Imagine If Robo Advisers Could Do Emotions– Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Professor Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Professor Andrew Lo

From the Wall Street Journal

At a conference last year, I was approached by an audience member after my talk. He thanked me for my observation that it’s unrealistic to expect investors to do nothing in the face of a sharp market-wide selloff, and that pulling out of the market can sometimes be the right thing to do. In fact, this savvy attendee converted all of his equity holdings to cash by the end of October 2008.

He then asked me for some advice: “Is it safe to get back in now?” Seven years after he moved his money into cash, he’s still waiting for just the right time to reinvest; meanwhile, the S&P 500 earned an annualized return of 14% during this period.

Investing is an emotional process. Managing these emotions is probably the greatest open challenge of financial technology. Investing is much more complicated than other chores like driving, which is why driverless cars are already more successful than even the best robo advisers.

Despite the enthusiasm of tech-savvy millennials—the generation of investors now in their 20s and 30s who are just as happy interacting with an app as with warm-blooded humans—robo advisers don’t take into account the limits of human cognition; they don’t make allowances for emotional reactions like fear and greed; and they can’t eliminate blind spots. Robo advisers don’t do emotion. When the stock market roils, investors freak out. They need comfort and encouragement. During last August’s stock-market rout, Vanguard Group told The Wall Street Journal it was “besieged” with calls from jittery investors and had to pull volunteers from across the company to handle the call volume.

But what if a robo adviser could identify the precise moment you freak out and encourage you not to sell by giving you historical context that calms your nerves? Better yet, what if this digital adviser could actively manage the risk of your portfolio so you don’t freak out at all?

Imagine if, like your car’s cruise control, you can set a level of risk that you’re comfortable with and your robo adviser will apply the brakes when you’re going downhill and step on the gas when you’re going uphill so as to maintain that level of risk. And if you do decide to temporarily take over by stepping on the brakes, the robo adviser will remind you from time to time that you need to step on the gas if you want to reach your destination in the time you’ve allotted. Instead of artificial intelligence, we should first conquer artificial emotion—by constructing algorithms that accurately capture human behavior, we can build countermeasures to protect us from ourselves.

Robo advisers have great potential but the technology is still immature; they’re the rotary phones to today’s iPhone.

Marvin Minsky, the recently deceased founding father of artificial intelligence, summarized the ultimate goal of his field by saying that he didn’t just want to build a computer that he could be proud of, he wanted to build a computer that could be proud of him. Wouldn’t it be grand if we built a robo adviser that could be proud of our portfolio?

See the post at  WSJ “The Experts” 

Andrew W. Lo is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering, principal investigator at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and chief investment strategist at AlphaSimplex Group.

 

 

Post MiFID II, dark trading should return to basics – Haoxiang Zhu and Carole Comerton-Forde

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Haoxiang Zhu

From Oxford Business Law Blog 

On January 3, 2018, the revised Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, or MiFID II, became effective across EU member states. This comprehensive and far-reaching regulation will shape European capital markets in years to come. Among other things, MiFID II puts several restrictions on dark pools in European equity markets: (i) Broker Crossing Networks are essentially banned; (ii) dark pools that rely on “reference prices” on exchanges can only execute trades at the midpoint of exchange best bid and offer; and (iii) dark pools are subject to volume caps of 4% for a single venue and 8% across all dark pools (colloquially referred to as the double volume caps). On the other hand, MiFID II keeps the “Large in Scale” (LIS) waiver, so sufficiently large transactions can still go through without being counted toward, or affected by, the double volume caps.

Jargon and technical details aside, these MiFID II rules essentially push dark trading to return to basics: the matching of large institutional orders to reduce price impact (for both sides). Price impact—the very act of buying or selling moves prices adversely—can be quite costly for institutional investors, especially in today’s market where alphas are hard to generate and high-frequency traders watch every market movement at the microsecond level. By reducing the price impact of trades, investors enhance returns. Read More »

This is your brain on stocks–Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Prof. Andrew Lo

From MarketWatch

Ever since I was a graduate student in economics, I’ve been struggling with the uncomfortable observation that economic theories often don’t seem to work in practice. That goes for that most influential economic theory, the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, which holds that investors are rational decision makers and market prices fully reflect all available information, that is, the “wisdom of crowds.”

