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I recently posted about Insanely Simple, a book by Ken Segall about how Steve Jobs’ intense focus on Simplicity translated to great success at Apple and continues as an essential part of Steve’s legacy today.  That blog compared Apple’s view of Simplicity to Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), the mutual fund company we use to implement our investment strategy.

Today, I’d like to take the Simple Stick (as the book would call it) to The Asset Advisory Group. One of our core values is “Embrace Simplicity”, but how is that value realized? As Jobs would often remind his staff, Simplicity is hard work. At TAAG, it is work we take seriously and a value we carry in everything we do.

Simplicity in Who We Serve

We work solely with individuals and families.

One of the measures in the financial services industry is size. How much money you manage, for how many clients, in how many different ways determines a measure of your value. While proud of our size, our goals are not necessarily built around size and scale. We take a simpler, more personal approach.

Serving many types of clients in too many different ways leaves far too much room for Complexity to rear it’s ugly head in the form of higher costs, less transparency, misaligned goals, and decreased focus on the client.

Instead, we’ve made a decision to focus solely on individuals and families. We don’t work with employer plans, endowments, foundations or other such groups that, while a great way to boost the stated size of a firm, is also a way to lose sight of those individuals and family clients.

Simplicity in What We Do

We provide financial planning and investment management to enhance the overall well-being of those we serve.

While planning and investing involve complex and countless variables, the crux of what we do is rooted in Simplicity. Investing is a matter of risk and return. Planning is a matter of listening and understanding our clients’ goals and working with them to help them accomplish those goals.

Sometimes those goals involve tax or estate planning. We provide our best thinking around those issues, but also work with our client’s existing team of accountants and attorneys or help them find ones that will suit their needs with a similar focus on simplicity and clarity in the work they do. By working together with the client and a “small group of smart people,” as Jobs advocated, each member on the team can be independent, serve a clearly defined purpose and help provide less conflicted checks and balances. This results in better service and advice to our client and their future.

The book reminds us, “Clarity propels an organization. Pervasive, 24-hour, in your face clarity”. While we may differ with Jobs’ in-your-face style in exchange for more active listening, calmer demeanor and a service first focus, having clarity in what we do and who we serve are major differentiators in propelling our organization, and our clients’ lives, forward.

Simplicity in How We Do It

We implement plans by building globally diverse, low cost portfolios based on meeting client goals, not market forecasting.  Admitting we have no control over something as complex as short term market fluctuations (nor does anyone else, by the way) frees us to focus more on those things the client can control and will ultimately lead to a more successful experience.

Our brains are hard wired to let complexity wreak havoc on our best laid investment plans. The natural volatility of the markets, paired with an endless supply of talking heads pretending to have an expertise in fortune telling leads to taking our eyes off the wonderful simplicity of the basic tenants of investing.

  • Investors provide capital to companies which then put to work to hire employees, innovate and grow, providing their investors with a fair return for the risk taken.
  • Spreading that risk across a broadly diverse array of companies all over the globe helps ensure that no one company’s troubles causes a portfolio too much pain.
  • Doing this at a low cost and further balancing that risk with high quality, short term fixed income instruments that serve as “mattress money” helps protect profits, provide income and serve as a store of wealth for opportunities to invest in companies when they’re “on sale”, over time, in good markets and bad, is how a successful investing plan is built.

Taking the necessary steps to ensure this model and investment strategy remain focused on serving the best interests of our clients and their families is of paramount importance to us.  As the book mentions, when you are able to boil things down to key elemental principles such as these, how we should invest and work with clients to meet their goals in the most efficient, effective way possible becomes crystal clear.

If you’re interested in learning more about how fiduciary, fee-only advisors are changing the conversation around client service through simplicity, check out Butchers vs. Dieticians. 

For more on how TAAG specifically works to embrace these principles, check out our video below.