Already Barron's No. 1 with predominantly a mass-affluent game, the radio dynamo is ready to invest private equity to add a quick $1 billion of AUM

October 29, 2012 — 3:26 PM UTC by Kelly O'Mara


Brooke’s Note: In football, once you establish a ground game then you can kill the opponent through the air. Ric Edelman seems to know that. After decades of working to establish himself as a top dog by building an $8-billion-plus-AUM practice based on clients with $50,000 to $1 million of assets, he is ready to use his field position to his advantage. His two new strategies borrow elements from the big strategic buyers such as Focus Financial Partners and United Capital Financial Advisers, and from the Betterments, Personal Capitals, Wealthfronts and Covestors of the world — the newfangled online players. In each case, he may start with some edges. In competing with the online crowd, he can offer up real people when they’re needed. In competing with roll-ups, Edelman has the advantage of a national brand that has a running start, not to mention plenty of referral flow and cash flow. It might have been easy to write Ric Edelman off as that radio guy five years ago. See: What Ric Edelman is like live on stage. Having essentially purchased Sanders Morris, which initially acquired his firm, the Fairfax, Va., entrepreneur seems to be running to daylight.

Ric Edelman has never been short on big plans, and right now he has two whoppers in the works that address the top and bottom ranges of investor dollars. The chief executive of Edelman Financial Services LLC is in the process of acquiring an unnamed $1 billion RIA in what some see as the start of an aggregation strategy, and, in the coming months, he will be rolling out a new mass-market program that will lower the firm’s minimum client balance by 90%. See: Encouraged by early success in New York, Edelman ramps up office openings.

While Edelman declines to disclose many details of the potential mammoth acquisition — even the name of the target firm — Philip Palaveev, chief executive of The Ensemble Practice, speculates that it’s a higher-end RIA. An acquisition of that size would be a first for Edelman.

Edelman — the aggregator?

Earlier this year Edelman reached a deal with Lee Equity Partners LLC that, he joked at the Tiburon CEO Summit, left him with cash burning a hole in his pocket, See: Ric Edelman strikes a private-equity deal that subtracts $2 million in expenses — now let the after-bidding begin.

He’s not kidding about this deal, though. What he will say about the unidentified target is that it is interested in being acquired by him because it has reached the limits of its own growth potential.“We can not only dramatically improve their office operations to allow them to work more efficiently, we can provide them with substantial numbers of new clients to help them grow,” says Edelman.

Edelman is known for his systematized and highly scalable processes. “Ric relies very heavily on process,” says Palaveev. “It’s much more efficient.”

What are you doing Saturday evening to expand your RIA? Edelman is getting in front of people.
What are you doing Saturday evening
to expand your RIA? Edelman is
getting in front of people.

“Acquiring a $1 billion firm could also play to Edelman’s strengths,” says David DeVoe, managing partner of DeVoe & Co.

If the acquisition goes through, the RIA will become an Edelman office and will be on Edelman’s current technology platform, which uses Orion Advisor Services LLC. The firm will also have access to Edelman’s back-office support and marketing and, most importantly, lead flow. See: Edelman expansion slows; back office 'overwhelmed’.

Edelman, for his part, says he’s interested in his first major buy because he likes the firm and it is like-minded, with a similar emphasis on the full spectrum of mass-market and mass-affluent clients. Making sure the two companies come into the deal with the same long-term goals is key to making it successful.

“If the goal is to help the acquired firm accelerate its growth through radio show leads, then the culture, the integration and the alignment of capabilities and goals will be critical to the future success. Changing organizational behavior is a challenge for any company,” says DeVoe.

Historic low

The new mass-market initiative is an online intake system — Edelman Online — that will bring in clients with as little as $5,000 per household. The website will ask potential clients a series of questions, use the answers to assign them a portfolio recommendations. From there, clients can choose to sign up online with those recommendations or can call an advisor with questions. The portfolio options are the same as the ones Edelman currently uses for existing clients. Anyone also welcome to use the online portal, which Edelman spent the last 18 months developing — $1 million clients or $10,000 clients.

Edelman Online will be rolled out in a test in November and December and go live in January.

“Essentially, what we’re doing is lowering our minimum,” says Edelman. “Everything else is the exact same.”

Edelman Financial, which added $4 billion in assets January of 2010, more than doubling its assets at the time, is propelled largely by leads from his TV and radio show, and hotel seminars. He focuses heavily on mass-affluent and mass-market investors, with a current minimum of $50,000, which he says, “is already the lowest in the industry to my knowledge.” Just over one-third of Edelman’s 18,200 clients have less than $250,000. See: The 10 most influential figures in the RIA business going into 2012, Part 2.

Philip Palaveev: It's the financial equivalent of Nordstrom's.
Philip Palaveev: It’s the financial equivalent
of Nordstrom’s.

Serving the 99%

Palaveev believes it makes sense for Edelman to pursue strategies that target different segments of the marketplace. And, he says, Edelman has been particularly good at branding himself with his radio show, so now he’ll have something for people from both ends of the spectrum who are attracted to his brand or come in from his radio show. See: Barron’s top advisor shares the secrets to his success with rapt RIAs at TD event.

