Investing knowledge enhances risk-adjusted returns by at least 1.3 percentage points annually. Over a 30-year investment span, the improved portfolio performance leads to 25% greater wealth. This was the finding of a study, possibly for the first time, linking results from a test of financial knowledge to actual portfolio performance. The researchers believe their conclusion may understate the actual return differential.
A key driver of the return differential is a willingness to invest in stocks. The most knowledgeable investors had a 66% allocation to stocks, whereas the least knowledgeable held about 49% of their retirement assets in stocks. The larger stock allocation did lead to more volatility, but also higher risk-adjusted performance.
Researchers with the Pension Research Council at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School gained access to the retirement plan of a large financial institution with 22,000 employees. The defined-contribution [401(k)] plan offered 16 funds. The plan’s offerings included stock funds, bond funds and a real estate investment trust (REIT) index fund. The study’s authors used this data to analyze account balances, returns and volatility.
Employees were also invited to take an online survey. The survey measured the ability to do a simple interest rate calculation, tested respondents on their understanding of inflation, looked to see how well respondents knew the difference between a stock and a mutual fund and how well they understood risk diversification, determined their understanding of the impact of tax incentives for saving and measured knowledge of employer match incentives.