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Video: Why I don't recommend Smart Beta / Factor Investing / Quant Funds

Discussion with Mutual Fund managers

Video discussion at Bloomberg Quint in June 2020; Link to the article version of the same discussion

Excerpt: It is a myth that 'Smart beta or factor investing (example, investing in small-cap index funds) allows you to beat the index on a risk-adjusted basis'. Nobel prize winner Eugene Fama, who is the brain behind the smart-beta strategy, has himself said that any additional expected return from a smart-beta strategy comes from higher expected risk.


How much money do you need to retire?

This simple formula provides the answer

Published in Mint in March 2020 and written in February 2020; The article is not behind a paywall even though it might look like it is behind a paywall; This article elaborates on an earlier article from July 2018; Cached copy of the print version of the article

Excerpt: Retirement calculators are complex, and their complexity is causing problems. These black-box retirement calculators are too complex for most people to understand. More importantly, the complexity in these calculators hides their inbuilt optimistic and wrong assumptions. As a result, people are saving too little for retirement; retiring earlier than their finances allow them to; and overspending during the early years of their retirement. Those looking for a clearer picture should instead, use this one simple formula.

Indexheads Logo

Finally, a way for resident Indians to invest abroad

...with the Motilal Oswal S&P 500 Index Fund

Published on Indexheads in April 2020; I am not affiliated with Indexheads and hence other articles might be the opposite of my views

Excerpt: I [subjectively] prefer the Motilal Oswal S&P 500 Index Fund to all other Indian mutual funds which allow you to invest outside of India

Paisa Vaisa logo 2

Podcast: The Boglehead approach to investing in India

Almost everything you have heard about financial planning and investing is wrong

Episode on Paisa Vaisa released in January 2020 and was recorded in November 2019

Excerpt: Putting 80% of your net worth in equity is irrational!; People have forgotten how risky equity is in the short term and they do not understand how risky it is even in the long term; The right approach to Debt Mutual Funds; What is Advice-Only Financial Planning; How you can find an Advice-Only Financial Planner; I specialize in the most mature clients e.g. a few of my clients are Fund Managers

Business Standard 2

Beware of claims that contradict finance theory

A lot of propaganda in personal finance contradicts the fundamental law that there are no free lunches

Published in Business Standard in January 2020; Cached copy of the article which will download in PDF format

Excerpt: Some of the false claims include back-testing, smart-beta, 'long-duration bonds are not risky' and 'rebalancing reduces risk'


The battle for 1% p.a. will determine whether you will survive retirement

Learn to spot the tactics that your opponents are using

Published on FreeFinCal in November 2019

Excerpt: Dalal Street's (i.e. the financial services industry's) primary focus is to transfer wealth from the client to Dalal Street. Dalal Street does this by transfering 1% of the client's net worth each year from the client to Dalal Street. Let’s look at five tactics that Dalal Street uses to achieve this. This may help you identify such tactics and protect yourself against them.

Indexheads Logo

Second order thinking explains why you should invest in index funds and also the most suitable index fund products

All your domestic MF investment should be in index funds and index-like funds with fees of less than 0.20% p.a.

Published on Indexheads in November 2019; I am not affiliated with Indexheads and hence other articles might be the opposite of my views

Excerpt: The Boglehead approach to investing results in investing in the Nifty 50 Index Fund and Overnight Funds

Business Standard 2

The average Indian active mutual fund does not beat the index

Ignore false arguments against index funds

Published in Business Standard in October 2019; Cached copy of the article which will download in PDF format

Excerpt: The active mutual fund industry use these deceptive arguments to support their claim that they beat the index -- Focusing on best-performing survivor funds; Using ambiguous data; Asking you to pick the right schemes


Why individual investors should avoid Alternative Investment Funds

You should invest in a PE / VC / Hedge Fund only if you can manage such a fund

Published in Mint in October 2019; Cached copy of the print version of the article

Excerpt: If you can successfully manage a Private Equity , Venture Capital or Hedge Fund, then you have a tiny chance of being able to identify a suitable fund to invest in. Otherwise, you have no hope in hell of knowing which fund to invest in. Instead, invest in an index fund such as the Nifty 50 index fund with the lowest fees

Misconception about Early Retirement - Image - Zoom

YouTube: Misconceptions about Early Retirement

Business Standard 2

PMS investment is too risky, opt only if you have a large portfolio

Only those who have a large portfolio and the ability to select the right fund managers should opt for it

Published in Business Standard in August 2019; Cached copy of the article which will download in PDF format

Excerpt: The poor quality of publicly-available data makes it very difficult to identify a top investor among the 200-plus PMS managers; Almost all investors are likely to be better off investing in mutual funds, particularly index funds, instead of investing in PMS

VCCircle Logo

Three things aspiring entrepreneurs must evaluate before starting up

‘The ability to cope with failure’, ‘the willingness to make less money than in a job’ and ‘is there more than a 50% probability of moderate success?’

