Keep it simple

I went to the Dimensional Science of Investing conference in October 2014. Conferences are usually pretty boring but this one was enlightening. Held over two days, they didn’t talk about funds but where returns come from (for advisors reading this, if you haven’t been to it, get yourself an invite to one). After that, I reduced the funds I used to two; a global equity fund and a global bond fund. There was no need for anything else. Equities would drive growth and bonds would dampen volatility.

Since then, bonds have performed horribly while global equities have performed quiet well; save for a few wobbles including a -30% fall in one month when Covid shut down the global economy in March 2020. This has been difficult for clients as no one like seeing negative returns, especially over the longer term.

While we tell our clients to view their portfolio as a whole, it is impossible to look at the high performing equity portion and the negative returns of the bond funds and want more equities and less bonds. Which of course means more risk for the client. It is also difficult for advisors who want to see their clients grow their wealth and not be experiencing negative returns on their money.

Allocation Funds

Dimensional themselves came out with their World Allocation funds in 2015 and Vanguard launched the LifeStrategy funds in 2020. These funds are very simple. Instead of having a separate equity and bond fund, they have them under one fund with a clear asset mix:

  1. 100% equity, 0% bonds

  2. 80% equity, 20% bonds

  3. 60% equity, 40% bonds

  4. 40% equity, 60% bonds

  5. 20% equity, 80% bonds

These funds rebalance on a daily basis so the asset allocation the same. No need for clients to make an active decision to sell or buy assets or increase their risk exposure.

And instead of grumbling about the poor performance of one asset class, you just see one value for your entire portfolio. I have found over the last few years that these funds have worked a lot better with clients. They are more accepting of the returns and less likely to make changes to an underperforming fund if everything is in the one fund.

Simplicity produces higher returns

What I have found with my own clients has been backed up by Morningstar in their “Mind the Gap” study, which looks at the difference between the returns that an investor enjoys and the actual returns in the market. Morningstar’s research has found that investor in allocation funds had the smallest gap between investor returns and actual returns. The reason is that it reduces the investors need to maintain particular positions and most importantly, reduces the risk that they will act impulsively to the (non) performance of any one asset class.

Investing in quality assets in one fund is all that you need. Keep it simple.

Steven Barrett

11 September 2023