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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Confessions of a Financial Writer

I started writing about investing in 1981, as a 24-year-old reporter for Money magazine—the only mainstream publication focused on personal finance in those days. Since then I’ve written or edited millions of words of financial and other writing for books, magazines, websites, newsletters…name it.

These days, I’m an owner of The Writing Company, in Portland, Maine; we create editorial content for advisors, financial service firms and media companies. My colleague, Sean Donahue, and I are working with Matt Hall on a book about his career as an evidence-based investor. I think the book is going to change lives. It’s already changed the way I invest.

Early in my career, I routinely interviewed or profiled many of the hottest investment managers of the day, guys like Peter Lynch and Michael Price and Mario Gabelli. I eventually became Money’s Wall Street columnist, passing along stock tips to readers. I even began working towards a degree as a Chartered Financial Analyst, thinking I might become a stock picker myself.

That was around 1991. Two years later, I changed my mind and moved with my family to Maine. I had decided that I really wanted to spend more time outdoors, work on books about mountain climbing and other topics, and start a financial writing business. So that’s what I did.

Soon after the move, I invested all of my retirement money with a firm that practiced traditional active management. The owners were among my sources when I worked at Money. They were smart, ethical people who believed in diversification—and who also worked very hard to come up with good investment ideas. Trouble was, it didn’t seem to matter how smart or dedicated my managers were. Sometimes their ideas worked; sometimes they didn’t.

That got me thinking.

I knew that there was a ton of evidence suggesting that stock picking and market timing made no sense. I just thought my guys would be an exception to that rule. But after 15 or so years as their client, I could see that probably wasn’t the case.

I was tempted to invest in index funds. But which funds? I needed a money manager to answer questions like that, and keep an eye on my allocations, tax exposure and so on. But while I knew a lot of big-name active managers, I wasn’t as plugged into the evidence-based community.

Matt and Sean and I met a number of times early in 2014 to rough out Matt’s story, creating a detailed outline that continues to guide the writing and editing process. Two or three months into the process, I realized I’d finally come across an evidence-based investor who did things in a way that fully lined up with my understanding and experience. If I was ever going to make the change, this was the time.

It’s a good feeling: After more than three decades as an investor and an investment writer, I feel like I’m finally putting my money where my…um…brain is.

-Clint Willis

Odds On Book

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Successful investing often comes down to having a strong philosophy you can stick with. In Odds On, Matt Hall shows how more than fifty years of modern finance have provided insight into how financial markets work. Investors who develop and apply a strong philosophy based on these principles can improve their odds of long-term financial success. David Booth
Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Dimensional Fund Advisors