Published on VCCircle in July 2019

Excerpt: Let’s assume that you are 40 years old and you are the primary breadwinner in the house...Before you begin a startup, your net worth minus any investment in the startup (over the next five years), should be equal to at least 25 times your annual family expenses in your first year as an entrepreneur.


Why it’s a myth to say that equity is safe in long term

Often, people take too much risk believing the myth that equity is safe in the long term

Published in Mint in July 2019; Cached copy of the print version of the article

Excerpt: Believing the myth that equity is safe in the long term is one of the key reasons that people take too much equity risk. Data, theory and principles of finance all disagree with this myth. The reality is that over a 5-10[-20-30] year horizon, there is a higher probability that equity will at least match inflation but there is also a material probability that it will generate returns that are lower than inflation

MoneyControl logo

Three blind spots to avoid in your money matters

Not saving enough, taking too much risk and buying high-cost investment products are common mistakes that can wreck your personal finance

Published on MoneyControl in June 2019

Excerpt: The worst financial products pay the highest commissions. And salesmen push the products that have the highest commissions. So, if a salesman is pushing you to buy a product, it is probably a bad product—insurance investment policies, structured products and credit risk funds. The best products are usually not pushed by anyone. You have to make the effort to find out about their features and buy the most suitable products.


Reading the S&P Index Versus Active Funds India report will change the way you invest

Indian mutual funds, as a whole, do not beat the index

Published on FreeFinCal in June 2019

Excerpt: Since the first S&P Indices Versus Active funds (SPIVA) India report for year-end 2009, it has been saying that Indian active mutual funds do not beat the index. But very few investors have read the SPIVA report and most people who read it, find it difficult to understand it. This article aims to simplify the SPIVA report to help you understand it


How should you select a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) to engage with?

Your RIA's fees should be proportional to the RIA’s time/effort. Fees should not be primarily proportional to the client’s assets under management nor net worth nor income

Published on FreeFinCal in May 2019

Excerpt: 'Advice-Only is the sub-set of Fee-Only that is best for investors'; 'Fee-Only (Advice-Only)' means that (a) The RIA should not explicitly / implicitly earn any referral fee from a Distributor or anyone else; (b) The RIA’s fees should be proportional to the RIA’s time/effort. The RIA’s fees should not primarily be a function of the client’s assets under management nor net worth nor income; (c) The RIA should ensure that the client is not dependent on the RIA

Business Standard 2

Private Equity lessons for Personal Investing

Evaluate each investment as if your life depends on it—because it does 

Published in Business Standard on 6th April 2019; Cached copy of the article which will download in PDF format 

Excerpt: Questions that private equity investors ask themselves may help you avoid bad investments such as Credit Risk Funds etc


The mature approach to personal finance

The golden rules of investing are to diversify and minimize investment costs

Published on FreeFinCal's YouTube channel in March 2019; This link takes you to the same content in the form of an article

Excerpt: William Sharpe's golden rules of investing are to diversify and keep investment costs low


How even DIY investors can benefit from a registered Investment Adviser

Such a discussion may address issues, answer questions or at least, provide a second opinion

Published on in February 2019; The second-half of the article also covers 'Why you should avoid Structured Products'

Excerpt: The discussion between the client and the RIA should identify a critical problem or answer a critical question e.g. "Stop investing in complex, high-fee and risky experimental investments such as Structured Products"

The Ken

The two-headed Goliath—Mutual Funds and their distributors

Exorbitant annual fees and commissions to distributors are hurting Indian mutual fund investors. There is a solution, but don’t expect your local distributor to tell you about it

Published on The Ken on 10th January 2019; In this article, I am recommending zero-commission plans / Direct Plans and index funds / ETFs; The article is behind a paywall, but free registration at The Ken provides access to a 200-word summary of all their articles;

Excerpt from the summary:

'Investors have been pushed to take too much risk because equity funds have the highest fees/commissions; Indian mutual funds, as a whole, do not beat the index; distributors use ambiguity in the regulations to push schemes with the highest fees/commissions and mutual funds like this arrangement; no one can predict which mutual fund schemes will have the best performance even over a 10 year period. In addition, Indian MF fees and commissions are some of the highest in the world.'