DeVoe agrees. “Edelman’s scale provides the organization with the breadth of resources required to implement several strategies concurrently. Both of these strategies seem to capitalize on assets and core competencies of the company,” he says.

Not for everyone

The one part of the marketplace that’s very underserved right now, both Palaveev and Edelman say, is the bottom end. There simply aren’t many advisors who have been able to successfully serve the vast majority of Americans, most of whom have less than $50,000 to invest. See: 19-advisor firm in Santa Monica jumps to LPL with social media-fueled strategy for the underserved under-40 set.

“Somebody has to work with mass-market clients,” says Palaveev. “It’s a market most advisors stay away from.”

Ken Fisher: We're not doing tiny accounts and wouldn't consider it.
Ken Fisher: We’re not doing tiny
accounts and wouldn’t consider it.

Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher Investments, with $42 billion in AUM, for example, says he doesn’t do anything with the small accounts that come to him, unless they’re members of existing account holders’ families. “We’re not doing tiny accounts and wouldn’t consider it,” he says. See: Ken Fisher keeps expanding his $42 billion RIA empire despite UHNW head winds.

DeVoe points out that even with Edelman’s success so far and his experience, “It is challenging for any organization to serve $5,000 investors directly in a profitable manner. Even the Schwabs and Fidelitys of the world struggle with making this market segment profitable.”

Edelman disagrees, arguing that not only do those very small accounts have potential, but the industry also has an obligation to serve those people who currently aren’t being served. “We need to serve the 99% that hate us,” says Edelman, “not just rich people.”


To that end, Edelman says he doesn’t plan to make a big profit on his new low-minimum program, which he’ll market through word-of-mouth, telling current clients to send along friends, family, children or grandchildren who didn’t meet the minimums before. He just wants the program to break even. If it doesn’t, he says, he will have to consider shutting it down. See: 19-advisor firm in Santa Monica jumps to LPL with social media-fueled strategy for the underserved under-40 set.

“We’re not necessarily trying to make a lot of money on this,” says Edelman. “It needs to pay its own way.”

There are plenty of other reasons to have a mass-market program like this, though. Those clients, most of whom are younger, could go on to make money down the road, and instead of parking it at a discount broker, they would likely be Edelman clients. It also can serve as a kind of service to family members whose children or friends may not have been able to meet the minimums before. And, of course, Edelman has a track record of making money with small accounts.

While Palaveev thinks it’s important for some advisors to target these mass-market, underserved clients, he has no illusions that it’s just out of the goodness of Edelman’s heart.

David DeVoe: It is challenging for any organization to serve $5,000 investors directly in a profitable manner.
David DeVoe: It is challenging for
any organization to serve $5,000 investors
directly in a profitable manner.

“It’s not to suggest that Ric’s starting a nonprofit,” says Palaveev. “He’s a very shrewd businessman.”

Kevin Costner syndrome

The fee structure will also be the same as for existing clients, meaning anyone under $150,000 pays 2% annually, or $100 a year if you have $5,000 in assets.

In turn, those clients get monthly statements, a client-only portal and tools online, and access to information from Edelman such as newsletters and books.

“Think of this as the discount brokerage option for wealth management,” says Palaveev, in that it’ll rely heavily on some automation and self-service tools. He compares it to buying clothes off the rack — they’re not custom-made, but they can be tailored to fit the wearer. “It’s the financial equivalent of Nordstrom’s,” says Palaveev.

Mostly, Edelman thinks (and Palaveev agrees), it will attract younger potential clients who are technology-savvy — an audience that a number of online tools — such as Betterment, Wealthfront and Personal Capital — are targeting. See: After outcry, Betterment 86’s (but not on purpose) a blog post inflaming advisors.

Jon Stein: In the long term, people are going to wise up.
Jon Stein: In the long term,
people are going to wise up.

But, how many of those clients it will attract Edelman has no idea.

Edelman says he’s suffering from “Kevin Costner syndrome” — a reference to the hit film Field of Dreams. “I’m building it, I don’t know if they will come,” says Edelman. “I have no idea how well this will be received.”

Advisors on tap

One big thing clients will also get — and what Edelman thinks really separates his offering from other technology-focused tools for the mass market — is unlimited access to an advisor. Clients can call or e-mail a team of advisors whenever they want without the limits that are common in many mass-market platforms. See: A $2.5 billion RIA makes its mass-market bid for thousands of new clients.

“We do have advisors that will be available to talk to them if they wish,” says Edelman. “The amount of money they have does not dictate whether they work with an advisor.”

Additionally, while the online intake is a key part of the program, it’s not required. A potential $8,000 client could just call up Edelman’s office, talk to an advisor on the team that will focus on the low-minimum clients, and sign up directly into that same portfolio.

“Some of those other sites, it’s strictly technology with no opportunity to talk to a human being,” says Edelman. “That’s not the case here.”

