I’ve been using a powerful investment app for financial planners called The Big Picture. It’s a great tool for exploring the biggest concerns most retirees have: How much can I spend? And how long will my money last?
But it has also raised an interesting possibility for people with curious pets. It suggests that our late cat, Rocky, would have been very useful as an asset allocator for our retirement money.
I always knew Rocky wasn’t living up to his full potential.
Rocky liked to walk on my desk as I worked. He would lie down and put his paws on different pieces of paper. If I’ve interpreted the results of The Big Picture app correctly, I could have written a list of asset classes on those papers and recorded where Rocky placed his paw, building portfolios with his selections.
Not every cat wants to do this. And good luck with other pets. Penny, the rescue Shih Tzu who took Rocky’s place (after years of grieving) is not a candidate for this sophisticated work.
This notion of asset allocation by cat comes from a discovery by the makers of the app. Not that they suggest using a cat. They found that changing the balance of stocks and bonds in a simple stocks/bonds portfolio had a relatively small impact on how long your portfolio survived. But adding more asset classes did.
As they put it: “We constructed two multi-asset portfolios completely at random [their italics], then back-tested them in the Big Picture app to see how retirees would have fared with each. The results are surprisingly positive.”
Their simple portfolio had only an 87 percent probability of surviving 30 years. It assumed a typical 4 percent inflation-adjusted withdrawal rate. But their two random portfolios showed survival rates of 98 percent and 99 percent. That’s a big difference for the No. 1 worry retirees face.
Can you see how important your cat could be?
Testing the theory
Curious, I tested the survival odds of a simple 60/40 stocks/bonds portfolio against a more diversified 60/40 portfolio at different levels of management expenses.
The result was very similar to the researchers’. At each level of expense, adding different asset classes, such as small-cap stocks or international stocks, worked to increase the probability that you’d be able to sustain an inflation-adjusted spending rate for at least 30 years.
If you invested in the lowest-cost index funds, for instance, your survival odds increased from 96 percent to 100 percent. If you were paying a total of 1.1 percent for investment advice, having a more diverse portfolio increased your survival probability from 85 percent to 96 percent.
In other words, if you paid an adviser 1 percent to select index funds, you’d have the same odds of portfolio survival — 96 percent — as you would have if you didn’t have any help and kept your portfolio simple.