Will the real Portnoy please stand up? This week’s guest may not be rating pizzas worldwide in one bite, but he is an expert at simplifying the complex world of money — we’re sitting down with the one and only Brian Portnoy, Ph.D., CFA. Brian(@brianportnoy) is the founder of Shaping Wealth, a coaching and content platform inspiring financial well-being globally. He also has multiple bestselling books on the psychology of money, most notably The Geometry of Wealth (which has been published in 8 different languages.)
For this interesting chat, Jeff and Brian dive into YOLOers needing to take some form of agency, where Crypto falls in the 7 dimensions of money life, behavioral conversations (rich vs. wealthy), Financial literacy, the happiness equation, investment expectations, and so much more! Plus, we get exclusive insight into how Brian is “Shaping Wealth” — SEND IT!
Check out the complete Transcript from this week’s podcast below:
YOLO is BS, and Investing as just one Dimension of Wealth with Brian Portnoy of Shaping Wealth
Jeff Malec 00:07
Welcome to the Derivative by our RCM Alternatives, where we dive into what makes alternative investments go analyze the strategies of unique hedge fund managers and chat with interesting guests from across the investment world. Happy Thursday. Welcome to the dog days of summer sports calendars rather lacking if you ask me all the golf majors done all we have is mid season baseball and the cubs in the gutter. We’re trying to help you through these slow days with a bunch of great episodes coming up with Benn Eifert Certifi, Agustin Lebron and Brage Agarwal all coming up to make it an awesome August. Onto this episode, we get to sit down with fellow Chicago and Brian Portnoy, who authored a few books how I invest my money, geometry of wealth and the investors paradox before launching a unique business focused on helping advisors and their clients achieve funded contentment as he calls it. We’ll get into his non cousin Dave Portnoy, yellow wears needing to embrace agency how crypto deludes people into thinking it’s both an investment in savings and protection. And whether behavioral finance is fluff or function. So much more send it This episode is brought to you by RCMs managed futures group, which will any day now I swear released their semi annual managed futures rankings covering trend ag energy, big firms, small firms and everything in between, head on over to RSA maltz.com and pop in your email to get the rankings as soon as they’re released. And now back to the show. Alright, hello, everybody. We’re here with Brian Portnoy. Welcome, Brian. Hi. So I’m here in Roscoe village, and you’re just north of me in North center, I think right?
Brian Portnoy 01:45
That’s right. I’m just on the other side of Irving Park Road.
Jeff Malec 01:48
We should have done this in person here. We are sitting in our homes and we could have been sitting across from each other live. I offer drinks, if you did you did. That’s my phone.
Brian Portnoy 01:58
I’d rather be drinking or I’d rather be drinking with you.
Jeff Malec 02:02
I don’t know how to do the pod live pod on the Zoom. Right? Like do you could you just set up two zooms, I guess. Two computers next to each other? Let let’s figure that out for next time. Next time. Next time. So wanted to briefly touch on your surname there and clear up that you aren’t related to David Portnoy in any shape or fashion. I think
Brian Portnoy 02:25
my Twitter bio says not Dave’s cousin. Yeah,
Jeff Malec 02:29
there you go. But that kind of dives into in my mind, at least what you’re touching on what you’re doing a little bit lately of like, talking about what he was doing and Yolo and trades and all that good stuff. And how it relates to kind of what you were doing.
Brian Portnoy 02:44
Yeah, I I’ve never really thought about it in that regard. But yeah, I mean, he’s a bullshit artist. I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear in there. Yeah, go for it. But and I don’t think that I am. Um, you know, he’s, he’s a pump and dump guy. He’s an entertainer. He’s very talented in in that regard. But you know, he’s, he did a nice job building up barstool. And then he sold it and made some nine figure some and himself was yoloing a bunch of things and, you know, talked about it. And, you know, there’s a lot of young men who are very open to the pied piper effect. There’s such a level of dislocation and Omi in our society, and that has certain I think nefarious political implications. But also, you know, in terms of GameStop, and some of this crypto nonsense. You know, you’ve got certain ringleaders Pied Pipers, like the other Portnoy, the not, you know, I’m the real Portnoy. So, importantly, you know, building up a fan base by saying, hey, this, this, this stuff’s on a rocket ship. You know, Elon is a much bigger example of somebody who just says things and people, people, some people attach to his every word.
Jeff Malec 04:09
And so if you had written the book today, with all of that GameStop, and Portnoy and all that stuff happening, would you would there been a mention where there been a section of like, Hey, don’t don’t fall for this BS?
Brian Portnoy 04:20
Well, if the book in references the geometry of wealth, no. The first book the investors paradox with which came out in 2014, it very well could have shown up there because that was a book about investing per se. From a behavioral finance perspective, the geometry of wealth had an investing section. But yeah, so So in the investors paradox, it could have very well been a good example of how not to conduct yourself or maybe just to a cautionary tale.
Jeff Malec 04:59
Yeah. It’s weird for me because I haven’t seen any like, right? There’s all this behavioral stuff, Fin twits full of the behavior, but you don’t see much that talks about that I’m addressing these YOLO guys, like the world’s unfair, this is the only way we’re gonna get ahead by by risking and over over risking and amount, whether it be in crypto, whether it be in GameStop, right, there’s that kind of people have kind of pushed that aside of like, well, you can’t blame them, they’re not gonna be able to get ahead anyway. Yeah,
Brian Portnoy 05:28
I’m not a big fan of of being a victim. You know, there are people who were born into pretty, you know, lousy circumstances and and they could complain or not complain, but my sense of the, you know, the, the group that likes to play the victim card, and that the only way they can escape their, their bad lot in life is to Yolo GameStop or to load up on you know, Solana or something, it’s like, just stop. Like, you’re just, you’re just full of shit. Like, excuse, yeah, like, maybe, you know, I, I’m, I think I am entering my, you know, old man shakes fist clouds phase, but like, yeah. You know, embrace agency, like, you know, going way way, you know, going back to, you know, the reason I showed up in Chicago in the early 90s, which was to get a PhD in social sciences. And, you know, I taught Smith and Marx and Durkheim and vapor and all these things to undergrad. So, you know, I, you know, spent a decade thinking about structural versus agency based causes for social phenomena. So I’m wide open for like structural problems. You know, Marx was maybe a shitty economist, but a pretty good historian and sociologist. And so, you know, I’m, I’m all in for structural explanations, and the lack of agency one has in a cruel, cold world, but you know, these guys push it too far. It’s like, just take responsibility for your stuff, go make a living. The world’s amazing place, there’s so much opportunity. And if you with a healthy mind and body in your mid 20s, think that the only thing you can do to get ahead is to buy crypto, then you know, you stink.