Lining up behind the competitors

Palaveev, though, argues that it’s hard to say those other sites are or aren’t successful, because they’re “very young.” Sites such as Wealthfront, Betterment and Personal Capital, which offer people the ability to manage their own money online in a series of tools aren’t well known yet by consumers and are “just starting to be offered,” says Palaveev.

Ric Edelman: We believe we're doing something that is currently lacking.
Ric Edelman: We believe we’re doing
something that is currently lacking.

Jon Stein, CEO of Betterment, an online investing tool and broker, argues that its platform delivers just as good results at one-tenth of the fees Edelman charges and with far less time commitment from the customer.

“In the long term, people are going to wise up,” he says.

Betterment has three financial advisors on staff to help clients with more than $100,000 on financial planning questions and goals. And, anyone can call customer services for assistance. The firm’s customer service gets “very high marks,” Stein says.

And, he argues, most people don’t really need or want all the handholding that an advisor like Edelman can provide. Most people, who don’t have complex financial issues, want to be able to go online and do it themselves with the sophisticated tools Betterment offers, he says. “You don’t want to call up a travel agent anymore, you want to go on Kayak,” he says.

Edelman, of course, disagrees and believes he’s offering something totally new that will serve a completely unserved population.

“We believe we’re doing something that is currently lacking,” says Edelman.

Mentioned in this article:

The Ensemble Practice LLC
Consulting Firm
Top Executive: Philip Palaveev

DeVoe & Company
Mergers and Acquisition Firm
Top Executive: David DeVoe

Betterment Holdings Inc.
Financial Planning Software
Top Executive: Jon Stein

Portfolio Management System
Top Executive: Andy Rachleff

Share your thoughts and opinions with the author or other readers.


Steve Lockshin said:

October 28, 2012 — 10:51 PM UTC

There clearly is a need in the regions of wealth (mass affluent and below) that remain underserved by the financial service industry. What will be interesting is seeing what will become the primary driver of success. Will it be brand, price, access to human advice, or something else?

I wouldn’t bet against Ric’s marketing machine, but agree that Betterment’s low cost solution gets consumers 99.9% of the way for a fraction of the price.

Either way, I’m pleased to see that consumers will have more choices from firms operating as fiduciaries. Now the consumers just have to find them!


Elmer Rich III said:

October 29, 2012 — 5:30 PM UTC

We have done consumer marketing and advertising and even owned an ad agency. B2C work is very hard, hyper competitive and very expensive — one of the reasons we moved to the B2B marketing world of financial services.

Potential lawsuits aside, just look at the marketing budgets and complexity of consumer marketing firms. In addition, we have studied it for many years and there is little evidence web advertising works. The web appears to essentially be a customer service channel.

That said, you can build a web business get traffic by giving things away and sell it for a fortune — but that is a different “play.”

The idea of “discount brokerage option for wealth management” is an oxymoron and dangerous. Financial services is a heavily regulated industry with increasing compliance demands. Consumer marketing is the opposite. Look at the issue the healthcare marketing has had and even that is really an indirect B2B strategy — get patients to tell their doctor they want the medication.

On the “back office” issues, let’s remember a lot of that is compliance. In addition, any acquirer of this business would need to factor in acquiring potential lawsuits as well.

However, a 3 year exit strategy sale of any web business can be very profitable — because of the money being thrown at web advertising. Web advertising being a sales/marketing tactic that has little data to support and very poor economics — but it is the “new shiny thing”. We tell our clients not to waste money on it.


Stephen Winks said:

October 29, 2012 — 5:52 PM UTC

Expert, authenticated, prudent investment process transcends price. As Edwards Demming observed, to the chagrin of Detroit, if you can’t define what you are doing in terms of process, then you don’t know what you are doing, Process transcends price as scale and technical competency are introduced. This is what makes highly personalized expert counsel less expensive than a packaged retail product which by limitation of prospectus can neither be client specific nor afford high level technical competency. The brokerage advice products don’t stand a chance either on the basis on technical competency or price.

Thus, for the vast majority of investors, Edelman wins relative to high cost low value added retail alternatives. American ingenuity at its best. It is not investment products that add value, it is what you do with investment products, or process, that adds value. The brokerage industry to this day maintains brokers do not render advice in order to mitigate fiduciary liability and is not even remotely close to adapting to the necessary processes, advance technology, work flow management and conflict management that Edelmann employs in the consumer’s best interest. This large scale institutionalized support for fiduciary standing will prevail because there has never been a occasion in a free market where the best interest of the consumer has not prevailed.

Elelman is modernity in practice.



Brad Keene said:

October 31, 2012 — 2:41 PM UTC

I’m not sure I would classify Edelmann’s 2% fee for smaller accounts as a better alternative than “high cost, low value retail”. For a client with $5,000 do you really want to build a diversified portfolio of 10-12 ETFs? These clients are a nightmare to service. As soon as the account gets set up and invested they will call in and need the cash to pay for real estate taxes, car repairs, etc. To make $100 per year on these types of accounts doesn’t make sense for Edelmann either. If they only have $5,000 to invest, how many serious financial planning related questions can they have? We all have these types of accounts but they are typically friends, relatives of clients, etc. I’m not sure I would want to build a practice out of them. It seems like a no win situation for both sides to be honest. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for him. In all liklihood they are better off opening a Vanguard account with minimal expenses and searching Google for the one financial question they have each year.


