3 things that sometimes just don’t work; Computers, Mobiles and Investment Funds

I hope this (belated) blog entry finds you all enjoying a well-earned winter break. Like many of our clients, friends and colleagues, I decided to use a significant proportion of this break in the highly satisfying endeavor of doing, well, very little at all.

Ensconced in the middle of the peak district in a lovely cottage cleverly sourced by my wife, the serenity of the countryside and roaring fire was soon offset by my maddening irritation at things that just WON’T WORK.

To what do i refer? Predictably, technology gets it in the neck from yours truly. Despite all the cooing and crooning over the wonderful magnificence of smart phones, the Internet, computers and everything in between, one does have to wonder at the number of times these devices and technologies just simply will not do what humble, basic tools will do pretty much straight away – that is, obey you. This was made somewhat acutely poignant by the simple serenity and elegance issuing forth from my wife as she used the far simpler technology of a pen to write her book, whilst I struggled away to deliver the promised output of my fancy technology (namely a movie and the ability to send a text to family that we had navigated the incessant rain safely).

If you are still with me, let me regale you with a story or two for the fireside. There is a financial connection towards the end, if you get that far…..but without further ado;

Once upon a time, a financial man with many plans was settled near his fire, all stoked up in fury by……

1) Computers

It was a simple task I set the computer. Launch the media-playing software (iSomething), and play a movie I downloaded previously. Quite simple, no?

Oh no, because of course the computer doesn’t listen to me. Despite apparently having a processor that can process five zillion (yes, it’s a word) calculations per second, and more open space in it’s memory banks than can be found in the Atacama desert, it is busy.

Doing what? Launching online backup services (nothing to backup today), box-dropping services (nothing to box-drop today), video-chat services (I don’t want to talk to anyone), Internet defence services (I don’t need the Internet today) and a million other non-descript applications.

Dutifully, I begin closing them as soon as they are opened. “Aha”, you may be thinking, “It’s your own stupid fault for having them all installed in the first place”. Before you hit the “reply” button to email such wisdom to me, I would explain that I do actually need most of these applications at different points – just at THIS point, i did not. I just wanted to play my movie.

The impossible thing with computers is that they are fundamentally stupid, in this regard. They have no awareness of their environment or the purpose for which they have been started at this particular location in the space-time continuum. So they just prepare for all eventualities.

Ultimately, this is the fault of the programmers. There is no way or method or action to be able to feed into the computer what your true intentions are (don’t even get me started on a horrible little program called “svchost.exe” which, if you are on Windows and start “task manager” right now, you will likely find is running many times over sucking up huge amounts of memory with absolutely no explanation whatsoever of what it is doing with it all – NB; if you want to find out, download “process explorer” from Microsoft).

What we need is a “stop doing everything apart from this” button. Or an “I am your father” button (perhaps with a Darth Vader sound effect). Anything to stop the computer and just make it focus on what I want at that time.

But is there anything like this? No. Anyone who can help me with this? No (try this with an IT support engineer and I’ll buy you a coffee if the answer isn’t “lets reboot….” followed by “I think we should try a reinstall…..” which is as useful as a builder knocking down a house because the wall got a little damp).

So the financial man with a well laid plan had to wait for the stupid computer, and eventually the movie appeared. However, there was another cause of certain ire…..

2) Mobile Networks

Now, perhaps many of you will sympathise with my predicament a few months back; after being with one of the oldest and most reliable Mobile Networks in the country (indeed a global brand an regular constituent of the FTSE 100, albeit one with rather poor customer service, but lets stay focused on the technology for now….) for quite some time, I was tempted to the dark-side; a newly merged Mobile Network promised even greater coverage, faster speeds, and best of all a free Samsung Galaxy Note; the phone I desired.

To my shame, I took the bait and left old reliable for the new world. Nothing, Nowhere was born – or at least, were I to name a company in light of the Sale of Goods Act (Fair Description), this is the name I would choose.

Even worse, both myself and my wife are with the same appalling network (with different mobile smartphones, I would add, eliminating device issues). All we wanted to do was send a mobile text message, within 20 miles of a number of reasonable population centres (Derby and Nottingham). Could we?

Not on your nelly. Even more infuriatingly, my Mobile Broadband “dongle” was still with my prior network; as I plugged this into my laptop I discovered that I not only had network connection from this trusty old device on a trusty old network, but indeed broadband Internet access.

The phones still had Nothing, Nowhere. Sigh. A lesson in life learned; research skipped, quality dipped.

3) Investment Funds

So, we reach the end of the tale – and what financial lesson do we learn? Well, as i sit by the fire drying off, about half an hour later than I expected to finish my film and having managed to send a text message by propping myself up on the door frame with one hand in the rain to glean a bar of signal, I reflected on the lessons learnt.

Often, as with computers, investments can leave us perplexed – particularly when they do not keep track of our position in space-time;

Investment and financial plans suitable for those just beginning the path of work, wages and wealth just generally do not WORK for those preparing to enter retirement and vice-versa; those for a young family who are preparing for the inevitable costs which follow again just do not WORK a few years down the line.

Why? Well, what we want and need the investments to do changes with time – specifically the risk we want to take, the return we desire and what capacity we have to sustain losses in our investment values without running to the nearest scrapyard, buying all of their lead and waiting for the end of the world in our underground bunker (ref: Only Fools & Horses).

It is even worse with regards to investments taken without ANY advice because in that case, as with computers, it is likely that investments get put into the “prepare for all possibilities” mixed bag of a “balanced managed” fund by the provider who wants to play it safe and insure themselves against mis-selling claims in the future. Just as this approach tends to lead to a computer which is consumed with doing almost everything apart from what you actually want it to do at any point in time, likewise such an approach to investment usually means that it is never really specifically suitable for you – the investor.

Finally, if you have advice, if this is not constantly revised in line with the changes in your life, how can the resultant financial plan and investment strategy REMAIN something which “works” for you, NOW?

Another element to consider, even if you have a customised investment strategy which is reviewed every 6 months or so, are the investment “vehicles” you choose to use.

As is the case from the Mobile Network fiasco, just because something looks good, and is cheap with good marketing does not mean it is fit for purpose. We need to INVESTIGATE the investments money – your money – is placed into. This needs to be thorough, independent, reliable and repeatable. So make sure you ask and make sure that whoever executes your financial plan has comprehensive research behind them.

Conclusion

So there we are. Lessons on investing from a computer which doesn’t listen, and a Mobile Network which doesn’t work the way it should.

The answer? Design a computer which listens, and stick with a proven Mobile Network which you have researched. Or alternatively, substitute “financial plan” for computer and “Investment Fund” for Mobile Network if you want to relate this to your money!

I hope you have enjoyed the read; the phone is now off, laptop soon to follow as I had best return to my dubiously low-burning fire, bottle of Le Coin and lovely wife.

All my best for now!

Please note that the information on this page is a personal view only and does not constitute individual advice.

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