Six Cognitive Biases That Can Derail Your Portfolio

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By Kris Maksimovich

When it comes to our money, humans are not exactly rational investors. In fact, there are six cognitive biases that can be harmful to investors and these detrimental biases can derail our ability to make the best possible decisions about building wealth.

Often, clients do not realize their decisions are being negatively affected by these biases. Because of this, they warrant a deeper look.

Overconfidence

Clients affected by this bias often overestimate the confidence level and the accuracy of their own judgement as greater than the objective accuracy of those judgments. In other words, the subjective estimation of our own accuracy and reliability is greater than it objectively is. This bias can result in an investor that has an unrealistically positive view of performance and results.

To overcome relying on our own confidence, rather than data, it is important that we ask ourselves if our judgement is based upon our own level of knowledge, or if we have applied due diligence in research and fact-gathering.

Familiarity

We often make assumptions during the decision-making process based upon patterns and outcomes we’ve previously observed. For example, when we select funds to invest in, we often select those that are the most familiar or ones we recognize. This bias can result in an investor that is immobilized, despite the possible benefits that can come from diversification.

To put this bias to rest, we must understand our need to seek out patterns where there are none, and commit to remaining open-minded about things we may not have heard of before.

Information Overload

When we are under stress or are being hit by too much information, we naturally adopt coping mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is to over-simplify the problem. The problem with this tactic is the less knowledge and understanding we have about our investments, the less we cope. This bias can result in an investor that is readily paralyzed at the prospect of too many choices.

To control our innate desire to over-simplify issues, we must tap into our patience and affirm to ourselves that we are not simply taking the easy way out rather than doing the work necessary to reap the benefits.

Anchoring

Once an option presents itself, we sometimes anchor ourselves to this original piece of information, failing to sufficiently adjust our mindset or consider the realm of other possibilities. This means we selectively filter out information, preferring to focus on data that support our views. This bias can result in an investor that may only look at options which support their original view, rather than seek out information that informs other views.

To overcome this bias, it is important to recognize that historical data can provide us with great insight into current data, but we must ensure we do not automatically adopt historical conclusions.

Herding

This bias takes place when rational people begin behaving irrationally, by limiting judgement based upon what others are doing. We often look to others, including institutions, for affirmation and acceptance, allowing them to color our judgement. The same holds true as we gravitate to investments based upon what others are doing, or what we’ve heard.

To stop ourselves from selectively seeking out the opinions of others in our judgements, we should avoid listening to the “noise” and instead, seek out verifiable data. By considering the alternatives, we can fully vet our judgments and help ensure they are not based solely upon what the group is doing.

Loss Aversion

Our experiences with loss mean we rank it higher than other experiences. According to the “prospect theory” our past losses felt worse to us than our past gains felt good.  Sometimes we make decisions based upon the fear of loss so as to avert its occurrence, instead of considering the benefit of potential gain. Sometimes we go to illogical lengths to avoid the loss, which can negatively impact our desired outcome.

To control our tendency to freeze, we should make sure our plans allow for wiggle-room and recognize that statistically, the odds of both loss and gain are equal in strength.

By understanding these six biases we hold the key to safeguarding the negative impact they can have on our decision-making process. This is where a good financial advisor can step in and help us identify our innate tendencies, and draw up a plan to manage our biases.

At Global Wealth Advisors, behavioral management is a part of our unique “3P Approach”. We recognize that everybody is different, and we work with each of our clients to help them manage and control these biases.

A good plan will simply mirror you; a great plan will guide you along every step to help you meet and exceed your goals.

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