Excerpts from the article:

'Unnecessarily high fees of [Mutual Fund] AMCs and unnecessarily high commissions of distributors force investors to pay fees of an estimated 2% per annum as opposed to a more reasonable 1%. This 1% of excess fees eats up 1% of an investor’s investment each year. While the exact amount is debatable, the long-term impact is clear from simple arithmetic. If an investor surrenders 1% of her investment each year, then cumulated over 30 years, she has lost 26% of her investment.'

'Sanjiv Shah [former CEO of Goldman Sachs’ Indian MF and co-founder of Benchmark MF] offers a damning verdict of this arrangement [between Mutual Funds and their Distributors]. “Due to a distributor’s skewed incentives, in many cases, a distributor’s value to an investor may not just be zero, but may actually be negative—the distributor may be subtracting value from an investor.” Shah gives the example of equity funds versus debt funds. Since the former pay higher commissions, he says, distributors push investors to invest more in equity funds, even if this could be harmful to the investor. A visible sign of this is that two-thirds of MF investments by individuals are in equity schemes, despite the vulnerability of these schemes to stock market crashes.'


Are you taking too much equity risk?

Decide equity allocation based on your need, capacity and temperament for risk

Published in Mint in November 2018; Cached copy of the print version of the article which will download in PDF format

Excerpt: India does not have financial products that are available in developed  countries. Hence the amount of risk that you should take is a subjective function of your need, capacity and temperament for risk

IIM_Bangalore_Logo Thumbnail

YouTube: Webinar on Financial Planning & Investing...

...conduced for IIM Bangalore alumni

Published on the IIM Bangalore Alumni YouTube channel; Recorded in November 2018

Except: How much should I save for retirement? How much can I spend during retirement? Principles of Investing

Business Standard

You can mitigate domestic risks by investing abroad, here's how

Open a low-cost international broking account and invest in low-cost international exchange-traded funds

Published in Business Standard in September 2018; Cached copy of the article which will download in PDF format; Note: The correct date of publication of the academic paper referred to in this article is June 1999

Excerpt: The primary reason one should invest in international equities (via an international index fund) is to diversify one’s risk by not putting 100 per cent of one’s net worth in one country, India, which contributes just 3.3 per cent of world nominal GDP. None of us would be willing to put 100 per cent of our net worth in Italy, which is an economy of a comparable size. This is despite Italy’s S&P sovereign credit rating being one notch higher than India’s. India’s credit rating incidentally is one notch above junk


Turn no-free-lunch from an opponent to an ally

Don’t waste your energy fighting the law of no-free-lunch. Instead use it as a tool for thinking, to avoid mistakes and also minimize costs through index funds.

Published on in September 2018

Excerpt: Overnight Funds and extremely low credit-risk Liquid Funds like Quantum Liquid Fund are the only Debt Funds that, can be relied upon to consistently beat high-quality Fixed Deposit post-tax returns (assuming that one stays invested for 3+ years and a marginal income tax rate of around 30%)


Satisficing around financial products that almost do not exist

Some risks can’t be mitigated by products as such products almost don’t exist in India

Published in Mint in September 2018;  Cached copy of the print version of the article which will download in PDF format

Excerpt: India does not have suitable Life Annuities, Disability & Critical illness insurance and CPI-inflation indexed bonds; So how do you mitigate this?


Living with Zero Real Returns

Real returns, after-tax, across one’s entire portfolio and across one’s lifetime, will be in the ballpark of zero per cent. This dramatically changes how one should invest and save.

Published on in July 2018

Excerpt: For most people the corpus that you require to retire is 30 years of expenses; You should save half of your lifetime salary; Investment returns cannot compensate for inadequate savings (i.e. if you desperately need high returns, then you are likely to generate poor returns); Even small costs kill; There is no room for unforced-errors / blunders


Quoted in:

Note: Brief quotes may not cover various nuances or the language may not be precise so please take them with a pinch of salt


"It is natural for someone who has lost his job to experience a reduction in his risk appetite. If the economic situation worsens, such a person may not find another job for a long time. And the value of his equity portfolio may diminish further. Someone who has been hit by one type of risk will experience diminished appetite for another type of risk. Such people, should not try to make up for lost income by taking added risk in the equity markets... When the going is good, investors convince themselves they have the appetite for a 70-80 per cent allocation to equities, and that they can handle a 50 per cent drop. But problems often come bunched together. Today there is insecurity on the jobs front and about our health situation. Over and above that, equity holdings have declined in value. When investors are hit on so many fronts simultaneously, they realise they may have over-estimated their risk-taking ability... But, do not swing to the other extreme of lowering equity allocation to excessively low levels. Though it appears improbable today, we could have high inflation in the future. Equities have much better inflation-fighting capability than fixed-income instruments.”