Jeff Malec 07:23
But do you think it’s an ingrained? Like it’s become a behavioral bias, like a behavioral roadblock, or it’s just an excuse?
Brian Portnoy 07:31
I think it’s an excuse. I mean, we, you know, you and I could both wrap everything and fancy language and make it but it’s just an excuse not to take care of your own stuff.
Jeff Malec 07:46
So speaking of crypto and like, so even if you had that excuse, you’re giving an excuse, but all those poor souls that have their money in Celsius that had their money and, and all this stuff, like, how do you view that in terms of how you read it at shaping wealth? And like, no, that’s not the way to wealth? What are you guys doing?
Brian Portnoy 08:04
Well, I mean, specifically, we’re not doing anything. I mean, we don’t do investment counseling. I think so we do base a lot of our coaching on the seven dimensions of money life, earning, saving, spending, borrowing, giving, investing and protecting. I think investing is probably the least interesting slash easiest to solve for of those seven dimensions. So you know, what you’re talking about could be indicators of certain, you know, client behavior that advisors would want some some counseling on. And in fact, we did a really fun coaching program or coaching presentation maybe a year ago called Bitcoin blues, which wasn’t about Bitcoin, it was about FOMO. And where do we get this fear of missing out and then Jomo what is the joy of missing out and that became a kind of a coaching seminar for for financial advisors,
Jeff Malec 09:07
almost like the American eyes version of shaken fruit or whatever that word is?
Brian Portnoy 09:13
Jeff Malec 09:14
Freida. Gaiden Friday.
Brian Portnoy 09:16
Yeah, you don’t want a Russian Jew named Portnoy quoting German culture? Okay. It’s not a good
Jeff Malec 09:22
it’s not so you came drama.
Brian Portnoy 09:25
So I didn’t make them Jomo. Somebody came up with Jomo but you know, just wouldn’t Jomo was the schadenfreude is the joy you receive from others misery. No Jomo is just Oh, okay. I didn’t go to Lollapalooza. And boy, am I happy I wasn’t in that crowd. Like I could have gone I didn’t want to go. I felt like I should have gone and like oh, God, it was it was 95 degrees and humid and packed and and, you know, the Foo Fighters canceled and it was gonna be awful and whatever. So but you know, Jomo is just a person stating that, you know, you can’t do everything and you can make a choice to avoid things and just sort of be present with yourself or people around you. And that’s, that’s a good thing. But back to your question about crypto, um, there’s levels. One is the herding behavior, which we can observe from a macro point of view. And that’s normal. I mean, probably the most important thing we can say about humans is that we are social creatures, and that we are deeply hardwired for the need to belong to be part of a group. So when you dig into evolutionary psychology, when you dig into history, you can see that that sense of connection with others is about as important a topic as you can get into so in group versus out group dynamics, and finding your tribe, so to speak. Like super important, and not irrational, not not trivial, like, deeply important.
Jeff Malec 11:08
Now, it can be argued as hard as ever in today’s world.
Brian Portnoy 11:11
Well, it’s easy, because we now have access to we now have access to what ever you know, we have, we have eyes on what everybody’s doing. You know, there’s the old JP Morgan line that nobody, you’re nothing corrupts your financial judgment more than the sight of your neighbor getting rich. And the thing today, because of you know, LinkedIn and Twitter and snap and Facebook and tick tock is that everybody can see what everybody’s doing. And I think one of the reasons that arguably society is on tilt is because we are being confronted with so much stuff. And you know, there’s headwinds and tailwinds, it’s going to encourage certain positive trial behaviors, it’s going to encourage certain negative behaviors, you know, it’s, we’re in it, it’s really kind of hard to assess it, it’s hard to imagine it going away, I don’t think this genie goes back in the in the bottle. So you know, the fact that because of the way information technology can spread instantaneously, you see things like crypto, which, you know, clearly made some negative comments in the last five minutes, it is what it is. And there could be potentially some positive things about it. But you know, guys latch on to it, and they see other guys latch on to it. And, and, you know, that’s that natural herding behavior, that natural bias toward finding confirmatory evidence and being deeply uncomfortable physically uncomfortable with with evidence or news that contradicts your your priors. Like that’s, that’s really real. There’s another level though, that we should flag and you’re the investor, not me, or I used to be an investor. And that is that, you know, you looked at some of these platforms that were offering what 15 To 20% yields on cash. And that’s like, come on. Alright, if if my, literally my 80 year old mother was confronted with that, and she doesn’t know anything about anything, she could get sucked into that. And that would be a shame. But if you are kind of a sentient adult, and you are being offered 20% yields on something, and you’re supposed to think that that’s normal, that alone safe, then again, it gets back to our top, you know, topic of agency, like have you done any work? Have you done any diligence? And the answer has to be no.
Jeff Malec 13:52
And go back to your seven pillars or which comm seven,
Brian Portnoy 13:56
seven dimensions of money
Jeff Malec 13:57
I mentioned. Sorry?
Brian Portnoy 13:59
Earning, saving, spending, borrowing, protecting, investing, giving.
Jeff Malec 14:07
So yeah, I think and I think what’s interesting to me in light of those seven, right, it’s like crypto for a lot of these young guys marks off a lot of those boxes, like you’re just saying, Oh, this can be my earnings. This can be my savings. This can be my protection. Yeah. And this can be my investment. Right? So it’s like, cool crypto just checked out four boxes, I get all this yield, I get this protection against inflation, I guess. Right, which is narratives all the way around, but it’s just interesting to me in light of kind of what you’re doing on a day to day basis, like a lot of that. Yeah, it’s that, that profile in their mind. So they’re like thinking they’re doing the right thing.
