Behavioral Finance for Doctors?

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On the Psychology of Investing [Book Review]

By Peter Benedek, PhD CFA


Some of the pioneers of behavioral finance are Drs. Kahneman, Twersky and Thaler. This short introduction to the subject is based on John Nofsinger’s little book entitled “Psychology of Investing” an excellent quick read for all medical professionals or anyone who is interested in learning more about behavioral finance.

Rational Decisions?

Much of modern finance is built on the assumption that investors “make rational decisions” and “are unbiased in their predictions about the future”, however this is not always the case.

Cognitive errors come from (1) prospect theory (people feel good/bad about gain/loss of $500, but not twice as good/bad about a gain/loss of $1,000; they feel worse about a $500 loss than feel good about a $500 gain); (2) mental accounting (meaning that people tend to create separate buckets which they examine individually), (3) Self-deception (e.g. overconfidence), (4) heuristic simplification (shortcuts) and (4) mood can affect ability to reach a logical conclusion.

John Nofsinger’s Book

The following are some of the major chapter headings in Nofsinger’s book, and represent some of the key behavioral finance concepts.

Overconfidence leads to: (1) excessive trading (which in turn results in lower returns due to costs incurred), (2) underestimation of risk (portfolios of decreasing risk were found for single men, married men, married women, and single women), (3) illusion of knowledge (you can get a lot more data nowadays on the internet) and (4) illusion of control (on-line trading).

Pride and Regret leads to: (1) disposition effect (not only selling winners and holding on to the losers, but selling winners too soon- confirming how smart I was, and losers to late- not admitting a bad call, even though selling losers increases one’s wealth due to the tax benefits), (2) reference points (the point from where one measures gains or losses is not necessarily the purchase price, but may perhaps be the most recent 52 week high and it is most likely changing continuously- clearly such a reference point will affect investor’s judgment by perhaps holding on to “loser” too long when in fact it was a winner.)

Considering the Past in decisions about the future, when future outcomes are independent of the past lead to a whole slew of more bad decisions, such as: (1) house money effect (willing to increase the level of risk taken after recent winnings- i.e. playing with house’s money), (2) risk aversion or snake-bite effect (becoming more risk averse after losing money), (3) trying to break-even (at times people will increase their willing to take higher risk to try to recover their losses- e.g. double or nothing), (4) endowment or status quo effect (often people are only prepared to sell something they own for more than they would be willing to buy it- i.e. for investments people tend to do nothing, just hold on to investments they already have) (5) memory and decision making ( decisions are affected by how long ago did the pain/pleasure occur or what was the sequence of pain and pleasure), (6) cognitive dissonance (people avoid important decisions or ignore negative information because of pain associated with circumstances).

Mental Accounting is the act of bucketizing investments and then reviewing the performance of the individual buckets separately (e.g. investing at low savings rate while paying high credit card interest rates).

Examples of mental accounting are: (1) matching costs to benefits (wanting to pay for vacation before taking it and getting paid for work after it was done, even though from perspective of time value of money the opposite should be preferred0, (2) aversion to debt (don’t like long-term debt for short-term benefit), (3) sunk-cost effect (illogically considering non-recoverable costs when making forward-going decisions). In investing, treating buckets separately and ignoring interaction (correlations) induces people not to sell losers (even though they get tax benefits), prevent them from investing in the stock market because it is too risky in isolation (however much less so when looked at as part of the complete portfolio including other asset classes and labor income and occupied real estate), thus they “do not maximize the return for a given level of risk taken).

In building portfolios, assets included should not be chosen on basis of risk and return only, but also correlation; even otherwise well educated individuals make the mistake of assuming that adding a risky asset to a portfolio will increase the overall risk, when in fact the opposite will occur depending on the correlation of the asset to be added with the portfolio (i.e. people misjudge or disregard interactions between buckets, which are key determinants of risk).

This can lead to: (1) building behavioral portfolios (i.e. safety, income, get rich, etc type sub-portfolios, resulting in goal diversification rather than asset diversification), (2) naïve diversification (when aiming for 50:50 stock:bond allocation implementing this as 50:50 in both tax-deferred (401(k)/RRSP) accounts and taxable accounts, rather than placing the bonds in the tax-deferred and stocks in taxable accounts respectively for tax advantages), (3) naïve diversification in retirement accounts (if five investment options are offered then investing 1/5th in each, thus getting an inappropriate level of diversification or no diversification depending on the available choices; or being too heavily invested in one’s employer’s stock).

Representativeness may lead investors to confusing a good company with a good investment (good company may already be overpriced in the market; extrapolating past returns or momentum investing), and familiarity to over-investment in one’s own employer (perhaps inappropriate as when stock tanks one’s job may also be at risk) or industry or country thus not having a properly diversified portfolio.

Emotions can affect investment decisions: mood/feelings/optimism will affect decision to buy or sell risky or conservative assets, even though the mood resulted from matters unrelated to investment. Social interactions such as friends/coworkers/clubs and the media (e.g. CNBC) can lead to herding effects like over (under) valuation.

