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Investing always demands some sort of risk...


Greg Davies, Head of Behavioural Finance at Oxford Risk, shares his thoughts on how investors can properly assess their risk capacity

RP: All investing involves a degree of risk, and every one of us has a unique capacity for risk. One of the key roles of a financial adviser is to work out, for each client, exactly what that capacity is. There are three main factors to consider.

GD: One is the risk that you are willing to take in the long term. How much am I willing to trade off risk in return of final outcomes? And then there's risk that you are able to take, and there's two flavours of that. One is the risk that you are able to take financially, and that is risk capacity; and the other one is the risk that you're able to take emotionally, which is about your composure levels and your ability to withstand the ups and downs.

RP: How much risk you are able to take is largely dependent on the stage of life you are at. So for example, a young person with good earning potential has a relatively high capacity for risk.

GD: So if someone is only investing a small portion of what we can think of as their total wealth, including human capital, then your capacity is high. If someone however – if I put all my investable assets into the market and I have now just retired, and all I have ahead of me is no more income coming  in, I've just got liabilities in the future. I've got spending to fund; this is a  situation where my capacity is low. So risk capacity at its heart is simply put: am I investing a small or a very large part of my total wealth? And that tells me something about my financial ability to take risk with this pool of assets.

RP: Greg Davies says, in his view, there’s been too much emphasis in the past on risk tolerance — and not enough on our ability to take risk. A good adviser will get the balance right.

GD: Now if you're exceedingly wealthy – that isn't a problem because, typically, you have enough capacity to fund all your future expenditure without going broke; and so, for the really high end of the wealth market, risk capacity  is a secondary consideration to risk tolerance. For most of the world's investors, the opposite is true. Risk capacity is actually the more important  part of the puzzle. The risk you're able to take is far more important than the risk you're willing to take, because it is the financial fact that you might run out of money that is the constraining variable, not your ability to trade-off risk and return emotionally in the long term.

RP: So, if you haven’t had your risk capacity properly assessed, you should  speak to a financial adviser who knows how to do it. The older you are, the more important that becomes.

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