Stephen Winks said:

October 31, 2012 — 3:41 PM UTC


Everyone wants $25 million clients. Though million dollar clients are more prevalent these days (10% of US households), the mass market of households that have more than $100,000 (40% of households) is terribly underserved with little competition. As you have observed, high level advice for these clients may not be worth the effort. That may be the case if you are limited to high cost retail products that leave little room for advisory fees and if you are not structured with highly scalable, expert, authenticated prudent processes which facilitate a far higher level of counsel, technical competency and service not possible in a brokerage advice product.

Professional services is different from sales.

Through the use of overlay management technology and real time manager buy/sell research Edeloman cuts 100 bps out of packaged product cost and facilitates the real time management of an extraordinary degree of portfolio detail necessary for fiduciary standing, all without investment minimums, Edelman generates a level of counsel not possible in a brokerage format , generates far higher margins than can be achieved in a brokerage format and is true to his role as an advisor which acts in the client’s best interest.

Thus the advancement of modernity.

This stark differentiation between and advisor and the broker will become increasingly clear, as the consumer prefers their best interests being served. Egelman is just executing on the intellectual capital at his disposal in the consumer’s best interest. He knows the brokerage industry can not respond for fear of fiduciary liability and its inability to acknowledge and support fiduciary standing.

Slam dunk Edelman and those compelled to act in the consumer’s best interest.

I think he will win many multi million dollar relationships simply on the basis he is going where no broker can go.



Elmer Rich III said:

October 31, 2012 — 4:11 PM UTC

The problem is growing:

- Increasing numbers of investors need guidance. Tens of millions, perhaps 100mm

- Their retirement life savings are at risk. If they make mistakes and lose any of this money all of us will end up paying their retirement bills – which will have a substantial, accelerating inflation factor.

- Hit or miss private efforts, such as Edleman’s will proliferate since the demand is there. However, the vast majority of new businesses fail. As we have said however, one can build an unsustainable web business and still sell it for a lot of money, eg Facebook, Zynga, etc.

The math is pretty straightforward — can retirement funds sustain a 2% load vs. can adequate services (mainly to avoid losing money) be delivered for 2%? We need objective evidence and data to answer this question.

Because something can be sold does not mean it works.


Brad Keene said:

October 31, 2012 — 4:52 PM UTC

My comments are not in regards to brokerage vs fiduciary relationships. I fully understand the difference between a broker and an RIA serving as a fiduciary as I am one. I fully agree the fiduciary RIA model is the best structure for most clients versus being sold products by brokers. I also understand that $25m clients are hard to come by. Frankly, I enjoy the $250k-$750k clients as they need help and can’t afford to make mistakes. My point is that for smaller clients I don’t believe charging them 2% (plus internal expense ratios and ticket charges possibly) and throwing them into a computer model and giving them a 1-800 phone number is a great solution. Once again, these folks can open an account at Vanguard, buy a few index funds, pay 10 basis point, and find the answers to their questions on Google. Let’s don’t pretend Edelmann’s intentions are altruistic and in an efford to help out the small investor. He is in it to make a buck. Good luck to him.


Elmer Rich III said:

November 1, 2012 — 2:10 PM UTC

The problem with cheap DIY self directed solutions is research shows self harming investing behavior is common.

In a sense, advisors are paid to do nothing with the money, which research also shows is the most profitable and incurs the fewest losses. It appears that whenever money is moved, by anyone, including an advisor, the probability of losses is substantial.

Then there is the additional research that stock investing and portfolio diversification may be harmful anyway.

The main thing to avoid is normal human behavior with investing. A machine would likely be much better. The same is true for medical care as well.

Add in the losses fees and it’s a losing proposition as currently structured. A 2%+ fee is a 2%+ loss each year – compounded.


Stephen Winks said:

November 1, 2012 — 6:21 PM UTC

Elmer, your presumption is you are using high cost packaged products and pay for retail trade execution. The institutional markets work very differently. Top RIAs are operating in a more similar manner to the institutional market than the retail market limited by a brokerage format. This is the difference between professional services and sales. In sales your observations have validity, but not so in a more thoughtful, modern approach to portfolio construction utilized at the very top of the advisory services marketplace which are demanded by well informed institutions and countrys where documentation and demonstration of value added is required.



Elmer Rich III said:

November 2, 2012 — 3:46 PM UTC

The is no evidence modern portfolio theory works and increasing amounts of evidence that it is mainly a sales strategy and not scientifically valid.

This is pretty well accepted.


