About two years ago, seemingly every financial news outlet picked up on a study done by Fidelity Investments. This study claimed the company had looked over the accounts of thousands of individual investors, and they found a theme. The people who didn’t touch their portfolios did the best.
Fidelity threw a whole new twist on some tried and true advice, however. They pointed out that people really couldn’t resist the temptation of touching their investments. The only people who didn’t bother were dead. Thus, dead people had the best investment returns. The second best were basically dead, at least to Fidelity. They were the people who forgot they had an account.
This begged a few questions. How did dead people have portfolios that grew for long periods of time? Wouldn’t control of these accounts eventually turn over to people more, uh, alive? And how did Fidelity figure out these people were dead? I like to imagine the phone call.
“Hello, this is Brenda from Fidelity. I’m looking for Bob Johnson.”
“This is Bob. How can I help you?”
“Just checking in to see that you’re not dead, Bob. Talk to you again in a decade.”
So why am I bringing up this study again a year later?
Allow me to quote from the New York Times.
Here’s how to get better returns in your retirement account: Pay as little attention to it as possible.
That was the conclusion of a study by the investment giant Fidelity, according to a 2014 article on Business Insider. The article relayed the transcript of a Bloomberg program in which the well-known money manager Jim O’Shaughnessy said that people who had forgotten that they had accounts outperformed everyone else.
Fidelity, which has received inquiries about the study ever since, without knowing why, told me this week that it had never produced such a study.
Oh man that’s great. Somebody made the whole thing up.
Here at Financial Uproar, I spent a lot of time trying to debunk various financial myths. You don’t need a six month emergency fund, since $1,000 is more of the optimal amount. RRSPs don’t have to just be used when you retire. And retiring early won’t make all of your non-sexual dreams come true. I hope after coming here a few times you’ll have at least a bit of skepticism surrounding “rules of thumb” and other such things.
But at the same time, the whole buy and hold investing idea is a good one. There’s a lot of value in finding a few good ETFs and sticking with them, especially for rookie investors. So I don’t want to disparage the message, because it’s a good one.
Seriously though, I’d still like to know what happened. If anyone knows more details, hit me up.