The Cold Truth About Emotional Investing: New research shows that even the pros invest more from the heart than from logic

May 2, 2013, 3:58 p.m. ET

INTERVIEW

The Cold Truth About Emotional Investing

New research shows that even the pros invest more from the heart than from logic

By ANDREW BLACKMAN

When it comes to investing, emotion is commonly seen as a weakness that must be shunned. But new research from professors David Tuckett and Richard Taffler suggests that emotions play an inevitable part in all investing, by amateurs and pros alike.

In their recent book “Fund Management: An Emotional Finance Perspective,” the professors present the results of interviews with 52 experienced fund managers in the U.S., U.K., France and Asia. The picture that emerges is one of acute anxiety and emotional conflict.

The bottom line, they say: Individuals and pros perform better when they acknowledge that investing is inherently emotionally charged and when they understand how emotions affect their behavior.

We talked with Prof. Taffler, professor of finance and accounting at Warwick Business School in the U.K., and Prof. Tuckett, a fellow of the Institute of Psychoanalysis in London and visiting professor at University College London, about the role of emotions in investing. Here are edited excerpts of those conversations.Relationships With Stocks

 

WSJ: What do you mean by emotional finance?

PROF. TUCKETT: What we try to do in emotional finance is start with the fact that the future is unknowable. The key thing about uncertainty is that it inevitably generates feelings. Because it matters to you, because your money’s on the line, so to speak, you’re bound to feel emotionally engaged.

WSJ: Some people think pros are more rational than individual investors.

PROF. TAFFLER: Although most of the fund managers we interviewed saw part of their particular competitive advantage as remaining, as they described it, unemotional or rational, in practice they were just as emotional as anyone else when they started to talk about the stocks they had invested in. There were lots of examples where they referred to them almost as if they were lovers.

If you’re entering into an emotional relationship with a stock, an asset or a company that can let you down, this leads to anxiety, which is often not consciously acknowledged. But it’s there, bubbling beneath the surface.

Stories and Fantasies

WSJ: The fund managers told stories about their investments. What was the role you found that storytelling played in their decision making?

PROF. TUCKETT: They have to feel conviction. With a narrative you can join up different facts with emotions, and that creates a sense of conviction, and that is absolutely essential for action. So we aren’t saying “Oh, they’re only storytellers.” We’re saying you need to tell a story.

PROF. TAFFLER: One of the fund managers talked about investing in a fast-food company, how he visited the restaurants and looked at what people were ordering. The story was about seeing something nobody else could see, and that feeling gave him the confidence to invest.

WSJ: Could you talk about what investors expect from fund managers and what effect that has on the fund managers?

PROF. TAFFLER: A very important insight in emotional finance is the concept of the fantastic object. It’s like Aladdin’s lamp, which you polish and can have anything you want. In unconscious terms this is ultimately what we are all looking for.

The whole environment is problematic, because fund managers are expected to outperform on a continuous basis, in competition with other equally able and well-resourced managers, and of course not everyone can do this. So actually the fund managers are required to be fantastic objects, to earn continuous superior returns at low risk. This is, of course, only possible in fantasy, not reality.

To be able to do this, fund managers have to be able to believe they can find fantastic objects themselves, stocks with which they can have special relationships and which are going to outperform with minimal risk.

Wishing on a Star

WSJ: With individual investors, I suppose it’s about managing the uncertainty of putting their money into the markets—it helps if they’ve got this idea of the star manager who can handle it all for them.

PROF. TAFFLER: Yes. In emotional-finance terms an important part of the fund manager’s job is to defeat uncertainty. In a sense we’ve got an institutional structure which seeks to deny that ultimately we’re all working in an environment that is inherently unpredictable.

WSJ: What can individual investors learn from your research?

PROF. TAFFLER: I’ve done separate research on individual investors, and of course they have all these same feelings writ large. You need to recognize that cognition and emotion go together; you can’t have one without the other. If you were coldly unemotional, which is of course not possible, then you wouldn’t actually be able to generate the conviction necessary to take the risk of investing.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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