Stephen Winks said:

November 2, 2012 — 4:29 PM UTC


Couldn’t disagree with you more. Now every advisor has to describe their approach to portfolio construction. I’ll bet you that 99% cite modern poertfolio theory because it is science based and can be sustantiated. Its execution is often questionable but not the theory. There is a big difference in how its practiced, Gaming the software until you get the answer you want is common.The more rigorous execution of MPT is nothing like its retail counterpart.

There are interesting derrivatives of MPT like Resampling Efficiency that are proven to add 57 bps in alpha based on Markowitz’s own evaluation. There have been many patented, peer reviewed enhancements to MPT, not typically available in the retail space because of the work required.

So, we now all await breathlessly for your alternative. What is it? Is it peer reviewed? Has it won the Nobel Prize? Is it widely accepted? Is it science based and repeatable? We can’t wait. Please tell us what it is?

I suspect we will not be hearing a superior solution from you.

Again, you can not back up your polemic—it’s” pretty well accepted.”



Elmer Rich III said:

November 2, 2012 — 6:22 PM UTC

The so-called “Nobel” prize in economics is not, in fact, based on the same level of evidence and scientific proof as the real “Nobel” prizes. It econ prize “in honor of Alfred Noble,” not following his requirements for real science, is awarded by Swedish central bankers and a marketing false claim.

Further, citing a “Nobel” prize is a logical falsehood called “augment from authority” and a sales tactic not proof of anything.

The growing evidence disproving MPT and active management does not require an alternative theory. There may be, in fact, no way to successfully manage portfolios, let alone handle the annual loss from fees and commissions. The so-called “proof” of MPT or alternative is simplistic back testing and not the required double-blind experimental testing needed.

To claim otherwise violates fiduciary principals of honest disclose.

The main benefit seems to be preventing people, including advisors, from making mistakes which are endemic when a portfolio is changed with highly imperfect information.

For someone so loudly touting “best interest of the client” – SW is sure full of sales platitudes and unproven claims that deliver him economic benefits. Predictable.


Stephen Winks said:

November 2, 2012 — 8:38 PM UTC


So, your are for Chaos. Forget any scientific underpinnings, everything is oppinion, and no opinion is any better than another? Absurd !

How can you be so consistently wrong on just about every observation. Yes I understand, you are disagreeing to be purposefully disagreeable, not to advance fact or cogent arguements. You just can’t help yourself.

The fact that MPT is best applied through passive investments totally discredits your sense of an alternative theory—as you pose it, it is just an investment vehicle consideration.

Harry Markowitz is so far beyond double blind test as to again render your absurd observations even more absurd. Are you familiar with the rigor of resampling efficiency. It is very daunting and uncomon in retail circles. You characterize it as dishonest discourse. You have no clue about what you are talking about.

The best thinking you disparage incorporates patented and peer reviewed innovations in the use of data that addresses the use of “highly inperfect information” you cite. A major breakthrough in MPT particularly appreciated by Soverign Wealth Funds—which must rely upon something other than an unsubstantiated opinion that you encourage. Do your client’s actually go along with this?.

What will you come up with next.

Back on topic, Edelman has been a brilliant market leader in many ways—which I am sure you disagree as you have previously said.

You are not doing yourself any favors by continueing this thread, as you are removing all doubt that you have absolutely no knowledge of what you are talking about.

I am more than happy to indulge you to bring clarity and hopefully curb you denigration of the practice of advisory services..



Elmer Rich III said:

November 2, 2012 — 9:05 PM UTC

More unsubstantiated sales hype and flattery. Typical. The kind of thing that give advisors, overall, a bad name.

Markowitz is a clever marketer and salesman — nothing more. There is no scientific basis for MPT — just theories and back tested data. Put into practice at retail or institutional leve it has failed at the worst times. Applying it to retirement money may be dangerous to societies as a whole.

Try that kind of thing next time you go to the doctor. RIP

Why should financial “treatments” or financial knowledge be held to any different evidence and proof standards than medical doctors, engineers, etc.?


Stephen Winks said:

November 3, 2012 — 4:04 PM UTC


You just flunked finance 101 and leave no doubt about it.



Stephen Winks said:

November 3, 2012 — 4:41 PM UTC


Every heart or brain surgery does not go well, but that doesn’t mean the science is invalid. It has something to do with execution. To say there is no scientific basis for MPT when it has gone through rigorous peer review, has won a Noble Prize and is the body of knowledge upon which other Noble Laureates have based their work and is the very foundation of modern finance, is beyond the absurd. How can anyone take you seriously?

On what basis do you to make such an assertion? If you were to apply the same reasoning to the medical profession, witch doctors would have the equivalency of modern physicans that benefit from many advancements in training, disgnostics and pharmacology.

You have not only flunked Finance 101, you have been locked out of the department.



Mark S said:

November 3, 2012 — 5:47 PM UTC

You are obviously both bright and well-intentioned. There are so many ways to skin a cat in the world of investing. If you both truly believe in your methodology, and you are growing your assets and clients, then something is resonating with the marketplace. In other words, your clients are finding value in your work for them. This is the ultimate test, for eventually, the marketplace will seek to find the highest return on investment, yet this measurement will differ among every client. As you know, some clients value the relationship much more than the performance, or vice versa. I’m guessing your clientele appreciate at least a little of both of these elements in your respective practices. That’s the beauty of our business I believe; we end up attracting the clients whom we most align with in terms of our value proposition. Thankfully we have advisors out there – like you both – that are passionate about our industry and are adamant about delivering the best possible solutions.

