Self-driving cars and investments

There is a similarity between the evolution of financial investments and that of cars. At the time of the first cars, being a competent mechanic was necessary because it was not uncommon for a car to break down in the middle of nowhere. Likewise, there was a time when investors had to have economic and financial skills to understand company accounts in order to be able to invest. Both are bygone eras. Today, motorists may well have no clue how power steering or direct injection works, hardly devote any time to their cars, and yet drive without a problem. And, thanks to mutual funds, an investor may have limited technical knowledge and devote hardly any time to his investments.

Nowadays, there are still some old-school investors (e.g. stock-pickers). In part because it is a hobby for some (tell a mechanics buff it would be simpler to have his car maintained by a mechanic, and he will tell you that you are missing the point). But it is also a matter of habit (i.e. inertia): those who have always done it this way find it hard to change, and they also tend to influence new investors in the same direction. But new investors, just like new drivers, may as well start right from the beginning with modern techniques.

The analogy between investing and cars goes further these days: we now have self-driving cars and investments. The latter are called robo-advisors, and are part of the current wave of FinTech (finance + technology). Not only will there no longer be any need for mechanical knowledge or to get your hands dirty to own a car or a portfolio, but soon you will not even need to know how to drive. (This said, with financial investments as with cars, knowing a little how to drive still allows you to know if everything is going as planned.)

After the abolition of tactics, the simplification of strategy

The first revolution in financial investments was the introduction of diversified mutual funds (especially passive ones) that allowed you to invest at once in hundreds of companies, providing better diversification than buying individual stocks without having to devote time, without the need for economic and accounting skills, and at a lower cost. The second revolution may be technological (it is easier to recognize a revolution in retrospect than when it occurs).

The first made it possible to no longer care about tactics to focus on strategy: what are your goals and constraints? and what asset allocation will you accordingly choose? Once the allocation is set, you can choose some well-diversified and low-cost funds (for minimalists, a stock fund and a bond fund can be a quite satisfactory solution), and then all that is left to do is wait quietly (which is certainly not always the easiest part).

But the investor still has to care about strategy initially. This requires a certain investment of time and some involvement at the beginning (but once the strategy is in place, you no longer need to devote too much time to it). And not everyone feels able to do it. You can always turn to bankers and financial advisors, but chances are you will be dealing with someone on commission, not an impartial advisor. The robo-advisors are designed to automate the advice, helping you set your strategy. The first revolution eliminated the need for tactical choices, and the second seeks to simplify your strategic choices.

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