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Portfolio > Portfolio Construction

Something Old and New

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The Romans named their midwinter month Januarius in honor of the two-faced god of doorways who looked back into the old year while looking ahead at the new. I now present for your consideration two items that seem appropriate as we moderns slip into the new year. One is old, yet remains central to what advisors do for clients. The other is something new that you may not consider to be in your wheelhouse yet, but which I suggest you may want to steer toward in the near future to stay competitive and remain your clients’ trusted advisor.

The first has to do with how you build portfolios for clients, which is the subject of Kathleen M. McBride’s cover story. It seemed to us that the recent market volatility, consumer uncertainty, and the still aborning subprime crisis would lead advisors and the academics to whom advisors listen to rethink how they build investment portfolios for their clients. So Kate went exploring. While I don’t want to give away too much of the results of her reporting, suffice it to say that thinkers like Rob Arnott, Roger Ibbotson, and Lincoln Anderson, along with peers of yours such as Harold Evensky and Gene Balliett, are deeply concerned over how to build portfolios in the current uncertain economic and market environment. As seasoned pros, however, they are not distracted by, as Kate writes, “the short term gyrations of the credit markets and economy,” but counsel maintenance of a long-term strategic focus and an openness to short-term tactical shifts, while keeping a gimlet eye on what can sap any portfolio of vigor: costs and taxes. The challenge is how to do this, of course; see the story on page 36.

As for what’s new, I have two names for you: Watson and Crick. There are now multiple labs (23andMe in Mountain View, California; deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland; and Navigenics in Redwood Shores, California, for instance), to which you can send a simple DNA sample and in some instances for less than $1,000 find out more about your past and your future than you ever thought was possible.

Of course, some people don’t want to know that they have a very high risk of contracting liver cancer, for instance. Others are taking steps to reduce their health risks, now that they’ve seen the results of their genetic dice-tossing, by having prophylatic surgery or taking other extreme steps.

Other people–health insurers or even government health agencies come to mind– would very much want to know that you, or your clients, are carrying genes that could shorten or cheapen your lives, or those of your fellow citizens. Will this be the next service that a wealth manager can offer–recommending reputable labs that will guarantee your privacy for the testing part of the process, and then managing the health-related information about your clients and their families on an ongoing basis, maybe by keeping a genetic counselor on retainer, just like some firms retain or refer to a psychologist or a gerontologist? Like investing at uncertain times, interpreting the information on those 23 pairs of chromosomes we all carry, and then deciding what, if any action, to take, based on that information could be beyond the ken of the average client.


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