Randy Kurtz of UpperLeft Wealth: “Save and invest consistently”

Alternative investments often face the same uncertainty and volatility as traditional investments. They are often less liquid and less diverse than a diversified portfolio and typically more expensive, sexier versions of traditional investments. The alternative investment more people should be considering is the multi-asset class globally diversified portfolio. This option has been around for decades, […]

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Alternative investments often face the same uncertainty and volatility as traditional investments. They are often less liquid and less diverse than a diversified portfolio and typically more expensive, sexier versions of traditional investments. The alternative investment more people should be considering is the multi-asset class globally diversified portfolio. This option has been around for decades, but most people don’t take advantage of it.


As a part of my series about “Investing During The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Kurtz.

Randy is a Registered Investment Advisor, CFP® and a nationally recognized expert on risk. His risk-focused approach is the pillar of his companies: Upper Left Wealth, an investment advisory firm helping investors remain on pace and plan for the future, and DataDriven Advisor, which offers super-diversified portfolios for financial advisors to help them develop strong relationships, retain clients, and thrive. He holds a M.B.A. in finance from Columbia Business School and has been profiled in Forbes, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.


Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?

As a kid, I was fascinated by the movement of stock market figures in my father’s copy of The Wall Street Journal. My focus then turned to the valuation and stats on the back of baseball cards, during my teen’s I enjoyed trading cards and was renting tables at shows. After college, I started reading books about the stock market and couldn’t stop. I enrolled at Columbia Business School and landed my first job at a Bear Stearns, working on a seven-billion-dollar mutual fund. I wanted to be a great stock picker, and I was for a bit, but quickly learned that I didn’t agree with Wall Street standards, or lack thereof. I wanted to make more of an impact in people’s lives, so I left to start my own business(es) and never looked back.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

For most of my clients, I proactively set up lines of credit backed by their portfolio. There’s no cost for this, and it serves as emergency liquidity over time. It often sits there unused for years. One of my clients was looking for a new home. She found her dream home, agreed on a price, and put down a non-refundable deposit. She had a mortgage all lined up — at least we thought she did. A few days before closing, she called me in a panic when her mortgage fell through. Worried about losing both her house and deposit, I reminded her that we had the emergency line of credit open and ready to use. We could save the house and the deposit. And the rate was lower than the mortgage that she initially got. We solved a major problem in her life. The takeaway? You always want to proactively prepare for a wide range of outcomes.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My current focus is on the automation of financial planning. A few times each month I jump on a conference call with someone who doesn’t meet our firms minimum to engage, but they still needed specific guidance. I saw it as my fiduciary duty to help, and began developing models to set a beneficial pace for the caller. The reaction to my pro bono advice was fantastic, and it made me feel good to offer the guidance. My new goal is to make customized financial plans available to everyone, at a low cost.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Warren Buffet was the guest lecturer in one of my classes at business school. What he said was pretty important in my career. Buffet said, “As I look back over my 60 years of investing, I realize I only get one good idea per year.” That changed everything for me. If one of the greatest investors of all time only gets one good idea a year, how can a stock picker have a good idea every day or week? It’s impossible. Focus on your strengths, don’t make bets when the odds are not in your favor. Stick to the basics, diversify, rebalance, and save consistently.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

It is likely best for many of us to limit access to social media during tough times. Further, finance news is like all news, sensationalized. That’s what makes headlines. Its best to focus on the things that are near and dear to us, our family and friends.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know the stock market and the economy in general have become extremely volatile and uncertain. Many people “dollar cost average” and put aside a monthly sum into a long-term savings plan for retirement, college, or a home purchase. If a loved one or a client came to you and said, “I have been saving and investing 500 dollars every month in an S&P 500 index fund. Over the next few months until the dust settles, should I be doing something else with my money?”, what would you say to them?

Merely investing in an S&P500 index fund is not ideal, especially in our current climate. You should diversify. The fact that you “dollar cost average” indicates that you are concerned about risk, yet your investment of the S&P500 is high risk — the exact opposite of that. I’d suggest you think about making the choice to change your investing plan to reduce risk and diversity.

Historically and mathematically you are better off investing all of your money at once rather that dollar cost averaging. This is true because investments tend to rise over time. The problem is that your individual experience by putting all your money work immediately will not be average.

Eventually the economy will recover and rebound. Certain sectors, like travel and hospitality might be hurting for a while. But other sectors, like technology and healthcare, might do very well. If someone wanted to prepare today to take advantage of the future recovery, what would you suggest they do?

It’s a misconception to think “this sector will do well or poorly, so I will over or under allocate to it.” Investing is much harder than that. Everyone knows that some sectors will do better and some will do worse. The question is “will this sector do even better than people already believe? That is what makes investing so hard. You don’t just have to find things that will do well, you have to find things that will do better than people already believe. The same thing happens on the other side of the coin. If an industry (hospitality is one you mention) does poorly, well, everyone knows that already. If it does just slightly better than people believe, it could be a winner.

Investing is complicated. In the face of uncertainty, diversify. Diversification is the easy win in investing, but most people don’t know how to do that.

Are there sectors that provide exciting and lucrative investment opportunities today, specifically because of the volatility and uncertainty?

Exciting and managing your finances should not go together. If you’re not an expert in the field of finance, you should not jump into the newest investing trend because it’s a very risky path. Diversify.

Are there alternative investments that you think more people should look more deeply at?

Alternative investments often face the same uncertainty and volatility as traditional investments. They are often less liquid and less diverse than a diversified portfolio and typically more expensive, sexier versions of traditional investments. The alternative investment more people should be considering is the multi-asset class globally diversified portfolio. This option has been around for decades, but most people don’t take advantage of it.

If a person in their thirties and forties came to you today and said that they have 10,000 dollars that they want to put away today for a long-term investment what would you advise them to do with it?

I’d advise they put the 10k into a retirement date fund, preferably with half of that in a Roth account. The best path to long term success is to consistently put money into a diversified portfolio. The benefit of the Roth account is that they will never pay taxes on the money again.

Ok, thank you! Here is a more general finance question. You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

  1. Save and invest consistently. This is the #1 factor that will determine your long-term success.
  2. Diversify. Investing is difficult and you face an uncertain future. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
  3. Choose low fee options on all your investments. High fees are a long-term killer.
  4. Rebalance. That means selling some of the things that have gone well recently and buying some of the things that have done poorly recently. It is very powerful, but it’s also against human nature.
  5. Be tax aware. Favor Roth accounts if possible. A 401(k) might not be the right choice if you are in a low tax bracket today.
  6. Don’t do anything stupid.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My grandma used to say,Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” In my world it’s referred to as, “diversifying your investments. “

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m always thinking about ways to expand the number of end-clients my work impacts, changing more lives than I ever could on my own. A current solution I’m working on aims to democratize access to financial knowledge and put more people on track to effectively grow their nest egg. Bringing the power of financial planning to more people is my latest project.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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