Jul 22, 2015


We, the investors, have fallen asleep.

Sure,  we occasionally wake up to glance at our portfolios. We look at our zigging and zagging account balances. We file—or, more likely, recycle—our monthly  statements. Our  investments grow or wither.

But there’s really nothing for us to do about  it. So, back to sleep.

Sometimes our sleep is disrupted by uneasy  dreams  or nagging  doubts. How  exactly  does  this  whole  investment system  work?  Why  did  we buy  that  mutual fund?  What caused  our account balance  to go up or down? What  hap- pens to the money we invest?

We toss  and  turn,  uncertain of who  is managing our money.  We  hope  our  financial  adviser  is the  omniscient captain, expertly  navigating ever-shifting market currents. But perhaps our portfolios are simply bobbing along the surface  of the  Dow  Jones  Industrial Average,  ascending when the tide rises and sinking  as it retreats.

On  occasion, we are  gripped by nightmares. We fear our own money has been turned against  us, invested  in companies we deplore. We worry that our capital  has made us complicit, endowing the perpetrators of environmental ruin,  financial  apocalypse, and political  dysfunction.

There is just so much  we don’t know as we sleep.

We are only one  generation removed from  a financial world that was far simpler,  more transparent, and less risky than the one we live in now. But the landscape for investors continues to evolve into  one that’s  more  complex,  opaque, and speculative. And we grow ever more dependent on financial instruments that are a mystery to us and on money managers whose incentives are obscure.

We lie with  our  eyes closed  now,  deep  in our  reverie, but with a dawning awareness that the sheep we are count- ing are being fleeced. And that they are us.

Financial   firms  and  money  managers have  intentionally made  investing  overly complicated and  then  convinced us that  we cannot do it on our own.  They have elbowed  their way into every corner  of investing, cultivating a financial intermediary complex  that  disconnects us from our capital and charges  us handsomely for it.

Money managers control trillions  of investors’  dollars, which makes them highly influential in social, environmen- tal, financial,  and  political  matters. As we have seen after two scandal-driven recessions, their strategy  has been to leverage  this  influence   primarily   to  advance   their  own interests.

Having  interacted with  the  financial  sector  throughout nearly every phase of my career,  I was not surprised to learn of the ethically  dubious activity  that  led to the most  recent economic downturn in 2008.  Though  many well-intentioned financial  advisers  and  money  managers serve  their  clients with integrity, unscrupulous activity has long been pervasive in this industry, though it has been due to systemic deficien- cies as much  as the  behavior of bad  actors.  What  did surprise me, however, was the passivity of investors.

Even in the decades preceding the most recent downturn, very few investors enjoyed  financial  success  equal  to that  of their money managers. Given this, I have long wondered why investors don’t pull their money out of the system en masse.

I suspect  that it is because  most feel powerless. Unaware of the implications of their  investments and unable  to pen- etrate  the excruciating complexity  of the system that  facili- tates them, many seek refuge in their money managers’ aura of sophistication, pretense of competence, and projection of certainty. It seems to me that most investors are simply sleep- walking  through the investing  process.

They have become uninvested.


Thank you for reading our post. Our book, Uninvested: How Wall Street Hijacks Your Money – and How to Fight Back, will be published by Penguin Random House on August 4, 2015.