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Want to be a successful investor? Analyse yourself first

By Dhirendra Kumar

Should investing be about the investor or about investments? When I look at the investment questions people ask—on the Internet and on the Value Research website— I can see both the attitudes.

Let me explain this with two examples. An investor asked a question: ‘Is it advisable to invest in mid-cap and small-cap mutual funds in the current market situation? How long will the conditions remain favourable for such funds?’

Sounds like a perfectly reasonable question and a typical example of what is asked and answered in investing forums. To see the problem here, sample this query: ‘I am 40 years old, but haven’t started saving for retirement, apart from the EPF deduction. When I retire, I will need Rs 75,000 a month....’ Then there are personal details that I will omit here.

Now you see what I’m talking about? While these are simple questions that the two savers have asked, these reflect their attitude towards investment in general. The first investor thinks investing decisions should be based on what is happening in the outside world, while the second one sees saving and investing as a way to find solutions to the problems of one’s own life.

It’s obvious that unless you are rich and are playing around with fun money, the second approach is the right one. The first thing that an investor must do, and keep doing on a regular basis, is to ‘know thyself’.

The reason for this is that there is no investment that can be judged as the right one without knowing who it is for and the purpose for which it is done. There are great mutual funds and stocks that could be completely unsuitable for certain types of investors and for meeting certain types of financial goals.

Note that an investment can’t be judged to be the right one without knowing more about the saver’s life. However, it can certainly be judged to be the wrong one. There are lots of investments that are always unsuitable for everyone, but we will talk about these later.

Conventionally, the first step to know yourself from a saving point of view is to decide your financial goals, fix the time frame in which these goals have to be met, determine the flexibility of those time frames, if any, and include a certain amount of tax awareness with regard to these goals. Then, for each financial goal, one can work out which type of investment is needed. Once this is done, one can decide the specific investments within each type.

Therefore, the first step is always to analyse your own life. Then come the goals, followed by the type of investment. There are other aspects apart from goals that you should consider. How stable is your income and that of your spouse? How is your health? Do you have any older dependants? Do you have any inheritance?

Believe me, knowing whether small-cap stocks are going to be ‘hot or not’ over the next six months is completely unrelated to the things that should be the real inputs for your life’s savings as well as investment decisions.

There is another, even deeper, aspect that requires you to know yourself. Different people seem programmed to suffer different amounts of stress and anxiety when they are invested in asset types that are volatile. This is partly a function of experience, of having been invested through a volatile period and then witnessing recovery.

Investment advisers are fond of asking their clients about their ‘risk tolerance’. However, the answers are useless unless someone has had a real-life experience in facing losses. This is equivalent to many other life situations.

Are you going to be brave when faced with a terror attack? No one knows the true answer till it happens. So with reactions when it comes to the performance of different types of investments.

(The writer is CEO, Value Research)
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