Academic research shows that, over our lifecycle, we can generate income from three major sources: human capital, social capital and financial capital.
Chart 1 illustrates how these three capital sources of income combine to create unique client profiles that will also change over time.
From Median Income Thresholds to Personal Income StatementsLooking at overall population statistics in recent years, the Census Bureau has reported median annual household income around $44,334. Moving our focus to retirement, a 2005 Congressional Research Service report (Topics in Aging: Income and Poverty Among Older Americans in 2004, by Debra Whitman and Patrick Purcell) provides data suggesting median annual inflows into the personal income statements of current retirees (age 65 and above) were as follows:o Income from human capital –Wages: $15,000o Income from social capital –Private defined benefit plans: $6,720 –Public defined benefit plans: $15,600 –Social Security: $10,399o Income from financial capital –Annual income: $952
These numbers seem counterintuitive for most of us in the financial advice industry. Do we not expect our contribution to the investor’s welfare to be proportionately larger than what these numbers show? Is the median annual income from financial capital really this small? Will this pattern — representing the prior generation — hold true of the baby boomers?
Medians and means (both measures of a “central tendency”) can be misleading because the true distributions of income and wealth are most likely not symmetrical bell curves but highly skewed distributions such as the log-normal or even the power law distribution (also known as the “law of the vital few” and the 80/20 rule).
Chart 2 shows intuitively why the median of the symmetrical normal curve (half of the observations on one side of the median, the other half on the other side) overlaps the arithmetic mean (adding the value of the observations and dividing by the number of observations) and describes a representative situation, a common pattern illustrated by many measures of central tendency. This creates a business opportunity since we can define a large number of more-or-less similarly behaving customers.
It also shows clearly why the median and the mean of the asymmetrical log-normal, even more so for a power law, differ and represent threshold conditions. One does not have to get into the mathematics to see that averages in an asymmetrical distribution do not convey the same degree of the “typical investor behavior” that they convey in a symmetrical distribution. How do you optimize your practice for the average investor if your own investor income and wealth data follow such an asymmetrical distribution?
A normal distribution (bell curve) is the limit of what one would find by adding up the value of many independent quantities such as the height of people in a large group. A power law distribution is the limit of what one would find by multiplying the value of many independent quantities such as the relative size of forest fires over a large enough area and a long enough period of time.
According to Chris Anderson of The Long Tail fame, this multiplicative impact seems to be related to a networking effect. Power law distributions seem to be created by “preferential attachments” among nodes in “scale-free” networks, which is to say that the winners are more connected than the losers. Similarly, there seems to be a clear relationship between connectedness, income and wealth. We can all optimize our practice by directing and optimizing our connections.
Personal Income StatementsCan personal income statement planning improve your ability to connect with the right type of investor clients? Extensive personal-income statement planning approaches do not seem to be frequently used in the total returns-driven asset allocation and advisory process. Looking at the difference between the retiree’s and the employee’s personal income statement, we can understand why this is the case since more sources of income, as summarized in Chart 3, become more relevant for more investors as they move from employment and into retirement.
Given these generic sources of income available over our lifecycle, in what ways is a retiree’s personal income statement different from an employee’s?
During Employment YearsAs an employee, most of us are used to seeing a major and often single source of inflows in our personal income statement: employment income in the form of W-2 wages arising from the steady growth and eventual depletion of our human capital.
The self-employed will see human capital inflows in the form of 1099 income. They may also see inflows from business investments in the form of rental income, royalty income, etc.
Most employees will not see much income from social capital. While there may be the occasional gift or inheritance, Social Security and defined benefit pensions only begin to pay monthly income after retirement. On the other hand, those of us with medical and/or disability conditions may see income from matching social or insurance programs prior to retirement.
During our employment years, we are also in the accumulation phase with regards to our financial capital. During the accumulation phase, we convert what we save from our human capital inflows into financial capital.