Today, the industry challenges are on all fronts. Access is great, but why take the time and effort to switch when you can just stay the course with the same providers? The power of alternative investments is the idea that this is not a good thing. A retirement fund is the opposite: It’s the only kind of investment that trades. A 401(k) is a convenient way to save, but we should be careful to remember that it’s a practical guarantee. And while the benefits of buying bonds used to outweigh the costs, that’s no longer true: The costs outweigh the benefits even when you do the right thing.
The alternative is, by and large, not a zero-sum game. It’s a new world. You don’t know whose strength will go where. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t know which instruments are useful and which aren’t. But you don’t have to — you can diversify (while still focusing on building diversification). You can figure out what counts as prudent leverage and which ones, if any, are counterproductive. The probability of loss is no longer the measure of success, but of potential gain. You can take these opportunities to add to your wealth.
Financial instrument diversity is the modern answer to that funny old aphorism, “The rich go to heaven and the poor to hell.” It’s not heaven. It’s the promise of heaven. If investing works out, you’ll be richer than before. And if it doesn’t, you will not be lost in hell, as some of you might imagine. The stuff you do know, if managed well, is likely to work. The goal is not accumulation, but asset growth: if your returns turn out to be low, and the costs you incur are higher than the returns you receive, then you’ll end up worse off. So, as I wrote here, it’s fair to worry.
But if we invest as well as we want to, more people will be better off, and this means a better society. Higher-quality people will rise to the top. Lower-quality people will fall to the bottom. This trend is already well established. It’s good to recognize it as part of our culture, not to reject it.