On a side note, I believe the“Style-box” method of investing is the real snake oil in the industry. A local shop put this empirically-based research piece together a few years ago that should be mandatory reading for anyone taking the Series 63-65, or 7:

Best wishes


Elmer Rich III said:

November 3, 2012 — 10:54 PM UTC

Intentions are irrelevant. The road to heck is paved with them. What will we tell retirees whose life savings are gone — “Gee, we had your best interest in mind.” ? When MPT theories lose people’s life savings, en masse — who will pay their electricity bills, etc?

Don’t hear the econ “Nobel” prize winners working on that.

What we know in recent history is that pretty much the best and highest have consistently flunked investing 101: – The Yale Endowment approach has failed

- The advanced approaches of most banks, central banks and investment firms failed to the point of collapse

- The investment world represented by LTCM failed. Now hedgies claim all sorts of returns but we have no way of ever objectively knowing. We can look at the public fund reports and they are consistently awful.

- Recent research suggests a lot of highly paid people have been completely wrong about risk management and currency projections, etc.

- Add all the so-called econ “Nobel” prizes together and none of them even recognized the greatest and longest recession since the great depression. Complete failure.

So the idea that an advisor sitting in their offie in some suburban office building scanning the WSJ and going online at Morningstar, maybe Bloomburg, etc can really protect client assets ,with any accepted approach now, stretches credibility.

If medical professionals had the same success record as the best and brightest financial minds — they would be in jail for mass murder.

So where is there any objective evidence that MPT does anything but fail? Please provide the citation(s).

Is this an unfair assessment of moder econ and investment “thought” and theories. Is it not critical enough? What positive evidence have I missed?


Stephen Winks said:

November 4, 2012 — 4:43 PM UTC


Again, you demonstrate you are ill-informed.

Yale’s David Swensen has established it is not likely his strategy can be replicated in the retail market due in part to access to investment vehicles, the retail cost of products, the high cost of retail trade execution, the markups of retail trading desks, and most importantly the rigor in which investments are evaluated and applied. Swensen is the perfect case for MPT. The breakdown is in the application of MPT.

Regulatory reform is all about you analogy that all a brokers clients die. By holding the broker to the fidiciary standar of care, how a broker does business/constructs portfolios becomes an issue.
Brokers now have to describe exactly how they construct portfolios. The brokerage industry has failed to acknowledge and support that broker’s render advice and largely support your thesis that most of their clients do not do well. This does not mean MPT is invalid. Furthermore there is research that proves this.

My proof is the CFA Institute, Peer Reviewed Research by numerous academic and legal authorities, certainly Noble Committee experts in economics and related fields. And to counter your arguement your proof is what? Brokers, who are not properly trained and supported to render advice nor are even allowed they acknowledge they render advice, are not very effective at portfolio construction.

Your instincts may be correct with regard to how adept brokers are at portfolio construction. Since in practice you are a broker as demonstrated in this discussion, you are argueing against youself.



Elmer Rich III said:

November 5, 2012 — 2:27 AM UTC

Eventually portfolio management is going to have to be evidence-based as other critical professions.

No society can afford to have the life savings of it’s elderly lost to sales-based practices – i.e., if you can sell it that is all you need as evidence. That is the current state of proof for financial services and MPT.

The current state of knowledge is not encouraging. The dramatic, significant losses of the “best and brightest” suggests the advisors do not have the information and tools they need.

If MPT cannot be used broadly and “clinically” it is a useless theory and likely wrong. We don’t see much evidence of it protecting portfolios.


Stephen Winks said:

November 5, 2012 — 3:51 PM UTC


MPT has long since been proven. You are suggesting Chaos as the alternative. Talk about wiping out life time saving of seniors—you option is sales versus professional services.

If certainty is what you expect—I recommend you consider bonds as you do not have sufficient understanding to wisely use equities and can not discern how to effectively manage information and risk. I gather you have interest in phychology, perhaps even have professional traininhg in that field from your reference to brain research. Is there any certainty of any phychological treament. With yourprofessional training, you would have to say no. Just as is the case with any surgery.

Some investors and in your case some advisos are not capable of handling risk. Than goodness in investing we have the alternative of cash and or bonds.

It is not an option to maintain that expert peer reviewed modern portfolio theory is invalid, just as it is not an option to say phychology, heart or brain science or surgery is invalid.



Elmer Rich III said:

November 5, 2012 — 5:03 PM UTC

Here is a good example of the common misunderstandings and misinformation in advisors and investors.

Let’s take the simple word “risk.” Risk, in fact, means a known probability of an outcome or return. “Uncertainty” means an unknown probability of an outcome or return.

