Questioning … Processing … Evidence-Based Investing

©CanStock Photo/smarnad
©CanStock Photo/smarnad

A Wendy’s Wednesday Whimsy  

Technology has spoiled us. Actions that used to take days are now a click or flick away.

Unless, of course, you’re downloading something, and you encounter the dreaded “progress bar.” It never moves. It never ends. It’s processing … forever.

That’s a little how I feel about getting back to you with my review of the inaugural Evidence-Based Investment Conference I attended in mid-November.

I’m processing.

Fortunately, there are a number of solid summaries available:

On my part, my post-conference feelings are mixed.

There were some incredible things about the event. The networking opportunities were wonderful. I got to reconnect with and connect with several colleagues and clients. The overall atmosphere was collegial and upbeat. It was like being at a football game where everyone in the stadium was rooting for the same team.

Many of the speakers were inspiring – such as Bill McNabb of Vanguard, Dimensional’s Appolo Lupescu and Charley Ellis of … well, of Charley Ellis. Some of the other speakers were thought-provoking. Some parts of the event left me with challenging questions to ponder.

Much of what I heard reinforced the same working definition I have when I refer to evidence-based investing (roughly as presented in this post). But there also were some conversations that felt uncomfortably close to traditional active investment double-speak to me – such as a lengthy debate on the future health of Tesla. Still other parts – various dives into the deep end of the quant pool – left me mulling over whether it was I who didn’t understand, or the speaker who wasn’t making much sense. Or both.

There were many head-clearing moments as well. Paraphrasing an excellent comment Appolo made in his end-of-day presentation: “You’ve got the model, you’ve got the user, and you’ve got the implementation. A lot of what you’re seeing out there is great on paper, but nobody’s eating paper.”

Good stuff.

As Ben Carlson summarized in his post: “This was the first investment conference I’ve ever been to where there wasn’t at least one BS macro forecast. There was talk of behavior, context, perspective, communication, education and discipline, but no one was predicting what’s going to happen in the next 15 minutes. It was refreshing.”

With a few exceptions, I think Ben’s statement was largely true.

That said, perhaps the biggest take-away for me was how obvious it was that each of us – attendees, sponsors and hosts alike – has anywhere from a slightly to dramatically different definition of what evidence-based investing really is.

The neat and tidy part of me hates that. I crave a world in which there are good guys and bad guys and everyone knows which is whom.

The rational part of me is accepting of it, if still processing a number of questions I expect to explore further in future posts. To name a few:

  • How important is the “evidence-based investing” name to begin with? Must it be tightly defined, or is a loose confederacy all well and good?
  • How much does the investment approach matter compared to other key contributors to investment success? Is it the star of the show or only playing a supporting role?
  • At what point does major surgery on existing strategy (in the name of incremental improvement) cause more harm than it’s worth to an investor’s all-important resolve?
  • Similarly, where is the line between faith and bias? In some respects, might useful resolve and damaging bias be two sides of the same coin?
  • When describing investing to the general public, is it better to go with terminology that is more accurate or more familiar?

My conclusion? For me, for now, I’m very glad I attended the conference. Even if I didn’t love everything I saw and heard, I needed to hear and see it.

Now, I’m processing.