Brian Portnoy 14:45
I you know, I I never thought about it in those terms. But that’s, I’m gonna I’m gonna have to do something with that. Um, the other layer here and put on is that something I’ve been thinking about or what I call it Unity assets, meaning that you know, things that we own, that give us meaning and purpose and identity. And you know, crip, the crypto community is clearly defining their identity in part through digital currencies, like, it’s, it’s meaningful to you. I mean, there’s far less salacious examples, you know, you could think about a house you own or a building you own. And economically, maybe the right thing to do would be to sell it or refurbish it or do nothing, but you act differently because the building or the home has a certain meaning to you. So we do gain, we source parts of our identity through financial assets. That’s I don’t think there’s anything new with that. And in fact, going to the traditional behavioral finance literature, we have the so called Endowment Effect, which is that the moment you own something, you value it more than the moment before you owned it. It’s more meaningful to you so that that’s, you know, we’ve known about that for for a long time. We’ve been like the the kind of tip of the spear here is that for like highly volatile, controversial assets to tie your identity to them can be highly volatile.
Jeff Malec 16:22
Yeah. The we used to work with an RA who called it financial furniture. He’d be like, right, I have these clients in Atlanta, they have the Coca Cola stock has been passed down from their grandma, to them to the to their kids, and it’s financial furniture over there in the corner. Like you can’t sell grandma’s couch. What are you doing? That’s got us over there in the corner?
Brian Portnoy 16:41
I yeah, that’s, that’s exactly right. Yeah, it’s just it’s, you know, try to put that into an efficient frontier calculation. Like you can’t, and that’s maybe a pitch for uniform behavioral advice, because like, if you can’t figure out what that is, or if you just say, well, that’s irrational. And at shaping wealth, you know, we’re remote only because I’ve got one partner in Atlanta, and then two partners in Europe. You know, on our virtual wall, there’s a, you know, the word irrational with a circle and a line drawn through it, like the concepts of rational versus irrational behavior are not something we are allowed to talk about. Because they actually undermine good conversations about money and decision making and habit and meaning, you know, we just talk about normal
Jeff Malec 17:42
fact, we’ll dig into that more. So you’re saying if I’m like, oh, that’s irrational. Why would she ever buy that? Yeah, then it’s not helpful. What Why? Why is she buying? Well,
Brian Portnoy 17:51
not only is it unhelpful, it’s harmful. It’s harmful in the sense that when you pathologize, normal human behavior, you become not just kind of analytically judgmental, you can become personally critical. A rational is a fancy word for stupid. I mean, he’s acting irrationally. IE, he’s an idiot. Like, What? What? Why would he do that? One of the things that, and we run this coaching program at shaping wealth, and one thing we talk about is is what we talked about punchlines, we talk about listening, and we talk about validation. We talk about awareness, not only self awareness, but awareness of, you know, the person across the table from you that you know, empathy, which is a very complicated, multi dimensional phenomenon. And so, you know, when, you know, the grandson won’t sell grandma’s Coca Cola shares, and it would be very beneficial to them financially, you know, from a balance sheet point of view numerically, to sell them and they won’t. Um, I mean, the advisor is not going to call that person stupid, but they might think, Oh, God, that’s that’s really a bad decision. And we would counsel differently, which is what why don’t you take the time to listen to what’s important to them and why they value the things that they do, and have an authentic conversation that starts there, and builds from that in terms of the life that they want to live and how something like grandma’s Coca Cola shares fit in, versus kind of isolating this asset, calling it the, you know, the irrational piece and saying, the hell with it. It’s only 5% of their portfolio and we’re not going to deal with it. There’s just a different door. You can choose to walk through as a behavioral adviser, but you are sort of compelled to jettison the idea of irrationality.
Jeff Malec 19:58
What do you say to people who be like that? Just a bunch of fluff, right? Like I would well, I’ll start with what percent of advisors these days are moving towards this direction and moving towards behavioral conversations and addressing biases. Versus just like, hey, here’s the pie chart, you need to make sure you match up in this pie chart.
Brian Portnoy 20:18
Um, I mean, I’ll round up and say all of them. I mean, the idea that an advisor is going to add value through their investments is a joke. I mean, it is
Jeff Malec 20:32
yeah. Well, I will say like, is this person sitting in Racine, Wisconsin, the smartest person in the world to manage my investments? Right? That’s right. And so I’ve probably ever seen listeners out there. I like respecting the receipt. Yeah, nice or racing, if you are in a legal league of their own movie.
Brian Portnoy 20:55
No, no one cries in behavioral finance. So no, I mean, look, Jeff, the the, the clear trend that we’re seeing. And, of course, I’m talking my book, but I built my book in light of the trend, not the opposite, which is that there is a full blown movement among wealth management firms, from the individual independent Ria, all the way to the wire houses to embrace behavior broadly defined. And I’d stress that like, behavioral finance 1.0 kind of sees, you know, the use of Kahneman Tversky and Thaler and those dudes, as you know, the sorts of different tools and tricks you can play to nudge people and and, and label biases and do all that. I have a different perspective on behavioral finance 2.0, which just starts with the premise that behavior is gravity, not a tool. And by gravity, I mean that it’s everywhere. There’s no not behavior, like there’s no not gravity, there’s no not forced, that’s putting me keeping me in my chair right now. And so when you embrace that, like, there’s no step of the financial well being process, there’s no step of the financial planning process, the investment process that doesn’t implicate some dimensions of cognition, perception, decision, habit, you name it, then you say, well, everything’s behavior. And then how do you accommodate that force? How can you maybe bend it a little bit to suit your needs or or your client’s needs? And so the wirehouses have chief behavior officers, which are seven figure gigs, independent RAs are working with us to receive coaching and content, the vast middle ground of larger independent firms, you know, the five to $50 billion RAs, they’re working with us, the independent broker dealer space, the 52 million 50 billion, you know, half a trillion trillion dollar IBDs. They’re working with us. I mean, we’re just getting going. So we’ve got smatterings here and there, but like the Congress, I have these conversations every single day, with not only individual advisors, but from the top down the heads of advisor development, as well as the heads of learning and development for the firm’s overall. And so how to integrate behavioral insight into the entire financial planning process is the ballgame right now?
