Manage Investment Risk to Build Wealth

By Adam Cmejla, CFP, CMFC

November 9, 2016


Effectively manage risk to balance the three areas of wealth building: the value of your practice and businesses, your real estate, and your investment portfolio. Start early, and adjust your plan to capture the ups and minimize the downs.


UNDERSTAND LONGEVITY RISK. Calculate timelines or savings and distributions–and adjust investments.

Longevity risk, in the context of investment management and portfolio construction, is understanding the estimated timeline that the portfolio will need to sustain a series of systematic distributions.

KNOW WHEN TO DECREASE RISK. Calculate needs post-retirement, decrease risk as retirement nears.

THE RATE OF RETURN AND WITHDRAWAL RATE OF A PORTFOLIO. It’s important to understand the volatility that a portfolio is exposed to, as the timing of returns can have an impact on the success and sustainability of a retirement portfolio.

The need for a diversified portfolio, in which a person’s investments come from different areas, such as stocks, bonds and real estate investments, is well known. But often when this topic is discussed, terms like “risk” are used that professionals like ODs, who are not trained in finance, may find confusing. Before you can begin working toward that diversified portfolio, you must first understand how to manage–and control–the risk of your investments.

The kind of critical thinking ODs refine in optometry school to diagnose and monitor vision changes and eye disease are not necessarily the same skills that are needed to manage personal finances. Fortunately, optometrists can secure their financial well-being if they can focus on the three main pillars of their investments: the value of all the businesses they own (including their practice), real estate holdings and their stock and bond portfolio.

Understand Financial Risk

There are multiple ways to think about risk in the context of an investment portfolio and retirement plan. Most investors have thought about and been through exercises that try and define their risk tolerance. Some might have even learned about the difference between their risk tolerance and their portfolio’s risk capacity, which we’ll define further in the form of sequence of returns. However, through the lens of a retirement plan, one of the biggest aspects of risk that must be planned and accounted for is longevity risk. Longevity risk, in the context of investment management and portfolio construction, is understanding the estimated timeline that the portfolio will need to sustain a series of systematic distributions.

This longevity risk usually has a correlated relationship to the amount of investment risk that one would take with their assets. That is to say the longer someone’s retirement plan (expected longevity), the higher the degree of risk one might be comfortable taking. 

When Should Risk Be Decreased?

One of the mistakes that we see people make is the assumption that the transition from practicing to retirement means significantly decreasing the amount of risk that you take in your investment plan. However, if an OD sells their practice and retires at the age of 65, they still have at least a 20-year investment timeline to plan for in the future.

Getting to retirement is akin to climbing a mountain: sure, you’ve reached a milestone and apex, but the real goal of climbing a mountain isn’t just getting to the summit…it’s also getting back down. In this case, “getting back down” means having enough capital and income to sustain your quality of life and cost of living. Add in the additional factor of inflation, and one can quickly see how just a couple of percentage points in one’s rate of return can have a profound impact on the longevity of a portfolio.

Let’s look at an example of how someone may inadvertently be taking on more risk than they thought by allocating their portfolio to a more conservative approach in the beginning stages of retirement without adjusting their withdrawal strategy.

Suppose we had a retiring OD at age 65 with a $1 million portfolio, and that, in order to have the quality of life in retirement that she desires, she needs to take $50,000 pre-tax off of her portfolio on an annual basis.

Prior to retirement, here is a snapshot of her financial situation:

We’re illustrating inflation above the historical normal inflation rate going back to the 1920’s and certainly higher than what it has been in the last decade. But I am more comfortable “overestimating” how much retirement will cost, especially because certain expenses (like healthcare) have historically risen in cost more than the average inflation rate.

Editor’s Note: The current inflation rate is 1.7 percent.

Let’s also look at the longevity risk she would assume in her plan if, upon retirement, and because the OD believes that she needs to insulate herself from the ups and downs of the market, she reallocates her portfolio into a much more conservative approach that averages 4.87 percent, keeping all other variables the same:

As we can see from the side-by-side draw-down strategy graphic below, we can see that the longevity of her retirement assets sustaining a withdrawal strategy with an assumed return of 7.66 percent in retirement sustains her throughout retirement, allowing her to pass on just over $1.3 million when she passes away at age 95.

Conversely, the lower assumed rate of return shows her running out of funds shortly after her 88th birthday and doesn’t leave her with any extra cushion should something go awry in her plan. I’m fond of saying that the only thing that’s constant in a retirement plan is change, and having this OD run out of money in her late 80s does not give us the buffer to absorb any changes to her withdrawal needs.

Source of graph: Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc.

This illustrates the illusion that being safe with your investments in retirement and reducing your expected rate of return can actually be more detrimental over the long term than many investors may think.

Now let’s insert another layer to the rates of return that we’re illustrating into this hypothetical plan. If you’ll recall, we said that her average rate of return was 7.66 percent and 4.87 percent, respectively, which meant that some years had high returns, some had low, but over the long term she averaged those returns. But we mentioned nothing about when the ups and, more importantly, the downs of market returns occurred within her portfolio.

The sequence of returns in an investment portfolio is the idea that a retiree could be at significant risk of outliving their assets if the sequence of their investment returns are unfavorable, such as bad returns occurring at the beginning of retirement. 

Let’s look at the two scenarios again, but now let’s assume that the portfolio returns in the first three years of retirement were -10 percent, but our retired OD continued to withdraw $50,000 per year. As you can see, the impact is significant. The left graph shows the 7.66 percent rate of return and the right side shows the 4.87 percent return.

If, for the sake of this article, we can agree that longevity risk is the most certain type of risk that an investor will face over the course of their retirement plan, then we can agree that we will need to construct an investment portfolio that, net of investment fees, expenses, inflation, and withdrawal rates, still has a higher-than-not probability of sustaining one’s retirement timeline and, as an additional benefit, the investor may have the added blessing of passing on wealth to the next generation, thereby altering one’s (financial) family tree.

The rate of return and withdrawal rate of a portfolio do not operate in a vacuum, though. As we’ve seen, it’s important to understand the volatility that a portfolio is exposed to as the timing of returns can have an impact on the success and sustainability of a retirement portfolio, therefore, it’s important to ensure that the construction of your portfolio and structure of your asset allocation gives you the best opportunity to “cushion the ride” during the transition into retirement.

Disclaimer: The following information contained in this article is not to be used or interpreted as investment advice for any individual investor. It should not infer that the data or information presented is a guarantee of future results nor should it be inferred that diversification mitigates the potential for losses in an investment portfolio. If you are not comfortable making your own investment decisions, I encourage you to see the guidance and advice from your own trusted advisor or seek the advice and guidance of an advisor before making any decisions.

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Adam Cmejla, CFP®, CMFC®, is a Certified Financial Plannertm and president of Integrated Planning & Wealth Management, LLC, a financial services firm that works with optometrists. For more information: Contact Adam at 317-853-6777 or

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