When it comes to Behavioural Finance, a few people stand out in terms of their contribution to helping us all understand why and how it works. The intersection between Human Behaviour and Quantitative Investing can be difficult to understand for even the most sophisticated investors. Today, I want to share some really important insights from one of my favorite professors, who is also a practitioner of this discipline, namely Andrew Lo of MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of MITs laboratory of Financial Engineering. Many people know Andrew as the father of the Adaptive Market Hypothesis, and our conversation was wide ranging, entertaining, and deeply insightful. So enjoy these truly unique take aways from Professor Andrew Lo, and if you would like to listen to the conversation in full, just go to Top Traders Round Table Episode 18 and Episode 19.
The Ecosystem of the Financial Markets
Niels: Now, our conversation today will focus on a number of different topics within the managed futures industry, and, perhaps, a few that will fall a little bit outside of this. So, to kick things off in a slightly different way, I want to come to you, Andrew, first, and ask what you think of when I say Rabbi Mahony, Rabbi Mahony, Rabbi Mahony, and I hope you know what I’m referring to so that our listeners don’t think that I’ve completely lost it at this stage.
Andrew: Well, thank you for bringing that up. That comes from one of my stories that I’ve written about in my book, Adaptive Markets. It’s an idea about thinking about financial markets more like a biological ecosystem rather than a physical system. As you may know, most economists suffer from this disease that I call physics envy. We wish that we had three laws that explained ninety-nine percent of all behavior, the way the physicists do. In fact, we have ninety-nine laws that explain only three percent.
So, the idea behind adaptive markets is that we really have to think about these financial market dynamics as coming from human interactions, and trying to model those human interactions is really critical. So, the Rabbi Mahony story really has to do with the fact that I heard many years ago about a technique for getting parking in Harvard Square. It’s a terrible, terrible challenge to drive a car into Harvard Square because there is never any parking. So, for years I just decided not to do it. But, a friend of mine said that, if you used this following algorithm: before you go to Harvard Square you utter the incantation, Rabbi Mahony, Rabbi Mahony, Rabbi Mahony, at that point you should be able to go to Harvard Square and get parking.
The amazing thing is this algorithm actually works. But, the more interesting reason is why it works. It works because it changes the way we behave. It changes our expectation for getting a space. Because now, once you utter the incantation, you must, somehow, in a part of your brain, believe that you might be able to get a space and that changes the way you drive. It changes how you look for parking, and, magically you actually increase the chances of getting a space. So, it really says that human behavior can actually change our reality. Sometimes things need to be believed in to be seen.
Niels: Yeah, absolutely. Just out of curiosity, do you think that belief always precedes action and plausibility?
Andrew: I think it is something that happens simultaneously, in many cases. Our beliefs have an impact on our behavior, but our behavior has an impact on reality, and that reality shapes our beliefs. So, it’s kind of a feedback loop that is happening and updating all the time. Unless we’re aware of that, it’s very easy for us to get mislead by various kinds of market events and ultimately end up down a rabbit hole of behavioral biases that ultimately end up hurting us in our investment strategies.
Niels: Yeah, well I look forward to finding out whether this little chant also works finding a parking place here in Switz…