Jeff Malec 23:33
And what? For all those groups you mentioned, what’s their end game two, it’s another piece to attract clients, or it creates a better outcome for those clients. And then,
Brian Portnoy 23:44
oh, I mean, start with your existing clients and try to retain them and providing an overall better experience. You know, it’s one thing to have a conversation about whether you have an optimal portfolio, it’s another conversation to understand how money is fitting into a meaningful life, however you choose to define that. The first conversation is narrow. And I think a fair bit of theater, in terms of whether or not the guy in Racine or the gal in Albuquerque is building a better portfolio than the person in Fresno or Tallahassee. The second conversation requires a fair amount of contemplation and I would argue, you know, learning to really know how to have those conversations. It goes beyond being a good good guy and having some common sense and being ethical. There are some deep seated human tendencies that we all have, that are worth understanding. We talked earlier about kind of our disposition to belong and to be connected and that has a variety of implications for money life and beyond. So, you know, what is the payoff? Well, I mean, part of what we’re and so because we’re early In our business development, you know, we’re kind of mapping to the Crossing the Chasm type dynamic, where innovators and early adopters are kind of who we’re working with. And right now we’re kind of figuring out like the early majority piece as we get to bigger firms that seem to be broadly interested in what we’re doing, but have to figure out specifically like how to work with us. Um, you know, there’s, there’s an element of, well, this is the right way to be like, if you’re going to be a financial advisor, you should go beyond trying to build a good portfolio, you should go beyond just building a financial plan, and you should engage in planning, so move from noun to verb on plan, and then figure out well, what is what is a goal, which is one of the most complicated and misunderstood, you know, ideas in, in our industry, but like, how do you form and achieve goals? How do you keep on track? How do you stick to the plan? How do you make decisions and form habits? How does all this relate to your sense of contentment in the here and now? And more broadly? How does that then create certain conversations between husband and wife, parents and children across the multigenerational stack? I mean, we’re working with a very, very large private bank, now one of the largest in the world. And they are, you know, struggling, but they’re contemplating how to have better conversations about money across three or four generations now, because they are observing that if you do the old school stuff on, you know, in the wood paneled board room, with a stack of papers, and trust documents, and you know, all the portfolio stuff, it just leaves the adult children and the grandchildren.
Jeff Malec 26:58
No, yeah, they say, forget it.
Brian Portnoy 26:59
And so will how do you broaden the conversation? It’s actually not obvious. I think that’s why we are growing in the way that we are.
Jeff Malec 27:08
You think a piece of that ties back into the, I hate to use the term ESG. But it’s sort of ESG right to some of these things of like, well, I want to have control over what my money is invested in or, or, I keep coming back to investing. Sorry, and that’s one of the seven dimensions, but you know, what I’m saying is that.
Brian Portnoy 27:30
Um, so, you know, ESG is is an example of something much bigger, which is, you know, some sense of context, or purpose or meaning. So, you know, I, whatever opinions I have about ESG they’re, they’re, they’re ill formed, but yeah, say I’m a huge fan.
Jeff Malec 27:52
Read, I’ll refrain, do you, are you saying people that once they get this concept, oh, okay, I want to, I want to fulfill these goals in my life with my wealth. One of those goals is to feed hungry children, whatever. But if I’m doing that, at the same time, part of the thing that’s generating the wealth to do that is taking food out of hungry children’s mouths, right? Does it get down into that granularity? I don’t know, the company that’s taking food out of children’s mouths, but if there were one, right, would it be like, Okay, we got to get that out of the portfolio?
Brian Portnoy 28:23
Um, yeah, I mean, I’m trying to think, like, the best way to like, frame this. But um, so let me step away back yet to say that I wrote this book, five years ago, published four years ago, the geometry of wealth. And the main thing, page one was, well, there’s a difference between being rich and being wealthy. And being rich is the quest for more, which ultimately, is this hedonic treadmill that you could never really get off of, you know, like, you have 10 million bucks. Well, okay, then you want 20 of 20 then you want 40 And you’re just on it. And you know,
Jeff Malec 29:07
right, George got a jet. We need a jet. Yeah, yeah.
Brian Portnoy 29:11
You know, I worked at a firm once where the lead guy had his own jet and the his partner’s had to share a jet and like, they were pissed.
Jeff Malec 29:19
Yeah. Right. When versus if you’re coming from you’re 22 in a new place, like, hey, if we all shared a jet, that’d be awesome.
Brian Portnoy 29:27
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Well, if we didn’t have to share a bedroom, you know, because there’s so high like before you get to it yet, how about you cut your own bed? So um, so, you know, there’s, there’s, you know, the quest for being rich, which is fine. It’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be. There are certain elements of more that are quite good. But then the other you know, angle the fork in the road, you know, rich versus wealthy. I coined this phrase funded contentment, this idea that True wealth is the ability to underwrite a life that’s meaningful to you, however you choose to define that. And, you know, so underwrite a meaningful life that it’s deliberately loaded fate a phrase. And one of the things you know, so I was in your world for 1517 years, mutual funds, hedge funds, Morningstar, mezzmo, bunch of firms here in Chicago, a big investment national investment firm, where I was kind of did a bunch of content and behavioral coaching things but you know, worked on and, you know, understood the investment side to it as well. When I say funded contentment is the ability to underwrite a life that’s meaningful to you. The burden is defining the meaningful part. Yeah. Okay, like what matters to you, and your business, not mine? You know, I set out a pretty robust framework for helping people define what’s meaningful to them a bunch of mental models on that. But then, once you have some sense here in the moments, and you know, we change and adapt over time, but here, this is what’s really important to me. It’s just not my goals, but it’s my values and my purpose. You can then secondly, not first, secondly, ask questions about, well, how do I afford those things, and in some cases, it might be that they’re free or close to free, and that the really good things don’t really cost a lot of money, it might be that they cost a ton of money. Maybe what’s important to you is supporting the environment or some other cause, or it’s just supporting your family members. I mean, I’m in you know, my wife and I are in the sandwich generation where we help our parents and we’re raising our kids, and it’s not easy. So funded contentment to me involves it’s not happy, but it’s still fulfilling idea that we have a balance sheet that could support you know, three generations, our parents, ourselves and our kids, that that’s not fun. What is it, but it’s meaningful. And so the point is, it’s my business, nobody else’s, what my sense of a meaningful life is, I feel an obligation to certain people in my life. And it’s important to me that I, that I do that, right. And so once you’ve defined what’s meaningful to you, you then figure out the money stuff. And the geometry of wealth is a model for doing that. So you know, it’s circle, triangle square, defining purpose, setting priorities, making decisions in an iterative loop, and that that iterative loop of purpose priorities and decisions is my recipe for achieving funded contentment. That then I turned that book into a coaching platform called shaping wealth, which is the company I run with a few other people.
