Do you ever wish you would take more risk with your stodgy investment portfolio? Or conversely, that you weren't such a risk-taker, falling for the story lines of high-tech, high-wreck companies? Or maybe you're just feeling bad about the market's lackluster performance in 2004 following one mere gangbuster year -- which you very likely missed -- in the wake of the bear market. Well, this is for the second-guessers out there.
As it turns out, each of us fits one of four "investment temperaments," and if we understand our own, we might manage risk better and plan our goals more effectively, according to a recent study.
"People have a sense they should know what their risk tolerance is," says Meir Statman, professor of finance at The Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University and co-author of
. Yet the people who jump from airplanes might never dream of investing in emerging markets or high-tech stocks. "Each of us has more than one attitude toward risk," adds Statman.
That's why Statman, a pioneer in the emerging field of behavioral finance, was eager to join co-author Vincent Wood, president of Advisor Team of San Francisco, in applying psychological testing to investment risk tolerance.
Wood's company operates www.advisorteam.com, which offers a personality tool online called the Temperament Sorter, already used by 30 million people, Fortune 500 companies and major universities. The basic sorter can be taken at no charge to those who sign in, while other services carry a charge.
Wood says the Sorter has been used for career guidance, premarital counseling and conflict resolution in the workplace. As a chartered financial analyst, he sees it as useful for investors seeking self-enlightenment or as a tool for financial advisers. "Human behavior is really complicated," he says. "Advisers would find it useful to understand why their clients do certain things."
It takes just a few minutes to answer the Sorter questionnaire and get placed in one of four categories:
They are described as the cornerstones of society, serving and preserving the most important social institutions. They use their natural talents to manage families, communities, institutions and organizations. Guardians are cautious, loyal and disciplined. They follow the rules and cooperate with others.
They have a natural ability to excel in the arts, in addition to the athletic, military, political and mechanical and industrial arts. Include the "art of the deal" in business as well. They want to be where the action is. Artisans are impulsive and competitive, and they believe in luck. Above all, they resist being tied down or confined and would rather not wait, or save, or live for tomorrow.
Passionately concerned with personal growth and development, Idealists strive to discover who they are and how they can improve. And they want to help others make the same journey. Idealists are drawn to working with people, through education, social services, journalism or the ministry. They are gifted in helping others find their way in life.
These rigorously logical and fiercely independent thinkers tackle problems in various areas, from organic systems such as plants and animals, to mechanical systems such as railroads and computers, and social systems such as families, companies and governments. Rationals are skeptical of all ideas, even their own. They often seem cold and distant, but this is really because of their absorbed concentration.
So how do these four personality types invest?
On the whole, Guardians tend to live up to their name and exhibit a conservative investing style. Rationals and Artisans tend to be the bigger risk-takers. In fact, Rationals are sometimes inclined to over-rationalize some investments, such as high technology companies, and take too much risk to their later regret, says Statman.
The study found that when it came to favoring stocks or bonds, a greater percentage of Rationals (45%) than any other group preferred to have more stocks than bonds, while a greater percentage of Guardians (32%) opted for more bonds than stocks. More Idealists (40%) liked an equal percentage of both stocks and bonds. (See the chart below.)
Asked whether they prefer domestic stocks over foreign, the Artisans at 65% and the Guardians at 62% responded more favorably than any other group. The Rationals, at 17%, and the Idealists, at 14%, preferred foreign over domestic.
Not surprisingly, Idealists were most likely at 58% to prefer stocks of so-called socially responsible companies over those of conventional companies. The Rationals were most inclined to go for the conventional over social conscience.
Statman and Wood wrote the paper -- which will be published in the
Journal of Investment Consulting
-- mainly to offer a tool to help financial advisers understand their clients better -- instead of creating an investment portfolio using an asset allocation model that balances risk and return, and simply asking the clients how risk-tolerant they are.
"It really opens up a discussion," says Statman. For example, he says, a person might say, "Now that you've got me thinking, 'What are the things that make me happy? The goals of being rich are not really that important. What I want is a job that gives me some flexibility.'"
Statman says that by knowing clients' categories, advisers can help them communicate in language that resonates with them. Guardians respect the opinions of authority figures, such as well-known scholars and investors, presented as an orderly recitation of facts. Artisans want active involvement and respond best to anecdotes, humor and opportunities to answer questions.
Wood says the Sorter works especially well in opening up communications within relationships. He recommends that individuals encourage family members to try it so they can understand one another's different approaches to money and do some long-range financial planning.
Before joining TheStreet.com, Ann Perry was the personal finance columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune. She is the author of "The Wise Inheritor: A Guide to Managing, Investing and Enjoying Your Inheritance" (Broadway Books, 2003). She has a B.A. in English and Communications from Stanford University and a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism. She can be reached at