Do you invest like blue buffalos?

Two and a half years ago, when I purchased my business, Advantage Advisors, half of the walls in our suite were painted dusty pink. The other half were eggplant purple. I’m unsettled around red tones and connect better with neutrals and earthy tones. Keen to create a space that reflected my personality, repainting was on my mind from day 1.

For the past few years, I’ve become very drawn to the color grey. Grey is the color of Niko’s favorite animal, the gentle and peaceful elephant. To me, grey is the color of peace and tranquility, like stones in a bubbling brook. So, shortly after the business changed hands, we took down all the wall hangings and painted the walls a vibrant grey.

My style and nature are those of a minimalist, and so I don’t find empty grey walls uncomfortable. On the contrary, I find the natural, naked, and genuine. And so there I was, happily admiring my lovely grey walls, when the comments started to come. Comments that the suite looked too empty, too cold, too isolated.

Not long after we repainted the initial suite, we had the opportunity to take over the suite just north of us, where floor to ceiling windows pull natural daylight into every office. We took the opportunity and continued with our grey themed walls. This time, however, more conscious of the open space, I decided to add some art back to the walls. To start with, I purchased twin 3 x 3 canvases.

I like painting, but I’m also introvert and uncomfortable in the spotlight. There is something very vulnerable about hanging a painting for public display. A part of your self is in it – a part of your soul is in it – and so it’s a very hard thing to accept criticism on a painting you’ve spent hours creating. Because for whatever artistic licensing you’ve taken, that criticism is felt by a you that is not often shared.

Our suite move came with the RRSP season directly on its back, so I didn’t have time to completely finish the first canvas. I knew I wouldn’t have enough time again until spring, so I hung it up anyways. In the foreground there are buffalos in a valley, munching on some grass, with mountains close in the background. So far, anyone who’s seen it has been very kind in their comments, but they always end up asking the same thing. “The picture is lovely Meagan, but tell me, why are the buffalo blue?”

It’s not like these buffalo have a slight blue tinge – they are very vibrantly ultramarine blue. Strangely, people seem to really connect with it. One client came up with a backstory, that these blue buffalo were the ghosts of the prairies. Another spoke about a spiritual connection she felt to white buffalo, and another even recalled a poem from his childhood.

After hearing everyone’s comments, now I wish I had a better reason for painting them blue. But I actually don’t have a good reason at all. The honest truth is that the buffalos are blue because they’re not done yet. The blue is just the undercoat. Later, when I have more time, I’ll go through and individually add each hair on their coat. The blue helps me see the shading and the muscle movement, and it’ll come through as a sheen on the outer coat once the hair has been painted on.

Everybody’s been so interested in finding out why the buffalos are blue, that nobody’s yet asked about why they are buffalo, to begin with.

Ah! Here’s where the meaning of the picture comes!!!

At MDRT last year, one of the main platform speakers did a fantastic presentation on being a good advisor to your clients during periods of market uncertainty. As an analogy, he spoke about market turbulence like a storm rolling in, and successful advisors are like buffalos.

You see, in nature, when a storm comes, a cow will run away from it. But because cows are slow, the storm overtakes them, and so they actually maximize their exposure to the wet and wind. Once the storm is over, they start the long slow march back to where the land has already dried.

Buffalos, however, act the opposite. When they sense a storm coming, they lower their heads and charge straight through the worst of it. Ignoring any analogies about buffalos and cliffs, the charging buffalo is able to minimize its exposure to the storm and maximize its time in the sunshine.

The recession in 2008 was a storm for investors. The buffalo advisors sprang into action as the storm hit – challenging the validity of media banter and scooping up good investments at low prices. The cattle advisors ran from the storm – becoming more conservative after the losses starting to form, losing their momentum and maximizing exposure to negative returns.

Now, 5 years from the recession, the buffalos have been enjoying their time quietly grazing in the sunlight, and are rebalancing back down to a client’s target asset allocation. The cattle are just finally drying off, seeing the strong returns from the markets last year and adding more to investments that have recently done well.

There’s always a storm brewing behind the mountains, and nobody’s quite sure when the thunder will start to roll. Buffalo advisors will be ready – their energy and their portfolios have been long restored, and are now strong enough to face the next storm. Cattle advisors are just starting to arrive in the dry fields after most of the fresh young grass has already been taken, trying to pick up good returns while they still can..

When the next market correction comes – when the next storm hits – are you going to invest like a blue buffalo or a bovine? It’s best to choose a herd now while the sun is still shining because once the storm casts its shadow, it’ll be too late.

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