Certainly, the principles of Efficient Markets are an excellent approximation to reality during normal business environments. It is one of the most useful, powerful, and beautiful pieces of economic reasoning that economists have ever proposed. It has saved generations of portfolio managers from bad investment decisions, democratizing finance along the way through passive investment vehicles like index funds.

Then came the Financial Crisis of 2008; the “wisdom of crowds” was replaced by the “madness of mobs.” Investors reacted emotionally and instinctively in response to extreme business environments — good or bad — leading either to irrational exuberance or panic selling.

Read More »

Wider and direct access to financial market infrastructure is the next step for a more competitive financial market – Haoxiang Zhu

MIT Sloan Assc. Prof. Haoxiang Zhu,

From ProMarket

As of Saturday, January 13, all EU member states were to fully implement the revised Payment Services Directive, known as PSD2.1) Among other things, PSD2 allows third-party payment service providers to gain access to customers’ bank accounts (with the customers’ consent, of course), and customers’ banks are required to provide API connection for identity verification. Its potential impact should not be underestimated. For example, under PSD2, customers and merchants can, in principle, cut credit cards and debit cards out of their transactions, saving significant costs along the way. In addition, banks can no longer “own” their customers’ account data or prevent competitors from accessing them.

The EU’s PSD2 is a major development in payments and financial market infrastructure, a once-sleepy “back-office” function that is now alive and kicking. The essence of PSD2 is to encourage competition and reduce the information advantages of incumbent banks. Likewise, the Bank of England announced in July 2017 that non-bank payment service providers can become direct settlement participants in the UK’s payment system, as long as certain requirements are met.

Access to financial market infrastructure such as payment systems has important implications for market competition. The study of industrial organization shows that competition is reduced by vertical integration. A vertically integrated incumbent that produces both “upstream” and “downstream” goods can effectively reduce competition in the downstream market if its stand-alone competitors rely on the incumbent for providing the upstream good.2) Financial market infrastructure is the ultimate upstream good for almost all economic activities. Privileged access to market infrastructure makes banks “special” and, in some situations, may encourage anticompetitive behavior. Good examples to keep in mind include two antitrust class lawsuits in over-the-counter derivatives markets in which investors accused dealer banks of, among other things, using their unique positions as clearing members in OTC derivatives to shut off new entrants that aim to compete with dealer banks in the transaction of these derivatives.3) One of these lawsuits has been settled, with dealer banks paying $1.86 billion. Read More »

Give mutual fund investors a voice in shareholder proxy voting – Gita Rao

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Gita Rao

From MarketWatch

Are you concerned about climate change, or about social issues such as corporate board diversity? Can you as a shareholder have your preferences communicated to company management and perhaps impact corporate policy on these issues? For the majority of individual investors, the short answer is “no.”

That’s because most individual investors own mutual funds. But the structure of the mutual fund makes it difficult to reflect shareholder objectives and values related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

The growth in individual shareholder ownership ironically has created a huge gap in corporate governance and accountability. The ownership of Corporate America lies largely with employees through 401(k) plans and other retirement vehicles, except these same employee-owners cannot and do not have proxy voting rights — these are exercised by the fund providers.

Given the size of retail assets that fund managers control — collectively close to $10 trillion — there is a valid concern about their voting practices not reflecting the preferences of the millions of investors in their funds. A typical fund has to vote on hundreds of proxies each year, most of them routine. The voting process is centralized and fairly automated, with default guidelines regarding how the shares are voted. The fund manager conducts analysis only on issues that materially impact a company’s financial or operating performance, and then casts a vote.

Having managed mutual funds for a long time and voted hundreds of proxies globally, I believe there is a simple and direct way to reflect shareholder ESG preferences in the voting of proxies: Through the fund prospectus.  Read More »