So, in fact, since there is no way to predict the outcome of any investment, other than a fixed return, advisors and investors are dealing with uncertainty — not “risk.”

It is false and misleading then to use the word “risk” since the outcome of any portfolio is unknown and not predictable by a probability — as all MPT practitioners found during the recent meltdown.

By definition, advisors cannot manage uncertainty since there is no known probability possible.


Stephen Winks said:

November 5, 2012 — 6:51 PM UTC


Precisely my point, but you demand certainty in MPT. Are you not argueing against yourself?



Elmer Rich III said:

November 6, 2012 — 5:17 PM UTC

With the total failure of economics and much of financial services knowledge and business models recently — along with the massive responsibility of protecting the Boomers life savings — a bottom up rethinking is needed.

What value is current economics and financial knowledge and professional practice if massive government funding is needed to avoid total collapse? Lot’s of theories have been touted by we taxpayers had to pay the bill.

Of course, nothing much will change and business as usual will stumble forward. That is human nature.

But if the life savings of Baby Boomers and future retirees are lost due to half proven theories like MPT – the social costs will be scary. If advisors are part of those losses it will cripple the profession.

It would be preferable to do some tough critical thinking before that happens but human nature prevents that. For investors it’s probably best to hunker down since most will be left to their own counsel — regardless of the mass marketing campaigns.


Stephen Winks said:

November 6, 2012 — 6:02 PM UTC


The industry is already engaged bottom up rethinking. First comes acceptance of the broker’s fiduciary standing achieved by Dodd-Frank, then comes the industry’s compliance. This is in sharp contrast to the insudtry not acknowledging or supporting the fiduciary standing of the broker. Our disagreement is I believe in rigorous peer reviewed investment theory that supports expert advice, you believe in chaos, anyone’s oppinion is as good as anothers.

Quite to the contrary to your assessment, well reasoned approaches to portfolio construction based on MPT , utilizing best thinking on the use of data and advanced statistical methodology (resampling efficiency) are far more likely to achieve highly attractive, repeatable results. If it is anything goes, then it is not repeatable or reliable.

Your distain for MPT is misplaced, it should be directed to the industry’s poor (non existant)support for advisory services, fiduciary standing and portfolio construction necessary for broker/dealers to assume accountability and responsibility for broker recommendations and the mitigation of fiduciary liability.



Elmer Rich III said:

November 6, 2012 — 6:33 PM UTC

The basis of professional, and useful, knowledge is prediction of the future – within error terms. Nothing we see in economics and finance meets this basic requirement.

In fact, much of what passes for knowledge and professional practices is sales-based only. Advisors and clients buy MPT so it is used with no evidence basis.

Now, it may be that there are simply way too many variables and too many dynamics in global finance to ever model successfully. By comparison, the challenges of a doctor with a single patient’s body seem more manageable. Also, real knowledge takes decades to discover let alone convert to practical “clinical” applications.

In the meantime, investors demand some guidance and pay well for what is offered — whether it works or not.

What seems a significant difference is 1) The web makes easily available the best data, research and evidence. There is no where for weak ideas and practices to hide anymore. 2) The coming dominance of retirement and life savings in the financial industry. Whether in DC plans or roll overs/IRAs the vast majority of money advisors will oversee are peple’s life savings.

Again, mistakes with those funds will be massively harmful.


Stephen Winks said:

November 6, 2012 — 7:09 PM UTC


Entirely disagree with your premise that “certainty of outcome” is the basis for professional standing—it is not true in brain or heart science, or for that matter anything more than rote functionality of mechanical processes. Professional services require training and judgement which must be practiced. Otherwise one would just buy a new brain or heart. Your simplistic view of portfolio construction would require you to invest only on cash or bonds on the basis of certainty of outcome.

Elmer, this discussion is going nowhere, I don’t have the time to train you in Finance 101. You are a smart but misguided guy. If your clients buy what you are saying then I hope to god they find an expert third party for second opinion.

You are a dangerous loose cannon that has no scientific basis for your assertions. You are not advancing the well being or the best interests of the investing public based on objective, non-negotiable fiduciary criteria—the very outcome regulators seek to avoid by holding brokers to the fiduciary standard of care.



Elmer Rich III said:

November 6, 2012 — 8:40 PM UTC

The word is “predictability” within error terms. Any professional who sells “certainty” is a charlatan as Madoff.

Financial advisors are being sold a lot of theories, ideas products and services which have no evidence basis. MPT has just been well marketed, misapplied and misunderstood — and failed abysmally. “Risk” (sic) management in the best and brightest institutions has proven a charade and failure as well.

Institutional portfolio management seems to be contributing to the pension crisis it was extensively planned and implemented to avoid.

It may be decades before advisors can really make proven claims and deliver real value beyond helping clients avoid impulsive mistakes.

The facts speak for themselves.


Stephen Winks said:

November 7, 2012 — 4:08 PM UTC


The fiduciary standard would correct the problem of of inferior products by design, to which uniformed brokers and advisors fall prey. There are large product manufacturers who are only concerned about what sells,with no regardto the consumer’s best interest— variable annuity, insurance and targetdate funds come to mind. In a few cases, Raymond James with annuities, these products are sucessfully screened out by due dilligence. So, we can agree on somehing.