Jeff Malec 32:55
What if my funded contentment owning an aircraft carrier?
Brian Portnoy 33:00
Would I think the Secretary of Defense? Yeah, wire a phone call? Yeah, exactly. How
Jeff Malec 33:05
do we get there from him?
Brian Portnoy 33:07
That’s an interesting. I mean, we live in the same neighborhood, I’d like to see what’s parked outside. Yeah, exactly.
Jeff Malec 33:11
How do I get there? And then do you keep running into people like you, as we maybe as we get older, or just people are thinking about more of like, the most valuable thing that nobody can buy time, right? So to have that, like fun to content, when would be just to have as much time as possible, which to my brain goes like, cool, I can invest in that friend’s restaurant and this private equity thing and this thing over here, but each one of them is going to take some portion of my time. Yep. That as I’m laying out that framework of like, okay, sounds great. Maybe I make an extra 2% a year, but is that 2% worth my time?
Brian Portnoy 33:47
I’m right, or investing in your friend’s restaurant, they may be you know, restaurants are pretty risky, but maybe you just want to support your friend and you hope you just get your money back or you know, if you support your friend but you under performed the market, whatever that might be to you by you know, 500 basis points, might you say, Oh, that was worth it, because I got to support my friend. I got like the cool factor of like, you know, owning a little piece of this restaurant and getting a free drink at the bar and seeing people I know made some money but not as much as I would you know, this is where you know expectations management and which to me is alpha real alpha is meeting or exceeding expectations. That’s that’s where that you know, fits in. But it’s like dealer’s choice like whatever’s whether it’s you know, owning a restaurant or an aircraft carrier. This is kind of gone into strange direction I don’t think clear clearly those drinks that we were scheduled to have with leash have to happen sooner rather than later now because I got to hear which what’s on your mind
Jeff Malec 34:58
and hear what just popped into my mind. I’d like to have that movie hitch. You ever seen it with it? And like it? Did you come up with this all after? Right? She’s the heiress in the boardroom and they’re trying to give her all those papers you’re talking about. Yeah. And she’s like, No, I just want to support my friend’s art gallery. Yeah. And they’re like, no, no.
Brian Portnoy 35:18
Yeah, we the
Jeff Malec 35:21
Albert Brennaman. That was, that was, what’s the actor’s name?
Brian Portnoy 35:25
Yeah, the guy from King of Queens.
Jeff Malec 35:26
Yeah, exactly. That’s a good show. Go check it out. If you haven’t seen it. Listen. Yeah,
Brian Portnoy 35:29
yeah. Is this the beginning of a movie pot? I feel like you and I could?
Jeff Malec 35:34
Yeah, let’s do it. How much on that?
Brian Portnoy 35:35
Yeah. Um, yeah, the mission, the vision statement for my company. And you know, I don’t know who listens to your podcast, but could be some kind of steel eyed hedge fund manager. So maybe they think all of this is where we’re but like, I really believe it. And you know, the vision is funded contentment for everyone. If we can help people understand wealth as a mindset as much if not more than a number, then we can help people lead more fulfilling lives. And financial well being is actually just a subset of a broader vision of a life well lived. But what I’m doing with my partners is trying to take a little bit of responsibility for that one piece, and effectively helping people speak the language of money. You know, money is a language in which no one is fully fluent. It’s the hardest thing to talk about. The American Psychological Association does surveys on this every year, it’s the most stressful hardest to talk about thing more than sex money, pot, politics, religion, divorce, you name it. And, you know, if this were just a numeracy problem, it would have been solved a long time ago.
Jeff Malec 37:01
Do you think there’s a piece there that we’d need to like massively invest or make a priority to teach kids sooner, teach them in the school, like, teach them that language sooner, but you’re also saying like the language differs, right? There’s fine. There’s one language and a gazillion dialects? Because what matters to each person is different.
Brian Portnoy 37:19
Yeah, I don’t think so the problem is dire. But I don’t think the way that it says dire in the direction that you just painted it in terms of the dialects meaning that financial literacy, youth financial literacy, which is something I’ve been involved with for years, it’s getting marginally better. But it’s still despite massive efforts and massive resources in no small part, because in the US, at least, we’ve got 50 different education systems. And so you’ve got 50 different, you know, situations to solve. But globally, like there’s a ton of data and Annamaria Lusardi was the lead scholar globally on this on financial literacy, like the data is overwhelming and not good, like how bad people are. And it’s because like, in fourth grade, or eighth grade, we teach people, you know, to answer the question, what is money? And we say, well, it’s three things. It’s a store of value, it’s a unit of account. And it’s the third thing.
Jeff Malec 38:23
Method of exchange.
