.
Inertia can be an investor’s enemy but at times like these it can also be an ally.
Our superannuation system provides individuals in mainstream defined contribution funds with a lot of choice and flexibility.
The brave decision at times like these may be choosing not to use it.