Over a 100 million Americans are blindly trusting a lifelong decision to someone else

I live in “East” Austin, an eclectic little neighborhood that is more Brooklyn than it is Texas. My startup’s office is also on this side of town because it’s the last place in Austin with affordable space. Instead of writing this post from my desk, for a change of pace I’ve decided to sit at the bar downstairs that serves nothing but beer and coffee (any time of the day). At the bar, I am surrounded by artists, writers, musicians, and mechanics; all incredibly unique individuals. The only visible similarity I can see among them is that they each have tattoos. These tattoos are as colorful and interesting as the personalities of the individuals that adorn them.

Tattoos are most certainly a choice. Well, two choices. The first choice is to get one. The second choice is what it will be. What it will be is such an important decision because it will be with you for the rest of your life. Could you imagine handing this major decision over to someone else? Could you imagine blindly trusting another person to choose something for you that will be with you for the rest of your life? Could you imagine saying “just give me whatever you think is good?”

This is exactly what eight trusting individuals recently did as part of an art installation in New York City. They each walked into a south Manhattan art gallery having made the decision to get a tattoo. But instead of communicating with the artist first or providing any input at all into what that tattoo would be, they simply put their arm through a hole in the wall and hoped for the best. This sounds crazy, right?

Scott Campbell Gives Away Free Mystery Tattoos © sprout_dog/Instagram

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/fashion/scott-campbell-turns-trust-into-tattoos.html?_r=0

This is partially why I decided to leave the investment industry. I worked for years as a financial advisor with one of the largest investment firms in the world. I was the guy on the other side of the wall. Rather than tattoos, I was inking investment strategies into the lives of people that didn’t know what they were getting. Okay, there was no wall. We usually met in person or spoke on the phone, but there may as well have been a wall. Regular investors don’t understand the industry jargon used by advisors, but they know they need an investment strategy. So, they put their arm through that imaginary trust wall and buy the recommended strategy proposed by their advisor.

I use the word “buy” here because that is absolutely what people are doing when they invest. Those that hire a “professional” are buying an advisor service and are buying the underlying products that he or she recommends. Each of which have annual fees attached to them. Fees that will add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars before retirement. This makes an investment strategy one of the largest purchase decisions an individual will ever make in their life. And like tattoos, this strategy will be around for a lifetime. By the time an investor retires, the strategy will start to look a little different with exposure to equity starting to fade but it will still be with them or their family.

Eight people got tattoos without knowing what they were going to get. Over 100 million Americans are invested in strategies they don’t understand. The latter seems far crazier to me.

Since leaving the advisor side of the investment industry, I’ve dedicated my time to building software solutions that help those Americans to not only better understand their investment strategy, but also to have a more hands-on approach with their own money and to feel confident about their investment decisions. At DRAFT, we aim to demystify what seems mysterious to investors. In order to facilitate that, I am joined by a talented team of designers, developers, and entrepreneurs (yes, some of whom have tattoos). Our small team is pushing the limits of what the investment industry thinks is acceptable. We build data models that take the complexities of the investment industry and make them easy to understand. We do this through simple and intuitive software tools and we use language that anyone can understand. We don’t use the S&P 500 as an investment benchmark and we don’t use current investment tools as a benchmark for good user experience.

Through our analytical process, however, we’ve uncovered that there is a bigger problem in the investment industry than we originally thought. A surprising number of individuals own ineffective investment products within poorly diversified strategies that have unnecessary fees attached to them. Our team, unlike the investment industry, believes in transparency, which means we’ll be sharing our findings. I’ll use Medium to share my story, but more importantly to share the stories of our users and what they have learned about their investment strategies… good and bad.

In the meantime, don’t stop investing, but do start to understand what you currently own.