Burton Malkiel has been saying the same thing about investing for more than 40 years. What’s new is that a big chunk of the financial industry now admits he was right all along.
In 1973, Malkiel, a Princeton professor, published the first version of his investment guide, A Random Walk Down Wall Street. He wrote that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at the stock listings could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one selected by the experts.” Since most investors can’t beat the market average over time, he argued, they’d be better off in some kind of low-fee fund that simply held all of the stocks on a widely followed index. Problem was, no such retail fund existed.
Malkiel, 84, is now chief investment officer at Wealthfront, a Silicon Valley startup that’s become one of the leading robo-advisers—firms that use index funds to build automated investment plans for a fraction of the fees charged by traditional advisers. Just as index funds brought down the cost of investing, robo-advisers will bring down the cost of advice, says Malkiel, who spent 27 years on the Vanguard board. “The one thing I know is that the less I pay the purveyor, the more there will be left for me,” he said.
He saw it coming before anyone else— more than 40 years ago.