DIY investors still need a hand from experts

ONE of the ironies of the investment business is that while the wealthy pay plenty for help managing their millions, the less-well-off too often try to do it all themselves.

ONE of the ironies of the investment business is that while the wealthy pay plenty for help managing their millions, the less-well-off too often try to do it all themselves.

The onset of no-advice brokerage rates and self-managed superannuation has created an avalanche of part-time, do-it-yourself experts who think they are all smarter than the market.

About $10 billion a year is being invested in self-managed super funds (SMSFs) as investors switch from retail and industry funds, often on the advice of accountants promising greater flexibility and improved returns.

As a result, it is estimated more than $400 billion of assets now reside in Australia's SMSFs about 31 per cent of total superannuation assets. Of that $400 billion, about $115 billion resides in unproductive cash deposits, and the cash pile is building. We are hoarding cash just when the returns on that cash are near record lows. Discretionary flows into investment products are going backwards, yet investment markets have still bounced 14 per cent in the past eight months. In the December quarter there was a net $1.6 billion outflow from retail investment products, excluding cash management trusts.

Anecdotally, signs aren't good for maximising wealth over the long term.

The big industry funds lament that it takes just one scary newspaper headline to trigger a rush of redemptions from equity funds. History shows such reactionary moves nearly always cost members dough. It's not so much that getting out of equities is the problem, it is that people forget to get back in.

Fund trustees used to applaud when members moved out of default settings now they worry about the long-term impact on retail superannuation balances.

Then there are the professionals. I know of one Sydney-based fund manager who has been banned by his wife from reading company reports in bed.

Australia has more than 150 equity management firms and thousands of investment advisers all competing for your business. The good news is that in a post-GFC world, getting access to these people has never been cheaper, competition for the best performance has never been more intense.

Common sense would suggest the best investors are the ones that do it for a living. They are paid not to get distracted by life's little dramas.

They should be risk-averse, be disciplined and know the sectors in which they invest intimately well. They are battle-hardened by the GFC.

They have good access to the management of companies in which they invest and seek out the opinions of the best business brains to construct portfolios. They seek perspectives from people such as Professor Geoffrey Blainey, who speaks of the similarities and differences of the current climate with the Great Depression of his youth.

They seek perspectives on Asia from people such as Mike Pratt, one of the country's most senior bankers, who has first-hand experience of managing a loan book in Asia.

This is not to say you shouldn't take charge of your investments. It's a necessity. Handing over all responsibility to a financial planner, fund manager or broker offering risk-free riches is a folly.

But it is important to acknowledge that to be proactive about one's savings shouldn't mean we do it all ourselves. Engage the market. At the very least, seek a second opinion.

It's all about managing risk in pursuit of reward over the long-term versus a Reserve Bank cash rate at 3.75 per cent.

Stewart Oldfield is an analyst at Investorfirst Securities. soldfield@investorfirst.com.au

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