“This was educational.”
These aren’t the words that you would expect to hear from somebody that just lost money in investing. Yet these words are often heard in Japan, especially in the meeting rooms of institutional investors.
It is a nice way to say, “I was stupid that I listened to you.”
Usually the decision to make the investment was arduous. In an institutional environment, investment decisions usually are not made alone. Many levels of approval within the organization are necessary, especially if it is a new kind of investment. Many long hours were spent preparing the internal reports that were needed to be approved and signed off by the superiors.
The working environment of the salaried worker within a Japanese organization demands an asymmetric relationship between reward and penalty. If the investment works out as expected, then it was because of everybody’s efforts. But, if the investment sours, then it is the fault of the individual. He may not lose his job, but he will certainly lose face.
The incentive structure for Japanese institutional investors is “limited upside, large downside.” Quite the opposite of what one would expect in a common sense environment for investing, where “upside should be large, and the downside limited.”
But, the negative asymmetry of “limited upside and large downside” is the fact of life for most Japanese institutional investors. So they carry about their daily working lives making sure that they do not make the wrong decision. In fact, they would rather sacrifice the upside of an investment, in exchange for more sense of security regarding the downside. In the investment and the academic profession, this behavior is known as being “risk averse.”