A Plan for Expected Surprises

“Expect a Surprise” said my broker friend Jigneshbhai as we ordered a fresh new flavored cold coffee this time, when we met over the last weekend.

“Is it a surprise or should I expect it?” asked a confused Swami. “If I expect it, it is no longer a surprise, and if it is a surprise, how can I expect it?” Swami clarified thoroughly, demonstrating his expertise over the English language.

Swami had asked my broker friend a series of questions about where he should invest now, and to his last question “What’s next for the markets?” instead of staying silent or saying “I have no idea” as usual, Jigneshbhai had said this time “Expect a Surprise”.

Like most other times, such unclear answers annoyed Swami no end. He was eager to put his money to work in the markets and expected his broker to provide him with ‘clear advice’.

But the problem with advice is that as much as the giver has to be capable of giving it, the receiver also has to be ready to receive it. My broker friend had realized that, specially in such times when it comes to investing advice, those who really need advice aren’t quite ready to take it. So was the case with Swami.

His typical question went like this: “So what do you think about Asian Paints?” To which Jigneshbhai would say “It is a good business but tad expensive. But what’s your plan?”

Next in line was “Should I invest in the recently launched small micro-cap fund? What about MIC Electronics?” To which my broker friend said “Well it is cheap but avoidable – but what’s your plan?”

That was followed by “Are bonds a good bet – better than equity at this point?” To which Jigneshbhai said “Maybe – but what’s your plan?”

A barrage of questions from Swami followed by a set of unclear answers with my broker friend ending every answer with “What’s your plan?”

This ‘plan’ business irritated Swami no end. “What is this plan, plan every time? I don’t want a plan. I just want you to tell me what I should invest in? I am asking a simple investing question and you keep asking me what’s your plan?” An agitated Swami blasted.

I thought Jigneshbhai was going to walk out at this, and as usual, I will need to settle this fight between my friends. But my broker friend was nonchalant. He only smiled and said “That is because, my dear friend, Investing is a plan.”

Swami and I stared at each other. As usual, we weren’t clear what our broker friend was saying. Our confused faces were enough to let our broker friend speak up.

“Yes, investing is a plan to get from point A to point B. Like a journey on a road. And what you are asking me without telling me your destination is which is a good vehicle or what road should I take?” Jigneshbhai tried to explain.

Swami and I weren’t quite expecting a discussion on roads and vehicles when all he had asked is which stock he should put his money in! But our broker friend had put us on the path of further confusion for sure.

“Well, how is investing a plan?” asked Swami finally after a period of silence.

“Isn’t it a means of getting you financially from point A to B? Like planning a trip from Mumbai to Bangalore. There are many ways of getting there, but first you must know where you want to go, by when, by which route and at what cost. Then I can tell you if you should take the train, flight, bus or car, and what route, isn’t it?” explained Jigneshbhai.

Now a bit amused by his own metaphors, my broker friend smiled and continued, “All you ask me is how is Udyan Express or is Jet Airways good or is a diesel car good? What can I tell you? What is your plan?”

Swami and I were starting to appreciate what our broker friend was trying to say. We had never thought of investing in this manner. The complete 24 by 7 barrage of analysis of the investing routes and the vehicles had perhaps put us in a dizzy, and we had forgotten about the journey.

Jigneshbhai saw from my face that there was a bit of understanding reaching my muddled up brain.

But Swami was still lost in thought.

An amused Jigneshbhai looked at him and said “And this guy also asks me which way will the path go! So I said expect a lot of surprises on the way!!”

“A journey to nowhere with a vehicle for no reason on a path not known – what else would you tell such a traveler, but to expect surprises?!!” And he started laughing loudly.

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