In his 2016 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter, Warren Buffett explains that many investment professionals exploit human psychology to earn high fees, regardless of actual performance. This harms institutions like pension funds and enriches advisors.
He uses an anecdote about selling livestock to illustrate how skilled storytellers, not necessarily experts, can influence outcomes. He concludes by suggesting that financial markets, similar to the old stockyards, operate on persuasion more than objective expertise.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
Much of the financial damage befell pension funds for public employees. Many of these funds are woefully underfunded, in part because they have suffered a double whammy: poor investment performance accompanied by huge fees. The resulting shortfalls in their assets will for decades have to be made up by local taxpayers.
Human behavior won’t change. Wealthy individuals, pension funds, endowments and the like will continue to feel they deserve something “extra” in investment advice.
Those advisors who cleverly play to this expectation will get very rich. This year the magic potion may be hedge funds, next year something else.
The likely result from this parade of promises is predicted in an adage: “When a person with money meets a person with experience, the one with experience ends up with the money and the one with money leaves with experience.”
Long ago, a brother-in-law of mine, Homer Rogers, was a commission agent working in the Omaha stockyards. I asked him how he induced a farmer or rancher to hire him to handle the sale of their hogs or cattle to the buyers from the big four packers (Swift, Cudahy, Wilson and Armour).
After all, hogs were hogs and the buyers were experts who knew to the penny how much any animal was worth. How then, I asked Homer, could any sales agent get a better result than any other?
Homer gave me a pitying look and said: “Warren, it’s not how you sell ‘em, it’s how you tell ‘em.” What worked in the stockyards continues to work in Wall Street.
You can read the entire letter here:
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