Brian Portnoy 38:24
Yeah. So um, you know, when we see it as this purely economic numerical transaction, when in fact, it’s kind of a window into who we are, it’s just a, you know, it triggers every important emotion that courses through us the greed, the fear, envy, joy, hope, despair, happiness, I mean, all of those are triggered by money in one way or another, for most of us, just about every day. So I do think that there is a shared vocabulary that can be created that really already exists. And it’s an execution problem more than a conceptual problem of how to have this conversation with younger folks, you know, starting when they’re 10, or 14, but certainly by the time they’re 18, and just getting them up to speed on like, Okay, what’s at stake here? Like, what, what are we talking about? And, you know, sort of the financial literacy as part of an economics curriculum is the first step in a very wrong direction. It shouldn’t be a more part of the humanities, understanding money as a social institution that was created just about six or 7000 years ago. So the human brain as it exists now, it’s about 130,000 years old. Money came along like 125,000 years later. And we’ve been out of sync ever since. So talking about these things, is really hard, which isn’t to say unsolvable. It’s very solvable. It’s very fixable. But you need to approach conversations about money with a particular mindset. And
Jeff Malec 40:07
I could argue we’ve gotten we’ve lost ground, right? Because you Robinhood some of the crypto ads and things that are happening there. I’m just like, we’re pulling back, like the risk, the whole risk side of the brain money brain is being erased, right when Robin Hood like throws confetti on your screen when you did a trade and whatnot.
Brian Portnoy 40:25
Right? That’s right. I mean, yeah, we’re sort of tweaking you know, some of that stuff that we prefer not you know, that I think you and I would prefer does doesn’t get tweet, but yeah, the confetti when you make a trade and, you know, like, one of the big trends and this is little to do with you or me in terms of what our day jobs are, but when you think about the demise of defined benefit plans and the rise of defined contribution and what that’s done, the democratizing of of money and investing, and democratizing, you know, has sight a nice like halo around,
Jeff Malec 41:07
it sounds great.
Brian Portnoy 41:08
It sounds great. But we know what’s happened with people’s ability to navigate their 401 K plans, their SEP IRAs, their 403 B plans, like it’s, it’s it’s kind of a mess.
Jeff Malec 41:23
It takes away that safety net. Basically, it’s like, okay, now you’re doing the high wire act with no net. Good luck.
Brian Portnoy 41:28
Yeah. And, you know, Americans, Americans to an extreme fault are observed with freedom. I promise I won’t get political on your podcast, like, yeah, no, just, you know, freedom. I mean, Jesus people, what a crude understanding people have what that means. But you know what, so now we have all this freedom with our investing lives. And it’s just been like this shambolic mess of people, not participating, not saving, keeping money in a money market account, instead of actually putting it into the market and letting it grow over time, pulling money out, when you know, things get rough. There’s all these examples of, you know, our independence, you know, our free retirement system, freedom based retirement system not being particularly effective.
Jeff Malec 42:21
So, a pivot off that and say, so if we still had those pensions, those groups managing the money for us how to groups like that, avoid these behavioral biases and work within such a framework, right? Because I’m sure you would agree to me they, they’ll fall for the exact same problems more often than not.
Brian Portnoy 42:40
Yeah, and that’s, you know, I learned that lesson the hard way, in my due diligence days, especially in hedge fund space where nobody comes across as a moron, like everyone seems pretty damn smart. And everyone has a investment process and systems and teams and pedigrees and all the all the things. But then you realize that most of those funds don’t do particularly well. And then you look at the institutional investors leave aside the fund of funds, and I was certainly part of the problem for 10 years, but beyond them, and you know, that phenomenon is more or less disappeared, thankfully. I mean, there’s a few survivors, but whatever. But you know, endowments, foundations, insurance companies, oh, cIose pension plans, you know, the generous thing to say is that a number of those groups can actually do a very good job in serving the specific needs of that institution. So when you think about a college endowment, that has different buckets that it needs to fill, keeping the lights on funding students funding research, long, you know, indefinite legacy assets, things like that, you know, they they can very intelligently bucket things out and find appropriate investments in some of these, you know, a lot of them do just just fine. And you don’t have to be David Swensen and Yale and that innovative to get that done. You can be and that’s a net positive. So, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s lots, lots of good things to be said about, you know, the well run institutional investors that are out there.
Jeff Malec 44:37
And it’s like, their goals are already been set by someone, right? So it makes it a little bit easier of like, hey, we don’t have to come up with the goal. The goal is right there on the outside of the building. So
Brian Portnoy 44:46
yeah, yeah. And potentially it’s possible to be a little less kind of, in sort of impetuous about about decision making. Number one, it’s The goals of the institution is not your goals to its committee based. So it’s just not up to one person that said, you know, there is academic research on this on institutional investors and guess what they chase returns, they chase returns every bit as much as retail investors, I’m not gonna throw the Gamestop you know, Robin Hood stuff into the mix, because, but like, generally speaking, you look at the behavior of quote, unquote sophisticate, you know, Smart Money, sophisticated institutional money. And I mean, you I haven’t really had much of a window in to this world for a few years. I mean, I had a window for 20 years. So I saw a lot. But I’m not fresh on the topic you are. But generally speaking, what I saw bottom up firsthand, I know the plural of anecdote is not data. But I have a lot of anecdotes, that then you look at the academic research, and you can see that pension funds, Chase returns as much as like, the guy next door.
Jeff Malec 46:05
And then you have the concept of, right, like, we’re, we’re within our framework, we’re having funded contentment at the endowment level, but oh, crap, the other 10 Ivy’s just beat us for the last three years now. They beat us for the last five years in terms of endowment performance. Someone there’s gonna be like this committee’s out. Right? So it seems like a mismatch there of like, they’re trying to just do what they need to do for their endowment, but they’re also in this never ending race of like, we want to be the top of the performance capsule, for the endowment in our league, so to speak.
Brian Portnoy 46:40
Yeah, yeah, ya know, that that dynamic exists. And, you know, it’s like, you know, take a coach and MLB or NFL and if they don’t have the support of ownership, and they’re being judged on, you know, just one season’s performance, where, you know, in the near term of any asset, volatility rains. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s hard to put a true longer term process in place when you know, you’re on the hot seat, and then you have to either chase the hot performance, or at minimum mimic what others are doing, or the others you perceive to be, you know, playing a winning hand.
