Choice overload and financial instruments

Financial instruments should be more carefully scrutinized before entering the market. Similarly, risk should be portrayed comprehensibly (and comprehensively) to investors.

If individuals behaved rationally, they would seek to enhance their welfare. They would invest and hold a portfolio of assets that met their allowable risk-return trade offs  and was consistent with investment horizon and needs. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Indeed, “behavioural economists and empirical researches have shown that in reality members are not particularly good at handling their retirement savings, either because they lack the necessary cognitive ability to solve the optimization problem, because they have insufficient will power to execute it, or even sometimes because they are overconfident.

Extrapolating from the above article, one can assume that people are making sub optimal choices in their investments. Additionally, evidence suggests that the number of choices available amplifies these facts and “induce a preference for simpler, rather than less risky, options”.

The most likely candidate to address issues around choice overload, poor comprehension and the resulting obtainment of risky assets is the pubic sector. While private sector companies, such as S&P and Fitch have attempted to create evaluative mechanisms, they have failed. Since the crisis, rating institutions have been critiqued for lack of impartiality. Seemingly, a “cosy” relationship existed between rating agencies and banks during the crisis; “many financial experts believe that overly optimistic assessments by ratings firms were a key factor in creating an overblown market for derivatives and mortgage-backed securities.”

If, however, a public sector entity were able to evaluate instruments, and relay this information to the public, a more robust financial system would result. Less risky assets would be on the market, and comprehension would be improved.

Not only would investors be making better decisions, from better choices, but they would also be happier about it. While particularly cloying, it seems that that the mere “presence of categories, irrespective of their content, positively influences the satisfaction of choosers who are unfamiliar with the choice domain.

When framed like this, it suggests that presenting choices in a better way – where options are relevant to investment goals, and are not too numerous or complex – will result in a type of self-fulfilling prophecy whereby motivation, learning and well-being are enhanced.