But we largely disagree on just about everything else. The challenge the industry faces is the properly resourcing brokers and advisors with the necessary enabling resources for expert advisory services in support of fiduciary standing, which the industry presently does not acknowledge and support. This effectively addresses the question of broker.advisor/skill which has resulted in such terrible performance. It is not that MPT is invalid, it is the skill utilized in applying MPT.

Unfortunatelythe industry has made it is politically inexpedient to advance fiduciary staning of the broker as it would negate the industry’s principle defense—brokers do not render advice—which insulate it from fiduciary liability. In effect it is futile and an act of insubordination to advance the fiduciary standing of the broker and the necessary enabling resources which would make fiduciary standing safe, scalable, easy to execute and manage as a high margin business at the advisor level.

The facts do indeed speak for themselves—you just need to get more facts on your side.



Elmer Rich III said:

November 7, 2012 — 5:41 PM UTC

In business, and life, there is never one simple solution for any problem.

My concern is more fundamental. If the underlying knowledge, theories and ideas are flawed — good processes and execution of flawed ideas will just lead to more of the kinds of disasters we have experienced in this century and the last.

My concern is less “how” advisors work than in “what” they do. If the “what is fundamentally flawed the “how” won’t matter.

For example:

“ A Crack in the Foundation of Economics (Mosre Especially Finance)

Last year I did a post on a mathematical error that has dictated the direction of important work in economics, and more especially finance. The discovery of this error, by U.K. mathematician Ole Peters, has slowly gained some recognition, though for some reason the journal where the original paper was published has not been willing to publish this correction.

At its root the error is obscure — as would inevitably be the case for it to have persisted for so long and for its incorrect conclusion to be relied on by such luminaries as Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow. But more has been published about it after my post which do a better job at explaining the problem and its implications. So for those who are interested — and you will be interested if you think about how a portfolio grows over time, how the policy for a group relates to the results for individuals, or the implications (correct and mistaken) of the St. Petersburg paradox — I am providing links to them here:

The first is an interview with Ole by Michael Mauboussin, and the second is a paper by a group at Tower Watson. It is significant that the bulk of the notice for this is coming from industry rather than academics, and that the core group that is providing notice is the affiliated with the interdisciplinary Santa Fe Institute. “


Stephen Winks said:

November 7, 2012 — 8:02 PM UTC


It is nice you found a mathmatical error in some obscure journal. What does that have to do with anything?

The “how” you cite is fiduciary duty, the what is “Modern Portfolio Theory”. Both well established and exhaustively affirmed by expert counsel and peer review. If MPT and fiduciary standing can be improved upon—the door is wide open as that is what peer review is all about. But until there is general agreement, the validity of the original thinking stands.

MPT and Fiduciary standing are not invalid because you say so. Just as Paul Samuelson and Ole Peters are not discredited by your error supposition. Academic zeal/acclaim will not allow mistakes to be perpetuated.

I would suggest, unless you can prove otherwise, MPT and Fidiciary Standing are on pretty firm ground. I would also suggest, your obsession with “certainty of results” can be found in cash and bonds, not in the disparagement of MPT and fiduciary standing.



Elmer Rich III said:

November 8, 2012 — 5:01 PM UTC

Because results have been weak or even worse for most financial and econ models – the knowledge bases needs a rethinking, not just procedural changes.

“But there’s a difference between acknowledging a fact and actually embracing its implications. Look at the financial industry, which has been talking forever about once-in-a-century so-called black swan events, but which seems to have a major meltdown every decade. Why? Because if you have 10 different once-in-a-century problems that can happen and they can happen independently of each other, then you’ve just gone from one time in 100 years to one time every 10 years.”

Current models have proven incapable of coping with the new global financial environment, and may have led to massive and systemic failures in individual, national and global portfolios.

A doctor administering a erroneous medical treatment in a better way – in the patient’s best interest – is not going to have better results.


Stephen WInks said:

November 8, 2012 — 8:38 PM UTC


Everyone including the broker agrees that results are poor, It’s a free market, if you can do better than Markowitz have at it.

I disagree that the new models can’t deal with global irregularities, in India and China which are highly suspecious of securities and fiat currency, it is not uncommon for one to have 70% of their holdings in gold, diamonds or commodity related holdings. Based on thousands of years of experience, which have seen fiat currency become worthless time and again—that strategy might may even have relevence here if fiscal discipline is not restored soon and our currency is no further debased.

Again, judgement is required. Here securities of long establishe firms in solid industrys have more credence and are considered a storehouse of value to which the Chinese and Indians subscribe.



Beth White said:

August 22, 2014 — 2:50 PM UTC

You will know you have an online presence when people have to search your web site high and low to find your snail mail address or phone number, but your email address is plastered everywhere.


Brooke said:

August 22, 2014 — 5:06 PM UTC


I know what you mean.



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