Jeff Malec 47:27
How do you view this gets into back into the investment specifics, but even either in your past life or in your current life in terms of how you’re doing it? I’ve come up with this plan, or I’m going through the planning, we’re doing great, this one piece of my plan isn’t working. It’s not giving me the contentment, it’s causing me stress. Right. And I’m thinking more of it as one of the funds in a portfolio. But yeah, whatever it might be like, what how do you do that? Like, when do I get out? When do I pull the trigger? Yeah, to me, the ripcord not the trigger.
Brian Portnoy 47:58
Right. Right. Right. So the concept of fun to contaminate isn’t really relevant at the level of these portfolio decisions. However, the I’ll call it, The Happiness Equation is which is that happiness equals reality minus expectations. And so, you know, the thesis of, of the investors paradox, which wrote 10 years ago is that and that was based on roughly 4000, manager due diligence interviews.
Jeff Malec 48:25
I gotta go read that when I didn’t, I’d forgotten about that. How dare you? How dare apologies. Worse prepared host of two books. I think there’s actually three right, then you do one with the, what would you invest in or whatever?
Brian Portnoy 48:42
Yeah, the publisher might call it how I invest my money. But yeah, let’s just call it what would you invest in and make it into a game show? Right, then that look that Jeff, the upside here is that you definitely owe me a drink? So
Jeff Malec 48:56
for sure, at least to
Brian Portnoy 48:59
know. So yeah, the the investors paradox was based on really, you know, close to 15 years of manager due diligence, starting with Morningstar and the mutual fund space, and then going to actually be an actual allocator of capital, at Metro and elsewhere. And, you know, just reflecting on wins and losses and good decisions versus bad decisions. And, you know, taking into account Kahneman and Tversky, and other elements of social psychology, including this book, The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, which is where the name of the book came from the investors paradox, and the main thesis of that, and it sticks to me today. And because I think it’s generally I think it’s directionally true, which is that an investment that meets your expectation is a good expect is a good investment. And if it fails to meet your expectations, then it’s a bad investment. Now, good or bad out. Come, there’s a lot of reflection to engage in in terms of like, okay. What? How do you form those initial expectations? How do you memorialize them? How do you make observations, fact based or evidence based observations over time relative to those expectations? Assuming that you’re not perfect at your job? How do you update those expectations? And so, you know, to your question of, you know, when do you boot something? Um, you, you know, headline, I mean, there’s a lot of work to be done, but the headline is, if it’s, if it’s failing your expectations, then it should probably go.
Jeff Malec 50:49
Which doesn’t work too well in the investor world, because their expectations are nearly always way too high. Yeah, most people suck. Yeah. Because they’ll see like, oh, this thing returns 12% a year, I’ll probably do 14 When I invest in it. Right when it does 10. And they’re upset.
Brian Portnoy 51:06
Yeah, you know, so. So in the Texas, you know, big, big asset manager, they do a nice report every year, about the wealth management industry and advisors and investors, and they do some sort of survey on, you know, 1000s of respondents. I’ve never seen the methodology. So I can’t say it’s robust, but they do it every year. And they talk to a lot of people. And they say, Well, what, what are your ongoing expected return expectations for your portfolio, and I think in the 2021, or even early 2022 version, the average retail investor, and it’s not, you know, they say high net worth, so people with or at least mass affluent, more than a quarter million dollars in investable assets. The number was like 14%, their their forward looking return expectations were 14%. And the number is ridiculous. It doesn’t square with anything that we learn from market history, the average expectation for a financial advisor was like six or 7%. So you know, way to go way to be sober. How easy, but even there, you know, when granted deals have a lot has happened since that survey yields have climbed back up. So maybe you can have pretty, you know, slightly more generous expectations for the fixed income piece of your portfolio. But you know, expecting seven plus percent returns in a zero or 1% rate environment. Okay, well, where are you sourcing? Yeah, yeah. Where are you sourcing? What must your expectations be for the punchier part of your portfolio in terms of small caps in terms of venture in terms of alternate, you know, certain punchy or alternative like crypto? Like, what are your expectations there to balance you out to get you to a 7%. The point is that the data is fascinating. And this is very much an expectations game. And, you know, back to my little diatribe about, you know, how, you know, not playing a victim and taking some form of agency in this world. Like, if you’re told year after year to form and settle on realistic expectations, and you don’t who’s to blame other than you for your disappointment? Well,
Jeff Malec 53:29
yeah, well, we’ll leave that one be someone out there. That’s why you shake your fist at the sky. Yeah. You ever think Homer Simpson is dead? Yeah. Yeah, he was at the end. So digging into that a little bit more on the asset allocation, right. In the geometry of wealth, talk a little bit of that’s the biggest, like deer analogy of like the restaurants, right? Like, it doesn’t matter what you choose on the menu, choose, if you choose Mexican food or pizza, you basically know the right you lower the dispersion inside each menu. Yeah. Did I get that roughly? Right? Yeah, yeah. Yeah,
Brian Portnoy 54:04
I think I hadn’t thought about it. I think I was thinking about the food court at O’Hare. Yeah, there was a point where I was traveling every week for work. So it’s like I knew that food court to well, and it’s like it give me you know, the tortoise the Rick Bayless place off to the side. Yes, the McDonald’s but
Jeff Malec 54:20
but to me, it’s more like what if the one you chose is poison, right? And has this 70% drawdown so to me like the and back to your dimensions, I need something I can save, that protects me, that also can provide return. So right there’s a lot of these blended portfolios out there and of like I’m putting, right I’m putting stocks with managed futures that do well, in a crisis. I’m putting stocks with long volatility. I’m just curious if you’d like part of me, if I go down this path, I want fun to content me it’s really important that I have this pretty stable piece. That’s my core investment theory. Or would you say no, Doesn’t really matter as long as you know what you want, and you kind of build what you want to get there. Yeah,
Brian Portnoy 55:04
I mean, I don’t know if we’re thinking about this in the exam, like, I don’t know how broader range you’re thinking about things. Um, you know, look, we can, like, let’s keep it like in the power alley, or in the fairway, you know, to start in terms of stocks, bonds, cash, maybe, you know, throw in your illiquid real estate, like your home or other real estate investments. And then you layer into head you know, hedge fund strategies long shorter arbitrage or futures, trend following momentum type stuff. illiquid venture, Angel, private, you know, private equity, private debt, venture debt, like the world’s our oyster, right, there’s a there’s 100 different things to do. I think those comments I made about, you know, choose, once you’ve chosen the restaurant, there’s relatively little dispersion within the menu. So, you know, if I want broad exposure to global equities, do I buy the s&p 500? Which isn’t International, but you know, some meaningful percentage of revenues of those companies come from overseas markets? Or do I buy the T, you know, the Vanguard ETF with 19,000 securities, like from all over the world? To me, that’s a that’s an uninteresting not difficult problem to solve. And I should have, and we’re talking now, in terms of professional investors, you should have a reasonable expectation for what that equity sleeve can do. And if you’ve, if you’ve built your expectations, based on kind of 2009 to 2019, then I don’t have to tell you like it was great.
