The 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal posited a wager to address the ago-old question whether you should believe in God.
His now-famous construct introducing probability theory has stood the test of time, and I believe we can apply it to another weighty question: Should people believe in wealth management?
A recent poll by YouGov showed that 39% of people do not believe in God.
Pascal argued that it is a good wager to be a believer. If you believe God exists and you’re right, you benefit from the infinite reward of heaven. You lead a good life, and you’re not giving up too much while you’re on the planet.
The only challenge for believers is which religion you choose to follow. However, you must definitely choose to live according to that faith.
According to Pascal, if you choose not to believe in God, then you eat, drink, and be merry. And then you die. If you don’t believe in God and there isn’t one, then hedonism was earthly paradise. If God does exist, you are condemned to hell.
The challenging thing for people who accept Pascal’s wager is that nonbelievers seem to be having a much better time than believers.
The Spears Wager
Much like the YouGov poll that benchmarked non-belief in God, the number of self-directed investors can be used to measure the number of disbelievers in wealth management. Self-directed investors, like non-believers, grew to an all-time high in 2014.
Like choosing a religion, belief in wealth management requires you to select one approach. That might mean active management, passive management, financial planning or some combination thereof. Whatever it is, you and your clients need to commit to benefit.
The upside in embracing wealth management is that you’re going to have less financial stress. But, much like following a religion, adhering to one approach can be trying at times.
Just like a horrible tragedy leads to questions about the existence of God, the same might be said about a wealth management program that isn’t providing short-term performance. Investors must continue to trust their program and be patient. In other words, they need to have faith.
On the other hand, if you don’t believe in wealth management, why not spend your last dollar as you breathe your last breath? When it’s time to sleep with the fishes, your accounts will be zeroed out and you can laugh all the way into heaven or hell. (Please see Pascal’s wager above.)
Once again, nonbelievers living la vida loca appear to be having a much better time than prudent disciples of wealth management.
In reality, though, even true believers in wealth management don’t stick with it. Just like it is impossible to ask dead people about whether God is on the other side, it’s equally challenging to find individuals (other than your family perhaps) who have successfully lived according to the disciplines of wealth management.
Unfortunately, we won’t have a definitive answer to both questions until we pass to the great beyond. That leaves us with a choice we need to make while we are still among the living. Do we believe or not?
I choose to believe.