Financial Strategies

Nofsinger finishes with a final chapter which includes strategies for:

(i) beating the biases: (1) Understand the biases, (2) define your investment objectives, (3) have quantitative investment criteria, i.e. understand why you are buying a specific investor (or even better invest in a passive fashion), (4) diversify among asset classes and within asset classes (and don’t over invest in your employer’s stock), and (5) control your investment environment (check on stock monthly, trade only monthly and review progress toward goals annually).

(ii) using biases for the good: (1) set new employee defaults for retirement plans to being enrolled, (2) get employees to commit some percent of future raises to automatically go toward retirement (save-more-tomorrow).


Buy the book (you can get used copies at through Amazon for under $10). As indicated it is a quick read and occasionally you may even want to re-read it to insure you avoid the biases or use them for the good. Also, the book has long list of references for those inclined to delve into the subject more deeply.

You might even ask “How does all this Behavioral Finance coexist with Efficient Market theory?” and that’s a great question that I’ll leave for another time.

More: SSRN-id2596202


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Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

Medical Endowment Fund Manager Selection

Are External Financial Consultants Necessary?

[By Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA CMP]

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John English, of the Ford Foundation, once observed that:

[T]he thing that is most interesting to me is that every one of the managers is able to give me a chart that shows me he was in the first quartile or the first decile. I have never had a prospective manager come in and say, ‘We’re in the fourth quartile or bottom decile’.

According to Wayne Firebaugh CPA, CFP® CMP™ most medical endowment funds today, even those with internal investment staff, rely heavily upon consultants and external managers.

In fact, the 2006 Commonfund Benchmarks Healthcare Study revealed that 85% of all surveyed institutions relied upon consultants with an even greater percentage of larger endowments relying upon consultants.  The common reasons given by endowments for such reliance are augmenting staff and oddly enough, cost containment.  In essence, the endowment staff’s job becomes one of managing the managers.

Manager Selection 

Even those endowments that use consultants to assist in selecting outside managers remain involved in the selection and monitoring process.  Interestingly, performance should generally not be the overriding criterion for selecting a manager.  Selecting a manager could be viewed as a two-step process in which the endowment first establishes its initial allocation and determines what classes will require an external manager.  The second part of the process is to select a manager that due diligence has indicated to have two primary characteristics: integrity and a repeatable and sustainable systematic process.  These characteristics are interrelated, as a manager who embodies integrity will also strive to follow the established investment selection process.

Of Medical-Managers

In medicine, obtaining the best care often means consulting a specialist.  As a manager of managers, the average endowment should seek specialist managers within a given asset class. Just as physicians and healthcare institutions gain additional insight and skill in their area of specialty, investment managers may be able to gain informational or system advantages within a given concentrated area of investments.


Since most plan managers are seeking positive alpha by actively managing certain asset classes, many successful endowments will use a greater number of external managers in the concentrated segments than they will in the larger, more efficient markets.


Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact:


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HEDGE FUNDS: History in Brief



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The investment profession has come a long way since the door-to-door stock salesmen of the 1920s sold a willing public on worthless stock certificates. The stock market crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression of the 1930s forever changed the way investment operations are run. A bewildering array of laws and regulations sprung up, all geared to protecting the individual investor from fraud. These laws also set out specific guidelines on what types of investment can be marketed to the general public – and allowed for the creation of a set of investment products specifically not marketed to the general public. These early-mid 20th century lawmakers specifically exempted from the definition of “general public,” for all practical purposes, those investors that meet certain minimum net worth guidelines.

The lawmakers decided that wealth brings the sophistication required to evaluate, either independently or together with wise counsel, investment options that fall outside the mainstream. Not surprisingly, an investment industry catering to such wealthy individuals, such as doctors and healthcare professionals, and qualifying institutions has sprung up.


The original hedge fund was an investment partnership started by A.W. Jones in 1949. A financial writer prior to starting his investment management career, Mr. Jones is widely credited as being the prototypical hedge fund manager. His style of investment in fact gave the hedge fund its name – although Mr. Jones himself called his fund a “hedged fund.” Mr. Jones attempted to “hedge,” or protect, his investment partnership against market swings by selling short overvalued securities while at the same time buying undervalued securities. Leverage was an integral part of the strategy. Other managers followed in Mr. Jones’ footsteps, and the hedge fund industry was born.

In those early days, the hedge fund industry was defined by the types of investment operations undertaken – selling short securities, making liberal use of leverage, engaging in arbitrage and otherwise attempting to limit one’s exposure to market swings. Today, the hedge fund industry is defined more by the structure of the investment fund and the type of manager compensation employed.

The changing definition is largely a sign of the times. In 1949, the United States was in a unique state. With the memory of Great Depression still massively influencing common wisdom on stocks, the post-war euphoria sparked an interest in the securities markets not seen in several decades. Perhaps it is not so surprising that at such a time a particularly reflective financial writer such as A.W. Jones would start an investment operation featuring most prominently the protection against market swings rather than participation in them. 