Jeff Malec 56:53
In the NASDAQ.
Brian Portnoy 56:55
Yeah, until it wasn’t, you know, in terms of having other pieces to your portfolio that are, quote unquote, safe, like, you know, so short term bonds, higher quality bonds, government, as well as just plain old cash instruments, like, okay, that’s the restaurant you’re in, you’re in the cash instrument. And you might fight for a basis, you know, you could find a money manager in the muni space, who’s able to give you a little extra juice because he picks bonds better than the next guy or some something like that. But like, you’re in the you’re in the short term Muni restaurant, the menu is really quite narrow. And like, if you remember, going back to like my Morningstar days, when you take some of those lower volatility categories, the difference in absolute return between like, a one star and a five star fund is negligible. It’s like basis points. Yeah. That’s that’s kind of what I was getting at in terms of asset allocation coming first, like, sure you, you can be like, Oh, okay, like, I am going to have a crypto allocation, and I’m going to make it 35% of my total net worth. And now it didn’t work out as I had hoped. Well, okay, I think you’ve made a mistake, not in choosing crypto for your asset allocation, but putting a third of your assets. And
Jeff Malec 58:20
yeah, I was coming at more from like, most everything we just talked about, I would call like offense, right, they’re there to give you a return. And very few people think about the defensive part, like what do you do?
Brian Portnoy 58:34
Like, how more like what do you
Jeff Malec 58:36
want things that actually like long volatility, things that actually pay off as markets decline? Right, things like
Brian Portnoy 58:44
you would call long volatility, a safe asset?
Jeff Malec 58:47
Not safe defensive. Right. So, right, it just fits in with your whole thesis of like, I want to have this whole piece that’s there for what I need it for. Yeah, to me, like, Okay, I want something I can count on structurally that pays off in in a down market where that’s there to keep doing my saving and my spending and my giving. Yeah, right. Right. It’s a little counterintuitive, because you say why would in the rest of the time we’ll be performing negatively, right. But so you say what counterintuitive? Why would I add something that has a negative return? But it’s just for that point just for when you need it most? It’s going to pop in there and keep you at this funded contentment. It?
Brian Portnoy 59:25
I so I invested in long vol. Short vol vol arm strategies for years. So I understand the point. The word defensive is is a good word. No, no, but it Yeah, I’m not offended by defense. But but I’m not, you know, no offense with defense. You know, defense is there’s a value judgment to that I you know, I think you could start more clinically and just talk about lower correlated or on or negatively correlated assets that you know, help you Um, you know, there’s also a question of, and also like, these are open ended questions that aren’t tied to goals. So if I’m retiring, and I’m 30, you know, if I’m 30, and thinking about retirement versus I’m 60. And thinking about retirement, what’s offensive, and what’s defensive, actually, those mean different things so risky versus on risky assets, like risk is flipped, depending on your time horizon. So, you know, when you’re 25 bonds are pretty risky. Yeah. Because the chance that you’re going to be able to grow your capital to meet your longer term needs, so that at some point, you can replace your human capital with financial capital, you’re taking enormous risks with that fixed income allocation. The other thing I mentioned, is that just from an individual manager performance, if, you know, just having seen vol funds over the years, some show up in the way that they should and others don’t. Yeah, so we had some we had some, you know, we had some vol pieces in Oh, 70809. And, you know, we I led the diligence on Asian based vol, long comment long, vol and vol ARB fund. And it was up like 85% in 2008. So our Asia investment book was actually like flat to up notwithstanding all the equity exposure we had so fully for us, but we also had some other vol. investments that were just almost by their very nature complicated trading oriented, and guys got upside down, and didn’t give you the protection that you would have wanted at those times. If it’s sort of, I don’t know if index is the right word, but just sort of a straight up like, Okay, I’m just going to futures.
Jeff Malec 1:02:01
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. The more structural in this what we’re talking about the better, right, the more Yeah, if it goes here, this is the structural payoff here. Yeah, exactly. But also that that is done very poorly this year, actually. Because it was it’s been very highly priced. And it hasn’t there hasn’t been a second leg down. There hasn’t been much fear, even though we’ve been down. Yeah, so a lot of that structural stuff hasn’t paid off. So there you go. So it’s harder and it looks
Brian Portnoy 1:02:27
Jeff Malec 1:02:30
Yes, defensive. But in that case, some offensive defensiveness. Let you go here and sec. But any other thoughts on shaping wealth? I think we touched on each of the pieces there.
Brian Portnoy 1:02:46
Ya know, I’ve enjoyed this conversation. It’s, it’s fun to kind of put my notes, you know, I think for your world and your other guests and listeners, this is like, you know, probably kindergarten me talking about investing in markets, but like, you know, no, I
Jeff Malec 1:03:01
love it. Because I mean, these guys have they’re, they’re appealing to the art is they’re appealing to the family office, who eventually that end investor needs to believe in this hedge fund, and how it fits into this overall piece of the puzzle for him.
Brian Portnoy 1:03:13
Yeah, so to me, you know, it’s why position geometry of wealth as a prequel to th