Published in Business Standard in May 2020; This article is behind a pay-wall


"The correction [in the stock market, probably] means you would have fallen behind on your goals. You will have to either save and invest at an accelerated pace, or push your goals back by a couple of years”

Published in Business Standard in April 2020; This article is behind a pay-wall


"[When selecting an international fund-of-fund... Take into consideration the expense ratio of the feeder fund and the mother fund]. At present, when the US market is doing well, expense ratios may not [seem to] matter. But they will matter a great deal once returns normalise”

Published in Business Standard in December 2019; This article is behind a pay-wall


"[Instead of PMS] it is good to be in mutual funds, where the quality of data available for making investment decisions is much better. [I] prefer low-cost financial products, including ETFs [and index funds]. Mutual funds are also more tax efficient and expense ratios are low...There is less than seven years of aggregate performance data for each PMS in the public domain and no robust strategy-wise (e.g. large cap vs. small cap) performance data in the public domain. So, it is almost impossible for clients to figure out whether a PMS manager has the skills or was just lucky over a few years. Investors should stay with [more] regulated products rather than unregulated [i.e. less regulated] products... [e.g. investment newsletters]”

Published in ET Prime on 4th December 2019; This article is behind a pay-wall


"[Not prepaying a loan and instead deploying the money in equities is also not advisable.] That you will have to repay part of your loan over the next year is certain, while equity returns over the next year are by no means certain, so you cannot compare the two. And it is not possible for any liquid, low-risk investment to generate higher post-tax returns than the cost of a loan”

Published in Business Standard in October 2019; In this article, I am recommending that you should focus on repaying / prepaying loans; This article is behind a pay-wall


"[One positive feature of the Indian market is that retail and institutional investors have access to the same funds. The latter watch expense ratios very closely.] In categories where institutional investors invest, like Nifty50 exchange traded fund (ETF), [Overnight funds,] liquid funds, etc investors can take the advantage of the low fee, which fund houses offer primarily to attract big institutional money”

Published in Business Standard in October 2019; In this article, I am discussing that you should minimize fees that you pay to mutual funds; This article is behind a pay-wall


"[Do not tie up the bulk of your investment in products from which it is impossible to withdraw money when needed] Structured products, fractional property investments, and even insurance-cum-investment should be avoided for this reason"

Published in Business Standard in September 2019; In this article, I am discussing how to mitigating the impact of being laid-off; This article is behind a pay-wall


"Any business scheme that is opaque is likely to be risky"

Published in Business Standard in June 2019; In this article, I am discussing how one can spot Ponzi schemes; This article is behind a pay-wall


“My approach to financial planning primarily focuses on mitigating the downside instead of focusing on maximizing the upside. The reason is that maximizing the upside will require taking an irrational level of risk. And there is no predictable low-risk way to get rich through investing...”

Excerpt from 'My List of popular Fee-only Financial Planners in India (Part-2)' published on in March 2019 


"...[New SEBI norms] will prevent the launch of passive funds that take concentrated exposure to illiquid counters"

Published in Business Standard in January 2019; In this article, I am recommending against exotic index funds / ETFs; This article is behind a pay-wall


"...Even if some (say, 37 per cent) of funds outperform, it is difficult to pick in advance which ones will outperform over the next 10 years...”

Published in Business Standard in January 2019; In this article, I am recommending index funds; This article is behind a pay-wall


“In active funds, try to limit the expense ratio you pay because that is the only variable you can control”

Published in Business Standard in November 2018; In this article I am not recommending active funds but I am responding to a specific question about active funds; This article is behind a pay-wall

Mentioned in:

Mentioned in an article by Swapnil Kendhe, Fee-Only Financial Planner & SEBI RIA,

Published on in January 2019; The article mentions us collaborating on learning from each other's best practices


Professor Pattabiraman M, IIT Madras and he runs

"I respect Avinash’s realistic views on investment risk and reward and I especially agree with his point here..."

"Avinash Luthria from Bangalore is also a super competent advisor, part of my fee-only list."

Published on in January & February 2019

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