Apart from a few significant hiccups – 1972-73, 1987 and 2006-07 being most prominent – the U.S. stock markets have been on quite a roll for quite a long time now. So today, hedge funds come in all flavors – many not hedged at all. Instead, the concept of a private investment fund structured as a partnership, with performance incentive compensation for the manager, has come to dominate the mindscape when hedge funds are discussed. Hence, we now have a term in “hedge fund” that is not always accurate in its description of the underlying activity. In fact, several recent events have contributed to an even more distorted general understanding of hedge funds.

During 1998, the high profile Long Term Capital Management crisis and the spectacular currency losses experienced by the George Soros organization both contributed to a drastic reversal of fortune in the court of public opinion for hedge funds. Most hedge fund managers, who spend much of their time attempting to limit risk in one way or another, were appalled at the manner with which the press used the highest profile cases to vilify the industry as dangerous risk-takers. At one point during late 1998, hedge funds were even blamed in the lay press for the currency collapses of several developing nations; whether this was even possible got short thrift in the press.

Needless to say, more than a few managers have decided they did not much appreciate being painted with the same “hedge fund” brush. Alternative investment fund, private investment fund, and several other terms have been promoted but inadequately adopted. As the memory of 1998 and 2007 fades, “hedge fund” may once again become a term embraced by all private investment managers.

Photo by Alexander Mils on

ASSESSMENT: Physicians, and all investors, should be aware, however, that several different terms defining the same basic structure might be used. Investors should therefore become familiar with the structure of such funds, independent of the label. The Securities Exchange Commission calls such funds “privately offered investment companies” and the Internal Revenue Service calls them “securities partnerships.”

Your thoughts are appreciated.

Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™





Money Management and Portfolio Performance

Money Management and Portfolio Performance

By Jeffrey S. Coons; PhD, CFA

By Christopher J. Cummings; CFA, CFP™

Evaluating portfolio performance is a vital and often contentious topic in monitoring progress towards a physician’s investment goals.   


A typical portfolio’s objective may be to preserve the purchasing power of its assets by achieving returns above inflation – or to have total returns adequate to satisfy an annual spending need without eroding original capital, etc.  Whatever the absolute goal for the doctor; performance numbers need to be evaluated based on an understanding of the market environment over the period being measured.

One way to put a portfolio’s a time-weighted return in the context of the overall market environment is to compare the performance to relevant alternative investment vehicles.   This can be done through comparisons to either market indices, which are board baskets of investable securities, or peer groups, which are collections of returns from managers or funds investing in a similar universe of securities with similar objectives as the portfolio.

By evaluating the performance of alternatives that were available over the period, the physician investor and/or his/her advisor are able to gain insight to the general investment environment over the time period.

The Indices 

Market indices are frequently used to gain perspective on the market environment and to evaluate how well the portfolio performed relative to that environment. 

Market indices are typically segmented into different asset classes.

Common stock market indices include the following:

· Dow Jones Industrial Average – a price-weighted index of 30 large U.S. corporations.

· Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index – a capitalization-weighted index of 500 large U.S. corporations.

· Value Line Index – an equally-weighted index of 1700 large U.S. corporations.

· Russell 2000 – a capitalization-weighted index of smaller capitalization U.S. companies.

· Wilshire 5000 – a cap weighted index of the 5000 largest U.S. corporations.

· Morgan Stanley Europe Australia, Far East (EAFE) Index – a capitalization-weighted index of the stocks traded in developed economies. 

Common bond market indices include the following:

· Lehman Brothers Government Credit Index – an index of investment grade domestic bonds excluding mortgages.

· Lehman Brothers Aggregate Index – the LBGCI plus investment grade mortgages.

· Solomon Brothers Bond Index – similar in construction to the LBAI.

· Merrill Lynch High Yield Index – an index of below investment grade bonds.

· JP Morgan Global Government Bond – an index of domestic and foreign government-issued fixed income securities.


The selection of an appropriate market index depends on the goals of the portfolio and the universe of securities from which the portfolio was selected. 

Just as a portfolio with a short-time horizon and a primary goal of capital preservation should not be expected to perform in line with the S&P 500, a portfolio with a long-term horizon and a primary goal of capital growth should not be evaluated versus Treasury Bills.


While the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 are often quoted in the newspapers, there are clearly broader market indices available to describe the overall performance of the U.S. stock market.

Likewise, indices like the S&P 500 and Wilshire 5000 are capitalization-weighted, so their returns are generally dominated by the largest 50 of their 500 – 5000 stocks.

Fortunately, capitalization-bias does not typically affect long-term performance comparisons, but there may be periods of time in which large cap stocks out-or under-perform mid-to-small cap stocks, thus creating a bias when cap-weighted indices are used versus what is usually non-cap weighted strategies of managers or mutual funds.

Finally, the fixed income indices tend to have a bias towards intermediate-term securities versus longer-term bonds.  Therefore, a physician investor with a long-term time horizon, and therefore potentially a higher allocation to long bonds, should keep this bias in mind when evaluating performance.

How do you evaluate your portfolio?

Do you evaluate it on a risk-adjusted basis?


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