I'm qualified to tell you, luck has nought to do with success

This is part six of how to run a self-managed super fund for newbies and we're still on the subject of "How not to cock it up".

This is part six of how to run a self-managed super fund for newbies and we're still on the subject of "How not to cock it up".

Expecting your boat to come in

When I first arrived in Australia and got a job in institutional broking, the dealers assistant came up to me on my first day and asked me what qualifications I would like to put on my business card. I started to reel off my years of education: bachelor of law, master of applied finance, usual stuff.

As I did so, the face of the Australian bloke sitting next to me creased up as he looked sideways and proffered a small wanker sign. I was confused.

"Mate, mate, this isn't London, you know, this is Australia," he said. "That's showing off."

But surely if you spent a significant period of your life involved in academia at the expense of sport, the opposite sex, or your developing family, you'd put it on your card, wouldn't you?

In Britain you wouldn't think of leaving your card blank, because they would simply think you were unqualified. In fact, they would wonder why you bothered handing them the card at all.

But in Australia there is this "Packer/Linfox culture" of "boy done good", meaning that in Australia you don't need qualifications to succeed. It's the Lucky Country after all.

A year later without any qualifications on my card I woke up to the fact Kerry and James Packer were both born with millions and that the expression Lucky Country was actually a bit of an insult implying Australia was lucky, considering its lack of intellect, to have succeeded as it had.

And I had come to realise that far from impress people with my humbleness, in the financial services industry it counted for nothing. Clients are always in a rush and your opportunities to impress them are fleeting, and with fund managers generally far more highly qualified than the average institutional "luncher", I can't imagine what they thought when I handed them my blank cards.

I had been misled. All I had done was put myself on a level playing field with all the other, rather prevalent, uneducated participants in the industry.

Not that education matters, of course. You might be amused to hear of one infamously successful broker who found the middle ground between modesty and showing off with his business card that for years carried the qualification "BSc 50m".

He tells the story that when asked by a similar dealers assistant what qualification he would like on his card on his first day in the industry his BSc was the only significant qualification that he could think of. It stayed on his card for decades until his employer idly challenged it when he retired and got the reply that it stood for "Brighton swimming club 50m certificate", achieved in prep.

This culture of Australian reliance on luck further confuses me with my wife who eagerly spends $14 a week on a TattsLotto ticket. Even my own family, it seems, believe that one day their boat will come in, even if they are more likely to get hit by lightning 13 times or killed by it six times.

So as you set out on the path to riches with your self-managed super fund, let me tell you something from experience. Your boat is not coming in. You are not "lucky" and nor will your investments and your super fund be lucky. In fact, the opposite. It is a lot easier to lose money through bad luck than it is to make it with good luck.

You can't rely on luck and this is not the Lucky Country. Instead it is a country in which the government in its wisdom has left 506,000 SMSFs and $500 billion of superannuation assets in the hands of complete amateurs, and you are one of them.

The only way your boat is going to come in is if you wake up in the morning and move those arms and legs. If you make an effort. You need interest, education and skills and a healthy respect for the risk and the task ahead. It's not going to be easy.

Worried now? Cautious? Fearful? Good. Realistic would be another description. Best way to start.

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